OP-ED

The Enthusiasm Gap

Reich

I had dinner the other night with a Democratic pollster who told me Dems are heading toward next fall’s mid-term elections with a serious enthusiasm gap: The Republican base is fired up. The Dem base is packing up.

The Dem base is lethargic because congressional Democrats continue to compromise on everything the Dem base cares about. For a year now it’s been nothing but compromises, watered-down ideas, weakened provisions, wider loopholes, softened regulations.

Health care went from what the Dem base wanted — single payer — to a public option, to no public option, to a bunch of ideas that the President tried to explain last week, and it now hangs by a string as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid try to round up conservative Dems and a 51-vote reconciliation package in the Senate.

The jobs bill went from what the base wanted — a second stimulus — to $165 billion of extended unemployment benefits and aid to states and locales, then to $15 billion of tax breaks for businesses that make new hires.

Financial regulation went from tough new capital requirements, sharp constraints on derivate trading, a consumer protection agency, and a resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act – all popular with the Dem base — to some limits on derivatives and a consumer-protection agency inside the Treasury Department and a rearrangement of oversight boxes, and it’s now looking like even less.

The environment went from the base’s desire for a carbon tax to a cap-and-trade carbon auction then to a cap-and-trade with all sorts of  exemptions and offsets for the biggest polluters, and now Senate Dems are talking about trying to do it industry-by-industry.

These waffles and wiggle rooms have drained the Democratic base of all passion. “Why should I care?” are words I hear over and over again from stalwart Democrats who worked their hearts out in the last election.

The Republican base, meanwhile, is on a rampage. It’s more and more energized by its mad-as-hell populists. Tea partiers, libertarians, Birchers, birthers, and Dick Armey astro-turfers are channeling the economic anxieties of millions of Americans against “big government.”

Technically, the Dems have the majority in Congress and could still make major reforms. But conservative, “blue-dog” Dems won’t go along. They say the public has grown wary of government. But they must know the public hasn’t grown even more wary of big business and Wall Street, on which effective government is the only constraint.

Anyone with an ounce of sanity understands government is the only effective countervailing force against the forces that got us into this mess: Against Goldman Sachs and the rest of the big banks that plunged the economy into crisis, got our bailout money, and are now back at their old games, dispensing huge bonuses to themselves. Against WellPoint and the rest of the giant health insurers who are at this moment robbing us of the care we need by raising their rates by double digits. Against giant corporations that are showing big profits by continuing to lay off millions of Americans and cutting the wages of millions of more, by shifting jobs abroad and substituting software. Against big oil and big utilities that are raising prices and rates, and continue to ravage the atmosphere.

If there was ever a time to connect the dots and make the case for government as the singular means of protecting the public from these forces it is now. Yet the White House and the congressional Dem’s ongoing refusal to blame big business and Wall Street has created the biggest irony in modern political history. A growing portion of the public, fed by the right, blames our problems on “big government.”

Much of the reason for the Democrats’ astonishing reluctance to place blame where it belongs rests with big business’s and Wall Street’s generous flows of campaign donations to Dems, coupled with their implicit promise of high-paying jobs once Democratic officials retire from government. This is the rot at the center of the system. And unless or until it’s remedied, it will be difficult for the President to achieve any “change you can believe in.”

To his credit, Obama himself has not scaled back his health-care ambitions all that much, and he appears, intermittently, to want to push conservative blue-dog Dems to join him on a bigger jobs bill, tougher financial reform, and a more effective approach to global warming. (His overtures to Republicans seem ever more transparently designed to give blue-dog Dems cover to vote with him.)

But our President is not comfortable wielding blame. He will not give the public the larger narrative of private-sector greed, its nefarious effect on the American public at this dangerous juncture, and the private sector’s corruption of the democratic process. He has so far eschewed any major plan to get corporate and Wall Street money out of politics. He can be indignant– as when he lashed out at the “fat cats” on Wall Street – but his indignation is fleeting, and it is no match for the faux indignation of the right that blames government for all that ails us.

Robert Reich served as the 22nd United States Secretary of Labor under President William Jefferson Clinton from 1992 to 1997.  He blogs at RobertReich.com, where this post first appeared.

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InfoMark
Guest
InfoMark

I have the utmost respect for Dr. Reich, but whenever in the same breath you invoke the passionate fear of a 20-30% conservative and reactionary core’s distaste for activist (non-military) government; and then argue that “Anyone with an ounce of sanity understands government is the only effective countervailing force against the forces that got us into this mess” might need to find a better argument, short of proposing perpetual civil war! The progressive left, we need us some better institutions to back in this horse race.!

number2son
Guest
number2son

Reich is correct. And the irony of his commentary is found in the lunacy of the foregoing comments.

Peter
Guest
Peter

“I wanted to say “flogged and criminally prosecuted,” but I know you’re far too “humane” for that.”
Flogging only for the Republicans. :>)

archon41
Guest
archon41

I wanted to say “flogged and criminally prosecuted,” but I know you’re far too “humane” for that.

Peter
Guest
Peter

“The lot of them should be criminally prosecuted.”
At last archon, we can agree!

archon41
Guest
archon41

I dunno. I don’t include myself in the “we” who lied about income and assets to “qualify” for loans. Looks to me like borrowers, mortgage brokers, loan officers, a lot of CEO’s, and the Wall Street “securitizers” joined grubby hands to perfect a fraud on the unsuspecting, both here and abroad. The lot of them should be criminally prosecuted.

Margalit Gur-Arie
Guest
Margalit Gur-Arie

So, selling drugs shouldn’t be illegal?

tcoyote
Guest
tcoyote

That’s us: the junkie society. The truth hurts.
You don’t put junkies in jail, you get them into rehab.
If we stopped using drugs, the market for same would dry up.
Note to the wise: it WASN’T a CORPORATE debt crisis, except in commercial real estate and the auto industry. . .

Peter
Guest
Peter

http://www.populareconomics.org/Bailout%20-%20Crotty.pdf
Why is it we also put drug dealers in jail and at harsher penalties, because it’s the junky’s fault?

tcoyote
Guest
tcoyote

Margalit! The banks were merely repackaging and reselling OUR greediness. We have borrowed ourselves into oblivion, and at some point, the bill comes due. No one came and put guns to our heads and said “borrow this $14 trillion or we’ll kill you”. Grown-ups signed all those mortgages and credit card applications.
Having said that, the banks should NEVER have been able to leverage themselves out 30:1. That was the Fed’s fault. But it was OUR debt. The banks are conduits of capital, not entities unto themselves. The capital comes from us.

Margalit Gur-Arie
Guest
Margalit Gur-Arie

What does “greedy” mean? According to the dictionary it means “having or showing a selfish desire for wealth and possessions”. I would say that people, by definition, are greedy. Animals too. And so are banks. The point of an enlightened society is to limit one’s natural greediness to acts that do not harm other members of society. Banks have been throttling credit to create profit since the day they were invented. It’s how they make money. There is nothing wrong with that. What happened here, and it has happened many times before, is that the State, which represents society, has… Read more »

Peter
Guest
Peter

tcoyote, I won’t deny that all people are greedy, even consumers, and I could see that using home equity to buy the good life was selling your future, but if you look at the real estate industry boom it was fueled by cheap money from the Fed, lies, and with agents, appraisers and lenders taking advantage of financially ignorant borrowers selling dreams not reality. Typically home values were appraised with collusion between the agent wanting the deal and the appraiser asking “What comps do you want”. Then the lenders created liar loans or at best low buy-in teaser rates with… Read more »

MHH
Guest
MHH

I’m sick of the Socialist/Communist agenda and entitlements! There’s work that any of us can do! Like Dave Ramsey says, everyone of us needs to have the responsibility to “go out, kill it, and drag it home” to eat…
You DON’T SPEND what YOU DON’T HAVE!! for anything!

tcoyote
Guest
tcoyote

The root of this economic mess wasn’t greedy bankers, but greedy citizens who incurred $14 trillion in consumer debt. We went on a credit binge to end all credit binges. People were borrowing out their home equity and using it to buy big screen TVs, bass boats and vacations they could not afford otherwise. You can package and repackage that debt all you want, but fundamentally, we Americans borrowed far more as individuals and households than we could support. It was people defaulting on their loans that set off the cascade of bad events that crippled our economy. What we’ve… Read more »

Peter
Guest
Peter

“Who says we can’t eat the seed corn?”
Monsanto wouldn’t argue as long as it’s their seed.
http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_16844.cfm