Monday, March 16, 2009

Backlash

The Obama administration is worried that the public might not take kindly to the fact that executives at big banks and companies like A.I.G. made out like bandits with bonuses.

“Never underestimate the capacity of angry populism in times of economic stress,” said Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “A big challenge for President Obama will be to maintain a rational and tactical public discussion in the midst of this severe downturn. The desire for culprits at times like this is strong.”

Yeah, no kidding, if the number of times the videos of Jon Stewart taking down Jim Cramer is any guide. The instinct of going for the pitchforks and torches and storming the citadel are strong, especially when there’s no other recourse but to give into the rage. It’s not only because a lot of people have lost their savings both on paper and in the reality of the sheriff knocking on the door to foreclose the property, it’s the air of arrogant entitlement that comes from people like Edward Liddy, the CEO of A.I.G. explaining to the Treasury Secretary that as much as he’d like to not give the multi-million dollar bonuses, his hands are tied by contracts that cannot be legally broken.

The visceral anger that a lot of people — employed or otherwise — feel when they hear stories about the rich getting richer at the expense of the taxpayer, followed by the limp justifications in legalese or the maddening counter-accusation of fomenting “class warfare” is the stuff of revolutions… or at least the talk of vengeance against the haves by the have-nots. Some folks call it raging populism. Whatever you call it, it only contributes to an atmosphere of privilege and entitlement that bears more than a little whiff of IGMFY: “I got mine, f*** you.”