I'm going to be blunt: the anger over the AIG bonuses is bull-effing-crap.
Bullcrap. Straight from the rear, not even on the ground yet bullcrap.
What Congress and the Democratic majority won't tell you is that the AIG bonus “loophole” was written in AIG bailout by the Democrats at the behest of AIG's bosses, who somehow thought that running the newly government-owned company like a business, and not as congressional political puppet, would be a good thing. Of course, the CEO and the management are quite undeserving of bonuses since their company is no longer independent due to their choices, but there are employees at AIG who did nothing wrong and who rely on these mostly merit-based bonuses in their paychecks.
The fact that the same Congress who wrote the bailout is now screaming bloody murder to inflame populist anger against AIG and Wall Street is disgusting to extremes. These are the same people who told oil companies that they'd be nationalized if they did not co-operate with Congress' paranoid hearings during high gas prices (Hugo Chavez has admirers in Congress, apparently). These are the same people who refused to fix the very obvious problems with government owned Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac years before those problems infected the economy. Fanny and Freddie held held over 50% of the so-called toxic mortgages that sunk companies like AIG. These are the same people who now attack capitalism itself for the economy when it was the failings of their own confusing and unbalanced regulatory system. And now they have the stones to throw a bone to the populist mob, sacrificing a major American company for political gain.
Populism is not an old ideology, if you can call it an ideology. Anytime a leader gave in to the protests or riots of angry people, that was populism. Anytime a leader inflamed a group of people with an “us vs them” speech or a “poor vs rich” speech, that was populism. Anytime a politician claimed that everyone but an agree upon social pariah deserves the same rights as everyone else, that's populism. Populism is a broad-reaching, very successful way to gain votes and turn a population against a minority.
Populism is, for lack of a better term, the poor man's revolutionary theory. While Marxists, anarchists and even Islamists have written and debated about how to exactly create a revolution, all populists have to do is get a group of people together and say key words. With conservatives in 2008, it was things like “liberal”, “socialist” or “abortion”. With liberals in 2008 (actually, pretty much from 2000) it was things like “free market”, “war on terror”, “Guantanamo”, “Iraq”, “privatization”, “surge”, “war”, “patriotism”, “success” or “George W. Bush”. When these words were said crowds would become filled with a renewed energy and maybe even anger. They'd become even more motivated to take on the people they see as harmful to the United States.
This kind of serious politics is cheap. It supports rumor mongering, anti-intellectualism and, to be blunt, the most stupid people in politics. At the height of the election, when both candidates were basically carrying torches and pitchforks to every rally, the worst of the worst in attacks made it to everyone's doorstep.
Intentional or not, Barack Obama supported people who went after John McCain's age, spread rumors about his mental capacity, insulted his wife, demeaned his service in the military and so on. Obama's populist army also took horrible shots at Sarah Palin's intelligence and her skills as a mother as well as her husband, her soldier son, her pregnant daughter (and still to today attack her daughter) and her disabled infant son.
From our side, we had people questioning Obama's citizenship (which still continues to this day in an insane, paranoid crusade), holding Obama's race against him (his blackness and/or his mixed blood, humorously), accusing him of being a closet Muslim terrorist despite the fact a huge scandal erupted over his loudmouthed Christian pastor, and countless bigoted statements and cartoons from so-called patriots.
Call me an elitist, but I believe pandering to the mob doesn't help the country all that much. I understand that in a democratic nation like ours the people are the last word on any politician or policy, as they should be, but the extent our leaders pander to the bottom of the intellectual barrel as they do today just shoves out any real chance we have at high minded debate. Political laymans, those who have a very shallow knowledge of politics and history, should not be the ones defining where our country goes.
Our Founders were not kids with a crush on Obama or wearers of large T-shirts with Sarah Palin's face painted on the front. Our Founders were some of the best and brightest people of their generation in British North America. They knew the difference between rights and privileges. They debated law, society, war and justice. They could tell when a king was overstepping his bounds in a constitutional monarchy. Today's laymans write to each other using a massacred version of the English language. Today's laymans read both US Weekly as well as political blogs (US Weekly being more accurate in its reporting). Today's laymans get enraged when a President uses his constitutional powers to listen in on our foreign enemies, but do not blink when Congress usurps the power of states to decide their own fates as they have with the stimulus package and as some want to do with gay marriage.
The need to inflame populist outrage has a lot to do with education. We don't teach critical thinking. We don't teach proper history or enforce proper economic teaching, let alone ideological history and proper identification of ideologies. We have professors teaching that fascism and communism are polar opposites when they are actually nearly the same. We have entire sections of American military history focused (Vietnam) on while others are blatantly ignored (War of 1812, early 1900s Progressive imperialism). These things should be taught in high school or elementary school. Our kids should be able to know what populism is before they vote, not after they have a tenured professor skip over the crimes of the Soviet Union so he can talk about the joys of the command economy.
There is nothing wrong with anyone talking politics or speaking out on politics. The First Amendment gives citizens the right to do so, but it does not means we have to listen to them or think they are smart. We should not be afraid of giving in to mobs just because they threatened to whine and bitch about something they thing is wrong. Like the AIG bonus anger, lowbrow populist anger over Rush Limbaugh's comments on how he wants President Obama's socialist agenda to fail misleads the general voting population, and I have little doubt the ringleaders of the mob intend for that to happen. Alas, relativity smart people like David Frum and David Brooks give in to such people, for reasons I don't know, but when they do it hurts the future of the conservative movement.
I'm pretty cynical on the future of my generation and its ability to think past the next issue of People or the next paycheck, but that does not mean we have to give up on the future of us or our children. Teach your children to read the news. Teach your kids to read the classic stories, to read history and economics. Teach your kids to remain loyal to country, not party.
If we can do that, maybe we can beat populism and the dumbing down of our citizenry and maybe we can have our wonderful nation last a little big longer as a intellectual powerhouse.
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