Saturday, April 17, 2010

Reading between the Republican Lines

Maybe we do live in the "post-truth" era. But ultimately, one has to conclude that the future of our republic depends on keeping the percentage of citizenry who willingly switch off their their higher brain functions to a manageable 18% (the estimated size of the worst components of Tea Party movement - the ones whose hatred of Barack Obama trumps any rationality, who rail against their "high taxes" when, in fact, Obama has LOWERED the tax burden on the middle class). A newly invigorated Democratic leadership (yes, health care reform was anything but universal health insurance, but give them some credit) is now going after the financial industry, and actually showing a modicum of teeth in the proposed legislation.

Both the Dem and GOP rhetoric positions both parties as being on the side of "Main Street" and their opponents as in the hip pocket of Wall Street. Well, in our post-modern age, is it possible that they are both right?
Guess again. The Rethuglican leadership are following the line-by-line strategy of a rather odd-looking political consultant named Frank Luntz. In January, Mr. Luntz wrote in a memo widely circulated in GOP circles: “Frankly, the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout.” Uhhh, anyone remember who was in power when the Big Bank Bailout was conceived?

In a 17-page memo titled, "The Language of Financial Reform," Luntz urged opponents of reform to frame the final product as filled with bank bailouts, lobbyist loopholes, and additional layers of complicated government bureaucracy.

"If there is one thing we can all agree on, it's that the bad decisions and harmful policies by Washington bureaucrats that in many ways led to the economic crash must never be repeated," Luntz wrote. "This is your critical advantage. Washington's incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support."

Luntz continued: "Ordinarily, calling for a new government program 'to protect consumers' would be extraordinary popular. But these are not ordinary times. The American people are not just saying 'no.' They are saying 'hell no' to more government agencies, more bureaucrats, and more legislation crafted by special interests."

In other words, take advantage of angry tea-baggers failure to look below the surface of Fox News' articulation of reality. Or, in one 3-letter word: LIE!!!!!!!!!!!! Just as they did with health care (position pieces courtesy of the same Mr. Luntz).

So of course, that stalwart senator from Kentucky, he of the weakest chin on Capitol Hill (and that ain't easy), Mitch McConnell, gets right out there spinning the rhetoric.

As Paul Krugman tells us: "It’s a truly shameless performance: Mr. McConnell is pretending to stand up for taxpayers against Wall Street while in fact doing just the opposite. In recent weeks, he and other Republican leaders have held meetings with Wall Street executives and lobbyists, in which the G.O.P. and the financial industry have sought to coordinate their political strategy.

"And let me assure you, Wall Street isn’t lobbying to prevent future bank bailouts. If anything, it’s trying to ensure that there will be more bailouts. By depriving regulators of the tools they need to seize failing financial firms, financial lobbyists increase the chances that when the next crisis strikes, taxpayers will end up paying a ransom to stockholders and executives as the price of avoiding collapse.

"Even more important, however, the financial industry wants to avoid serious regulation; it wants to be left free to engage in the same behavior that created this crisis. It’s worth remembering that between the 1930s and the 1980s, there weren’t any really big financial bailouts, because strong regulation kept most banks out of trouble. It was only with Reagan-era deregulation that big bank disasters re-emerged. In fact, relative to the size of the economy, the taxpayer costs of the savings and loan disaster, which unfolded in the Reagan years, were much higher than anything likely to happen under President Obama.

"To understand what’s really at stake right now, watch the looming fight over derivatives, the complex financial instruments Warren Buffett famously described as “financial weapons of mass destruction.” The Obama administration wants tighter regulation of derivatives, while Republicans are opposed. And that tells you everything you need to know.

"So don’t be fooled. When Mitch McConnell denounces big bank bailouts, what he’s really trying to do is give the bankers everything they want."

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