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Shooting in the foot continues (3.5*s)
on January 31, 2012
This book is a rather opaque look at the conservative political reaction to the financial crisis of 2007-08 precipitated by a culture of greed and irresponsibility, if not acts of sheer criminality, found in the largest Wall St banks and investment houses. The book feels more than a bit jumbled as the author roams back and forth across the political landscape trying to find coherence where there is none in the ridiculous rise of Republicans, conservatives, Tea-Partiers, etc in the wake of this scandal. Really, this latest scenario only varies by degrees from the situation that the author captured in WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?, 2004.
What is common among the social conservatives of KANSAS and the Tea Party "market populists" is the demonization of government. The author finds it simply astounding that Wall Streeters have been essentially given a pass within a couple of years of orchestrating a financial debacle with huge ramifications to many average Americans. There is hardly any appreciation for the fact that government intervention in terms of bailouts, unemployment, food stamps - the list is long - prevented a collapse on the order of the Great Depression.
It is a painful, ignorant twist of logic for conservatives of all stripes to make the claim that a lack of market purity brought on the crisis. They may not like the bailouts, but the blame, in their eyes, lies with the government as the real cause of the collapse. Hence the title of the book: the government brought down poor, defenseless, scrupulous billionaires. There seems to be no comprehension, no historical understanding, that poorly regulated capitalism has always driven itself into crisis mode with devastating effects on the entire society. Beginning with the Progressive era and into WWII, a few basic safeguards were put into place to ameliorate future financial crises. The author does not indicate whether those proposing to gut the financial regulatory structure are aware of our turbulent financial history. One suspects that they could care less.
There are any number of zealots in the book who have gained notoriety in the crucifying of government, including those who have the temerity to suggest that government has a role in the economy. Glenn Beck stands out in his weeping histrionics, and Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan put in cameo appearances, but others are more important. The Republican congressional landslide in 2010 brought several fanatics to Congress, who have an agenda to drive America back to the 19th century and into the hands of CEOs and investment bankers. The debt-ceiling crisis that they brought about is only a small sample of what is to come.
The book is not without interest, but it is simply more detailing of the crazy rise of the right over the last several decades. Conservative elites have managed to convince large portions of the electorate though a barrage of propaganda that market forces alone, that is everyone simply shopping until they drop, will result in the best outcome for all. To them democracy is not voting, it is shopping. A most cynical aspect of this anti-government zealotry, is the capturing of government by conservatives, who are there, if not to provide handouts to the rich, then to block regulatory enforcement.
A disappointing aspect of the book is the lack of comment by the author on what Democrats, in particular President Obama, are doing to combat this rightist resurgence. It is disturbing that the Democratic Party, beginning in the Clinton years, has been only slightly less accommodating to the machinations of the rich than have been the Republicans. For those who would like to vote for candidates who would clamp down on these excesses, there is almost nowhere to turn. Millions of others, completely indoctrinated, continue to shoot themselves in the foot, convinced that aligning themselves with the thinking of the rich is for the best. When regulatory structures and the social safety net are shredded beyond recognition, it appears, only then, that Americans will again see how mean-spirited raw capitalism really is.
The book is pretty much preaching to the choir. Those on the left are quite aware of the rise of the right and fanatical "free-market" thinking. Those on the right will hate the book. They fall into two categories: the cynical rich and the duped masses. Neither of them are interested in seeing their absurdities pointed out.