AlterNet: Thomas Frank: How the Right Wing Hijacked Rage Over the Economic Collapse and Swindled
1/1/12 7:00 PM
Thomas Frank: How the Right Wing Hijacked Rage Over the Economic Collapse and Swindled America
By Jefferson Morley, Salon Posted on December 28, 2011, Printed on January 1, 2012 http://www.alternet.org/story/153593/thomas_frank%3A_how_the_right_wing_hijacked_rage_over_the_economic_collapse_and_swindled_america
In his new book, “Pity the Billionaire,” Tom Frank turns his mordant eye on the unlikeliest political development of the Obama presidency: how the crash of 2008 served to strengthen the political right. The deregulation of Wall Street, championed for 30 years by right-wing leaders, had led to an economic catastrophe so frightening that the country elected a liberal Democrat to the presidency. Yet two years later, the most conservative faction of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, had taken effective control of the House of Representatives, the regulation of Wall Street had stalled, and the champions of economic deregulation in Washington had emerged stronger than ever. Frank, author of the bestselling book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” provides a pithy and nuanced explanation of what he calls the “hard-times swindle.” He spoke with Salon from his father’s home in Kansas City, Mo. Early in the book, you describe the moment in the spring of 2009 when free-market economics had been so thoroughly discredited that Newsweek could run a cover story proclaiming, “We’re all socialists now.” What happened? Why did that moment dissipate? I saw that cover so many times [at Tea Party events]. For these people, that rang the alarm bell. I think the AIG moment [when the bailed-out insurance behemoth used taxpayer relief to dole out huge bonuses to its executives] was in some ways the high point of the crisis, when [the politics] could have gone either way. There was this amazing public outrage, and that for me was the turning point. Newsweek had another cover, “Thinking Man’s Guide to Populism,” and I remember this feeling around the country, that people were just furious. Somehow the right captured the sense of anger. They completely captured it. You could say they had no right to it, but they did. And one of the reasons they were able to do it was because the liberals were not interested in that anger. I’m speaking here of the liberal culture in Washington, D.C. There was no Occupy Wall Street movement [at that time] and there was only people like me on the fringes talking about it. The liberals had their leader in Barack Obama … they had their various people in Congress. But these people are completely unfamiliar with populist anger. It’s an alien thing to them. They don’t trust it, and they have trouble speaking to it. I like Barack Obama, but at the end of the day he’s a very professorial kind of guy. The liberals totally missed the opportunity, and the right was able to grab it. Looking back on it, I feel like people like myself were part of the problem. We sort of assumed with the Democrats in power, the system would correct itself. One of the problems with liberalism in this country is that it’s headquartered in Washington and its leaders are a very comfortable class of people. Washington is one of the richest cities in the country, maybe the richest. It’s not a place that feels the crisis, that feels the economic downturn. By and large, the real estate market stayed OK. The city continued to boom. The contracts continued to flow. What we’re talking about here is the failure of modern liberalism. At one time it was a movement of working-class people. The idea that liberals wouldn’t feel economic pain was ridiculous. That’s who liberals were. No more. You write that after Obama took office, “market populism was the only utopian scheme available to disgruntled Americans.” There was no liberal utopian scheme that said, “Here’s how we get out of this.” There wasn’t even a Rooseveltian scheme, which was not utopian but very practical. Just to talk about Roosevelt would have been fantastic. One of the research points in the book that I thought was really interesting … was the history of the bailouts in 1932 and 1933 — when the Hoover administration did a lot of bailouts. We don’t remember that. [These bailouts] were massively unpopular for the same reason they were unpopular this time around: really blatant cronyism. We don’t remember that a big part of Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign [in 1932] was to be against these bailouts. There were maybe five newspaper articles in 2008 that mentioned this pre-history of the bailouts. It just never came up.
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and then I noticed it across the board. a product of the times we’re in.alternet. I think that the conservative idea of revolting against the ruling class by holding up the market as an ideal is completely backwards. They did a lot of good things — the stimulus package of 2008 was good thing — but they didn’t realize you have to sell something like that. That’s the end that the Internet is constantly pushing us toward. It was just “listen to the experts. but it’s also an ideological phenomenon.” And she’s one of the good guys.” At first I thought it was a peculiarity of Glenn Beck. “We know what the answer is: Keynesian stimulus. and their faith in it was so great … It is a product of economic collapse. I’m very pleased. “Things would be better if we listened to the experts. complete with utopianism. Still. and it seemed like the expiration date had come and gone. it’s very gratifying to watch — and on a level deeper than most TV entertainment. We’re taking on the powers that be. and controls the academy. Maybe not in the hellish way it is portrayed on the right. people have a lot of suspicion of government handouts. So let’s just do it.org/module/printversion/153593 Page 2 of 4
. So it’s a technological phenomenon.” They didn’t understand that this nation only adopted Keynesian stimulus spending back in the 1930s amidst this terrible wrenching experience.AlterNet: Thomas Frank: How the Right Wing Hijacked Rage Over the Economic Collapse and Swindled America
1/1/12 7:00 PM
It was like the party’s muscle memory of the New Deal was lost. “We’re the revolutionaries.” It seems like the modern digital communication revolution encourages this. one of the best people in the Obama administration. this miraculous economic system … So [the right] is constantly talking about this infernal elite that controls government. This seems to be the dominant mode: The right is saying. and if you agree with them. I can say it stronger than that. That’s what modern marketing is all about. controls corporations. This is the genius of Fox News. But the notion that the free market is an act of rebellion against it seems pretty fanciful. They think their entire way of life is crumbling around them. It is true that the Democrats completely imagine themselves as being the party of the professional class. That’s their view. So maybe it is true that the Obama technocracy is the infernal elite. With Obama the muscle memory of the Democratic Party is the Clintonian technocracy of the 1990s.” I have a quote from [Obama economic advisor] Christy Roemer where she says. I thought the left’s moment had passed. [Obama and the Democrats] seemed to think they didn’t need to dirty their hands by making a populist appeal.’” You finished this book around the time Occupy Wall Street started. the Depression. but it is an elite. Just leave it up to the experts who are going to figure a way out. The message is “You’ve worked really hard. This is where we’re going. It is fun to watch. They were like. because I don’t think that is a way of understanding our modern world that can bear a lot of the weight. They believed in it. Their message was: The technocratic way is going to solve our problems. It is absolutely preposterous. and an enormous campaign [by FDR] to tell the nation why this was necessary. They won’t let you say the word ‘Christmas. especially on the left. Is it possible for the Occupy movement to reverse the gains of the right?
http://www. You saw this in the ’30s. and that we have to wrench ourselves free. “A cognitive withdrawal from the shared world” — that sounds like a description of the Internet. You played by the rules and now they’re disrespecting you. Government debt bothers people for very obvious reasons. [Obama] didn’t make any effort to make the argument. the defenders of the system. where they come from. At one point you talk about “a cognitive withdrawal from the shared world. It’s not the elite. You can now believe things that are demonstrably false and never be challenged. but in the sense that these are the defenders of bailouts. You have an interesting discussion about how the Tea Party movement mimics what was once the left-wing style. I wouldn’t go too far with that. There is a ruling class in this country. If you don’t sell it — if you just do this spending — well. People are desperate. That’s exactly right. but in a lot of ways the horse has already left the barn. The Democrats very definitely identify with academia. Were you surprised by the emergence of the movement? I was surprised. and that is an elite. You can withdraw. That was almost exactly three years after the crash of September 2008. with this intense faith in an economic system that will solve all your problems and that represents you perfectly. That’s the home of the professions. People would be so committed to this economic utopia [communism]. directly or indirectly. They picked up this 1930s style and language. and they reach for … a utopian system where everything is explained.
At the end of the day I doubt it. That scared everybody.alternet. “There’s no way these guys can recover now after this screw-up. Francis Scott Key. Snow-Storm in August: Washington City. Now it is. it … was not something for NPR Book Talk. Professionals are feeling the heat. They might. The problem is that they’ve been going the other direction for 30 years. liberals have been making their own move to professionalism. When I started writing about inequality 10 years ago. The hostage taking? They were holding a gun to the head of the nation’s economy. The right does seems to be a little bit on the defensive at the moment.” You have shown how entrenched those impulses are in American politics. I would love to see it happen. My liberal friends have been doubting the right for decades. but I don’t know how it’s going to happen. but now they’ve discovered they can say anything. The system is not just screwed up for people out there who we sympathize with. Let’s see if they can make a comeback when it gets warm again. That was a huge turning point. and that requires a complete change in the way they look at the world. Ever since the right-wing backlash began. and it was so patently the doing of the Tea Party Republicans in the House.org/module/printversion/153593 Page 3 of 4
. and now we have to pay. like the way the professions are supposed to be. all of a sudden we realize we are insecure. but so will this utopian market populism. Yet at the end of the book. The system is not working like that anymore.” But they keep coming back. In their minds. That was really a hopeful moment for me. It was the predecessor to the Occupy movement. People will never come back to them after this. It’s like some kid discovering a new video game. so why not make it happen? You conclude by saying say that the problems that editorialists fret about — inequality. and the Forgotten
http://www. [To voice outrage] would require them to reverse course. and then there were the off days where you had “only” a couple of thousand — and this went for day after day. The main thing that has to change is that Democrats and liberals have to be able to speak to the outrage. There were big days when they had a hundred thousand people. They did ruin the nation’s bond rating. They think we’re due for something like the 1930s. Occupy Wall Street has injected a change in discourse. I think one thing has happened: Middle-class or upper-middle-class liberals in Washington. The dominant narrative of last summer — government spending is the problem — has been lost. It was not quite within the bounds of the acceptable. that we’ve spent beyond our means.AlterNet: Thomas Frank: How the Right Wing Hijacked Rage Over the Economic Collapse and Swindled America
1/1/12 7:00 PM
Is it possible for the Occupy movement to reverse the gains of the right? I hope so. Tell me about it. They can endlessly withdraw into this world of utopian fiction and everything can be explained away. Economic insecurity is now pervasive even in the professional class. Things like that should be off the table in our politics. which you describe as chasing “the dream more vivid than life itself. They see the financial crisis as something we deserve. I would like to see that happen. Jefferson Morley is the Washington editor of Salon and author of the forthcoming book. And you could have had an unthinkable catastrophe if they had done what they were threatening to do. we need a recession to get back on track. That was an outrage in its own way as great as the bailouts. People aren’t defensive when they talk about inequality. They have long inveighed against relativism. when you had thousands of people surrounding the capitol every day. but I honestly don’t know. Maybe that is where the change will come from. and you suggest they might do exactly that — take actions they know would ruin the economy.“ The right has discovered the magic against relativism. Another thing that I think changed things was the debt-ceiling debacle last summer. And that’s a huge change. It was a shocking moment. They’re always saying. global warming and financial bubbles — will endure. Maybe part of the American pursuit of happiness is to “chase the dream more vivid than life itself. It’s so awesome. you contemplate the right wing in power. It’s screwed up for us. So what gives you hope? I was out in Wisconsin earlier this year. They’re not insulated from market forces.
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1/1/12 7:00 PM
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