Wednesday, October 1, 2008

This Is What Happens with Us v. Them

So my friend who was recently railing about the fat cats on Wall Street in this bailout approvingly sent me the latest Michael Moore missive on same, sedately titled "It's a Right-Wing Coup!":

No matter what they say, no matter how many scare words they use, they are up to their old tricks of creating fear and confusion in order to make and keep themselves and the upper one percent filthy rich. Just read the first four paragraphs of the lead story in last Monday's New York Times and you can see what the real deal is.

The smoking gun here being that lobbyists for Wall Street were trying to maximize their benefits in the bailout. Which is absolutely craven and disgraceful, I agree. But is it surprising? Interests have long been able to influence legislation, which is how we got in this mess to begin with. Of course they're going to send in their minions to increase their advantage when it all tanks! This is why we set up systems with oversight and the correct incentives and don't rely on people to be good for its own sake. It's just human nature.

But I guess it's predictable that once we pit Them against Us, we're going to be suspicious that They can operate under any semblance of good faith. We've been duped before, haven't we? We got duped into war, so why wouldn't they be similarly lying about this too? The Bush administration thus reaps the rewards of years of ineptitude, political opportunism, and kleptocracy; they've manipulated us for so long, there's no way we're going to take them at face value for anything anymore.

At the same time, we've bought into the frames that have defined our polarized times: it all boils down to opinion, there's no objective reality, no common set of facts. There's merely what They say and what We say. The ones who profess to know, the "elites," are just pushing an ideological agenda and are not to be trusted.

The bad part of all of this is that while we settle down into our entrenched battle positions and attempt to stick it back to the people who have stuck it to us, we're not really looking at our own long-term best interests. Just because the Bush administration has wrecked its own credibility doesn't mean that it is necessarily lying about this financial crisis. In fact, there's a pretty broad consensus about how this came about. The sticking point seems to be the best course of action to minimize the impacts to the overall economy. Since no one is omniscient, people of good will can argue about what the government should or shouldn't do next. But as I am not wedded to the purity of the markets nor energized by a good cleansing economic meltdown and hopeful resultant New Deal-style liberal initiatives, I favor the prudent course of doing something if it seems like it could prevent worse impacts. It just seems so much more sensible than doing nothing, out of spite.

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