By Dan Gainor
Vice President Business & Media Institute
“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
In the 1970s, that phrase was made popular by the movie “Network,” where anchor Howard Beale parodied what TV news might become. In 2009, millions of us are mad as hell –- not at TV but at politics. Americans are mad because most of us play the game the right way and if we do, we are now the ones who lose.
Ordinary Americans try to do the right thing, just like Spike Lee told us. We get up, we go to work, raise our families, obey the law and pay our debts. We are mellower versions of the Clint Eastwood character in “Gran Torino.” We just want to be left alone –- by government especially.
The very change that swept Democrats into D.C. will surely sweep them away again if they squeeze ordinary citizens too much to pay for the failings of others.
Unfortunately, while ordinary folks were doing those right things, our politicians are doing all the wrong ones. To help deal with a spending crisis, President Obama and the Democrats give us a nearly $800 billion spending plan. And that’s been quickly followed by a housing plan, an auto plan and will probably be followed by another stimulus. How we’ll pay for it? Don’t ask, voters are told.
And if you live your life right, pay your bills and take care of your mortgage, all you might get is the mini-tax break of $400 per person. That’s about enough money for each of you to go to lunch once a week -– but only for a fast food lunch. At $7.69 a week, Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax credit doesn’t make work pay very well.
The Roman Caesars appeased their people with bread and circuses. In 2009, Obama has offered us bread, too. But this time it’s just a few items from the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s. And, for circuses, the passage of his 1,071-page American Recovery and Reinvestment Act certainly ought to qualify. More than 300 Senators and Representatives –- nearly all of them Democrats –- voted for the largest spending bill in history without ever reading the darn thing!
No wonder we’re angry. While most of us were doing the right thing, some others –- foolish homeowners, stupid bankers, house flippers, idiot politicians and more –- were taking their cues from the movie “Good Fellas” and robbing us blind.
Now we are supposed to bail them out.
So far we’ve dumped several trillion dollars into that bucket and we’re still bailing with no end in sight. No end to what it’s going to cost us, that is. There is an end in sight -– an end to our savings, our retirements, our jobs, our future, even our children’s future.
Who wouldn’t be angry?
CNBC’s Rick Santelli captured that furor by calling for a “Chicago tea party” in a February 19 edition of “Squawk Box” appearance now spreading across the internet like a wild fire. Santelli was a Howard Beale for a new generation –- an oddly cast Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor reporter venting his rage at the free-spending Obama administration. Santelli urged the new president to arrange an online referendum to “see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages.”
It wasn’t just Santelli. The exchange floor erupted in anger and boos as he asked them:
“How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”
The left and the mainstream media will discount this spontaneous moment. After all, those people on the floor who responded so strongly are just whiny financial types or so the pundits will claim. But the pundits will be wrong. Desperately wrong.
Team Obama has helped unleash that anger. Americans were justifiably frustrated at the reckless spending that came out of Washington and they kicked Republicans to the curb for a “change.”
Change came to Washington claiming bipartisanship and transparency. Obama lied on both. The bipartisan bill was rammed through with classic — and sleazy– Chicago-style politics. And how transparent is a process where even graduates of the Evelyn Wood speed reading course couldn’t have analyzed the bill?
Rather than mollify a worried electorate, the Democrats have angered it further. They invoke FDR like some patron saint of populism and expect the masses to march to their tune –- Pied Piper style.
The masses might be ready to march, but with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and more, they no longer rely on leaders to lead. That populist rebellion took down one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington, not over tax problems, but because of hubris. Tom Daschle, a former Senate Minority Leader, assumed he had the power to weather his tax problems. He had no problem with politicians, but an eruption of voter anger doomed his nomination.
People in Washington easily forget that the 1992 “it’s the economy, stupid” election returned nearly 20 million votes for an angry little businessman named Ross Perot. The populists were venting even then. Only prosperity cooled their tempers.
Now it is nearly two decades later and those tempers are hot once again. Populist anger is a great tool to get elected. But it is nearly impossible to control. The very change that swept Democrats into D.C. will surely sweep them away again if they squeeze ordinary citizens too much to pay for the failings of others.
We’re still mad as hell. And now Democrats can’t blame anyone else for a change.
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