America Is Really Angry - Obama Aides Still Fretting About Elite Opinion
By David Sirota
March 16, 2009 - 1:33pm ET
The crack reporting team at the New York Times gives us a huge scoop: Newsflash - America is really really angry at a government that keeps giving away taxpayer cash to banks while telling us we need to solve a deficit problem by potentially slashing Social Security. What a shocking scoop...only, ya know, a few months late (but hey, better late than never).
What I find newsy about this story is the subtext highlighted in this excerpt:
The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda...
Even as Mr. Summers was denouncing A.I.G. for the bonuses, he suggested that there was little if anything the government could do to stop them, seconding the conclusion of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.
So, what we see is A) an administration more worried about the populist anger's consequences for its image rather than its utility in passing an aggressive agenda and B) Wall Street sycophants like Summers and Geithner continuing to push a red herring that says there's nothing that can be done to stop corporations from using our taxpayer money to subsidize bonuses for the same executives who created this economic crisis. In short, what we see here is an administration more worried about elite opinion - and more willing to echo elite opinionmakers' canards - than about seeing this populist moment as an opportunity.
The fact is, the populist anger that the Times examines could be a huge force for good - if the administration gets serious about championing it, rather than trying to suppress it out of deference to a punditocracy that says it is "dangerous" or "unserious" or "too emotional." Doing the latter, in fact, is the best way for the White House to become a target of the public's ire. But then, doing the latter is exactly what the Washington insiders in Obama's administration have been doing for the better part of a generation - and so asking them to do anything different may be asking them to change too much.
This was the reason why Obama was originally right when he said "change doesn't come from Washington, it comes to Washington" - because Permanent Washington is predisposed to see public passion and anger as a threat rather than an opportunity.
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