Wednesday, November 3, 2010


As far as I can tell, Robert Scheer has never received a Chutzpah of the Week award, although his Truthdig Web site has provided source documentation for several such awards.  However, Scheer has the advantage that his weekly column is released on Wednesday mornings with copies at Truthdig and the Web site for The Nation.  He thus found himself in the company of all of the rest of today’s Monday (actually Wednesday) morning quarterbacks trying to assess what happened at the polls yesterday.

Of all the analyses I have read thus far, Scheer’s has been, by far, the most interesting.  True, it carries more than a faint odor of told-you-so thinking;  but, given that Scheer’s thoughts have always given priority to Main Street over Wall Street, it is hard to fault him for sounding like a broken record (yet again).  More important is his rhetorical style.  Where others seem to tangle themselves in their own rhetorical legerdemain, Scheer has the chutzpah to keep his focus on “the working stiff,” even when that means taking those who claim to be his ideological soul mates to task.

In this case those soul mates are the deluded masses who rallied behind Barack Obama blinded by a vision of secular Messianism.  His lack of patience with those enthusiastic voters is on a par with his lack of patience with Obama himself.  This takes us to his choice of words for this morning:

Barack Obama deserved the rebuke he received at the polls for a failed economic policy that consisted of throwing trillions at Wall Street but getting nothing in return. His amen chorus in the media is quick to blame everyone but the president for his sharp reversal of fortunes. But it is not the fault of tea party Republicans that they responded to the rage out there over lost jobs and homes while the president remained indifferent to the many who are suffering.

At a time when, as a Washington Post poll reported last week, 53 percent of Americans fear they can’t make next month’s mortgage or rent payment, the president chirped inanely to Jon Stewart that his top economics adviser, Lawrence Summers, who was paid $8 million by Wall Street firms while advising candidate Obama, had done a “heckuva job” in helping avoid another Great Depression. What kind of consolation is that for the 50 million Americans who have lost their homes or are struggling to pay off mortgages that are “underwater”? The banks have been made whole by the Fed, providing virtually interest-free money while purchasing trillions of dollars of the banks’ toxic assets. Yet the financial industry response has been what Paul Volcker has called a “liquidity trap”—denying loans for business investment or the refinancing necessary to keep people in their homes.

Instead of meeting that crisis head-on with a temporary moratorium on housing foreclosures, as more than half of those surveyed by the Post wanted, the president summarily turned down that sensible proposal. Instead he attempted to shift the focus to his tepid health care reform and was surprised that many voters didn’t think he did them a favor by locking them into insurance programs not governed by cost controls. Health care reform was viewed by many voters with the same disdain with which they reacted to the underfunded and unfocused stimulus program. Neither seems relevant to turning around an economy that a huge majority feels is getting worse, according to Election Day exit polls.

In other words the electorate has been smart enough to see that any promises that Planet Washington would finally bring Planet Wall Street to account for its abuses have now been reduced to dust.  Instead, Planet Washington has itself been reduced to one of those insignificant moons that orbits around Planet Wall Street, and the folks on Main Street welcomed the opportunity to vent their anger about this.  What they have yet to recognize is that, in throwing out the current crop of scoundrels, they have simply replaced them with another crop within the same gravitational pull of Planet Wall Street.

Scheer’s “inconvenient truth” is that our electorate has become more consistent in voting-against than in voting-for:  Those holding office are ultimately the problem, so let’s vote them out of office.  Then it turns out that the new office-holders are just as much a problem as their predecessors had been;  and the Federal Government maintains its business-as-usual inactivity with a consistency scarier than any Emersonian hobgoblin.  Scheer has the chutzpah to tell us that this is the government we have, and he is willing to challenge us by asking if this is the government we think we deserve.  Those seem like perfectly acceptable grounds for a Chutzpah of the Week award.

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