Saturday, August 21, 2010

Article Of The Week

Lower the flag to half mast. It’s bad enough that Thomas Frank has to announce “ This is my last weekly column for the Wall Street Journal,” but concluding “As for me, it's two cans of beer and the escape chute to terra firma. Goodbye and good luck” sounds vaguely ominous.

Frank has appeared in the right-wing libertarian Wall Street Journal for a little over two years now, which would be analogous to Christopher Hitchens being featured in L’Osservatore Romano. Fittingly, his last column, "The Economic Crisis: Lessons Unlearned," is a retrospective, not of his career, reflections, or life journey, but of this nation's politics since autumn of 2008. At the time, he recalls

We were descending further into the worst recession I had ever seen, but at least we were finally going to be done with the farcical intellectual and political consensus of the preceding decades.

Never again, I thought, would journalists fall over one another to flatter CEOs, nor would pundits build careers by finding clever ways to equate the workings of markets to democracy itself. Management theorists would cease to be public intellectuals, and the political advice of stock pickers would henceforth be treated like the toxic sewage it clearly was.

"The market god has failed," I wrote in this space in February 2009, and I thought its flop augured not only a massive reconfiguring of the relationship between investment banks and the rest of society but a complete overturning of the comfortable assumptions of the pundit class.

But, Frank notes those were intellectuals, bound by a different code than politicians and pundits" and

As the right howled "socialism," President Obama took pains to demonstrate his loyalty to the exhausted free-market faith. On trade issues and matters of economic staffing, he loudly signalled continuity with the discredited past. On the all-important issue of regulatory misbehavior—a natural for good-government types—he has done virtually nothing.

The real audacity has all been on the other side. Many Republicans chose to respond to the crisis not by renouncing the consensus faith of the last 30 years but by doubling down on it, calling for more deregulation, more war on government.

Without so characterizing it, Frank indirectly returns to his signature issue, noting "the burgeoning populist movement that now stands beside the GOP, transforming anger over unemployment into anger over the auto bailout and the good pensions enjoyed by public workers." You've seen the script: the GOP right turning not only voters against government, but black against white, worker against worker, middle class against lower class, neighbor against neighbor. Frank is most disappointed in "the world of professional punditry"- it's not only Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck anymore, though they're best at it.

Meanwhile, the left blogosphere urges reform of the filibuster to enable passage of good legislation by the current Democratic majority. This would be, it would seem, sowing the seeds of its own destruction, or at least that of progressive governance. Most of the pundits rate as better than even money election of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives this fall; election of a Senate composed of mostly Republicans is a distinct, though less than 50-50, possibility. And there is little doubt that when there is a majority of Republicans in both chambers, as will happen eventually (as do floods, tornados, hurricanes, and blizzards), it will be controlled by the GOP in a mannner Democrats, under the leadership of a president with a fetish for bipartisanship, have failed to do.

Taking heart from Barack Obama's effort to weaken Social Security, the GOP will eviscerate it; financial reform will be reformed to strengthen the market positionof the largest financial institutions, harmig smaller banks and the public; and health care reform will be undermined. Some Republicans have pledged to rescind health reform; worse yet, they would be likely to revoke only the better parts, giving the insurance industry the goodies President Obama handed to the hospital and drug industries.

Hopefully, traditional and the alternative media will be there to expose the GOP as it continues, with increased power, on its path of destroying the middle class. Thomas Frank will be among, if not the, most insightful of that group, wherever he is writing. I'll be looking for him, and you should, too.

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