Friday, August 27, 2010

Reich Calls for a Dash of Populism

Here are some bits from Robert Reich's latest posting on his blog:
The public doesn’t understand specific policies but it does understand stories that link them together. The stories give the policies context and meaning, and thereby show where policymakers are taking a nation (and, by implication, where the opposition would take it).

Republicans lack specific policies but they have a story. Obama and the Democrats have lots of specific policies but don’t have a story. That spells even more trouble for Democrats.

The Commerce Department reported today (Friday) that the economy grew only 1.6 percent in the second quarter, which is a fancy way of saying what everyone on Main Street already knows. The economy has stalled. Unemployment is still in the stratosphere and shows no sign of improving. The housing market is worsening.

Why? What to do? The Republican story is simple. It’s the fault of government. They say Obama’s policies have bankrupted the nation and made businesses too uncertain to create jobs. The answer is less government. Cut taxes and spending, privatize, and deregulate.

It’s not a new story but it’s capturing the public’s mind because the Democrats offer no story to counter it with.

Obama and the Democrats respond by defending their specific policies. The stimulus worked, they say, as did the bailout of Wall Street, because the economy is better today than it would be without them. If anything, we need more stimulus. And healthcare reform will protect tens of millions.

A large and growing segment of the public believes none of this. The public doesn’t think in terms of specific policies. All it knows is the economy has stalled and there’s only one story that explains why and points the way forward – and that’s the Republican’s.

What should the Democratic story be? How can they connect the dots?


The underlying political debate in America is which of these is most responsible for the mess we’re in, and which can be most trusted to get us out of it – big business and Wall Street, or government.

It wouldn’t be hard for Democrats to make the case that big business and Wall Street blew it. The Street’s wild speculation took the economy off the cliff, caused the stock market to crash (and millions of 401(k)s along with it), and created a housing bubble whose burst has hurt millions more.

Big business has used the Great Recession as an opportunity to slash payrolls and cut wages and is now sitting on a $1.8 trillion mountain of cash it refuses to use to create new jobs. Instead, it’s using the cash to build more factories abroad, buy back its own shares of stock, invest in more labor-replacing technologies at home, and do mergers that will lead to even fewer jobs.

Meanwhile, a parade of “public-be-damned” actions have threatened small investors (Goldman Sachs’s double dealing), individuals trying to buy health insurance (WellPoint’s double-digit premium increases), worker safety (the Massey mine disaster), the environment (BP), and even our food (Jack DeCoster’s commercial egg operations).

And a gusher of corporate and Wall Street money has flooded Washington, exemplified by Big Pharma and the health-insurance lobby fighting heatlhcare reform, and Wall Street’s minions fighting off stricter financial reform.

If Obama and the Democrats would connect these dots they’d have a story that would make Americans’ hair stand on end. We’re in this mess because of big business and Wall Street. Government is needed to get us out of it.
I love Reich's plan. I'll ease into my sofa and watch for the peasants brandishing torches and pitchforks to converge on the malefactors of the Republican Party, Wall Street, and big corporate offices across the land. At least, that is what I would hope to see.

But something tells me the Democrats won't "get it together" and provide the needed story to inflame the populace and turn out the vote for the mid-term elections in November. Instead, I'm afraid that the "story" (the pure fiction laddled out by the Republican camp) will have the Tea Party types and their brethren seething and storming the polling stations to "throw the rascals out". It will be a tragedy. But it won't be the first time that history has delivered up a tragedy that people will have to struggle through. Instead of a populist success in seizing power back from the corrupt fat cats, I'm afraid we will have a Tea Party lynching in November with lots of innocent and ineffective Democrats left hanging from the trees (i.e. not elected). A dreadful scene with Tea Party fanatics dancing around bonfires as they burn down the hopes of a generation (i.e. put in place legislative giveaways to the rich and powerful and socially retrograde laws for everybody not in the top 2% of the population).

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