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July 22, 2002

The real marketplace of ideas
Posted by Teresa at 05:06 PM *

This morning in Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall discusses a startlingly apt piece by conservative columnist Christopher Caldwell, in his “Hill of Beans” column in the New York Press. It’s called Who Bought Bush’s Stock?:

[C]orporate scandals are hatching a catastrophe for Republicans. They will probably destroy this administration. …

What kills the President is that every time Harken comes up, Democrats get to retell the story of how he made his money. And this, basically, is the story of the spectacular unfairness with which moneymaking opportunities are lavished on the politically connected. It is the story of a man who has been rewarded for repeated failures by having money shot at him through a fire hose. It is the story of a man who talks with a straight face about having “earned” a fortune of tens of millions of dollars, without having ever done an honest day’s work in his life.

Caldwell briefly rehearses Dubya’s improbable business history: Arbusto, Uzielli, Spectrum 7, Harken, Texas Rangers. As usual, it sounds less like a modern business career than it sounds like those stories about corrupt medieval Popes consecrating five-year-olds as archbishop.

He continues,

For decades now, the “small government” Republican Party has been slamming the corrupt conduct of, say, trial lawyers who just suck money out of the economy and put it in their pockets in the name of the ideal of “representing the little guy.” When they talk this way, I’m all ears. But, Jesus, this is what they have to offer in its place?

It is no use to say this is an old story and that people don’t care about this stuff. In the flush times leading up until the 2000 elections, it’s true, voters were indifferent. But as soon as people start seeing their pension funds decimated by collapsing stock values, they simply cannot get enough of it. Don’t take my word for it. CBS polled voters last week and found 42 percent paying “a lot” of attention, and 37 percent paying “some.” That’s a total of 79 percent, a huge number—higher than the 70 percent who paid attention to the Clinton sex revelations in the very first days the news broke in January 1998.

Well, no kidding. The press always thought that story was a lot more interesting than their average reader did. But the stock market was down four hundred points at closing on Friday and lost another couple hundred today, and frankly I am scared.

I’ve been hearing from friends who’re watching despairingly as their 401(k)s dwindle away. These aren’t rich yuppies or Wall Street yahoos; just prudent working people who thought they had long-term financial plans going. An awful lot of money from small investors and non-financial institutions got put into that great bull market.

Monica Lewinsky was an old story the day she was born. Watching your retirement savings melt away like an ice cube on the sidewalk—that’s news.

A last bit of Caldwell:

What’s more, Americans believe the corruption is not a matter of a few bad apples but a society-wide state of affairs. …[T]he message Americans take from [Martha Stewart’s] insider-trading troubles is that if you scratch a rich person—any rich person—you’ll find some kind of game-rigging and corporate corruption. To CBS’ question, “Do you think U.S. executives are honest?” the answer was No, by 67 percent to 27.
It’s painful watching a conservative inching toward that realization. Spare a kind thought for conservatives and their ideals: Not because they hold them, but because they believe their leadership holds them too. They get seduced and abandoned oftener than a babe who has nowhere to go when the bar shuts down.

Molly Ivins has also been hammering on corporate scandals and the deliquescing stock market. She blew up spectacularly in her 18 July column, Take your ‘we’ and shove it:

There’s some stiff competition in the Stupidest Thing Said Yet department about the swoon in the financial markets. But among the heavy contenders we must surely count those who are now saying they know who’s responsible, and it is us.

According to this theory, you, me and Joe Doaks made Ken Lay do it. Came as a surprise to me, too. Naturally, as a liberal, I just love guilt, so I was ready to sign right up for this one, but try as I may, I can’t get it to make a lick of sense. Nevertheless, several of our heavy ponderers and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page insist that we did it.

It seems “we,” a word they use rather promiscuously in my opinion, were seized by greed and folly in the ’90s. “We” were so stupid we thought stock markets only went up, and “we” are whining like children only because “we” don’t understand that in the big, tough, he-man world of capitalism, we must take risks.

Who you callin’ “we,” white man? …

I can name for you the honor roll of people who regularly raised hell about this very thing in the ’90s — we were not “oblivious” — and we raised hell about exactly the structural, regulatory flaws that have now proved to be so disastrous.

“We” are not in the greedhead class. “We” are not the CEOs who increased their pay from 85 times what the average worker made in 1990 to 531 times what the average worker made in 2000. Over half of us still have no stake at all in the stock market, so be careful with your “everybody.” And many of “us” who do have a stake in the stock market are not day-traders or people who know dog about NASDAQ or any damn thing about the New Economy — which someone, not “us,” kept claiming was a perpetual motion machine. “We” wound up in the stock market only because “we” were encouraged to put our savings into these 401Ks, and that’s all “we” know about any of it.

She had some very sharp points in her column of 11 July about Bush’s big speech on corporate reform, starting with “Well, President Bush made his big speech on corporate reform Tuesday, and the stock market went down by 178 points.” Here’s where it wound up:
The rest of Bush’s speech was a stern sermon on corporate ethics. Considering the source, it does raise the always-timely question, “Is God punishing us?” How much cognitive dissonance can one people put up with? If Bush wants to lecture us on physical fitness, that’s fine, but please, not corporate ethics. …

The country does not need another preacher: We need someone who can run the country. And that means someone bright enough to notice systemic problems in the financial markets.

Since the president proposes nothing to fix the problems — the speech was basically a cheap sop to our schadenfreude — we can look for the situation to continue to get worse. We are already seeing a major pullout from U.S. markets by foreign investors.

You may not recall this because the media were totally preoccupied with Monica Lewinsky at the time, but a few years ago about one third of the world’s financial markets collapsed. A few citizens who were paying attention managed some thoughtful analysis of the problems, including the critical role of capital flight by foreign investors.

I can only hope it’s not our turn in the barrel.

One of the things that bugs the daylights out of me every election year is all the talk about taxes this and taxes that, as though your own personally-paid-out tax, and the way the government spends whatever money it collects from you, is the only way it interacts with your finances. Millions of otherwise intelligent-seeming voters can’t see past their indignation at the idea that someone might be getting a cushy deal off Their Money. It takes up all their brain cells, leaving no room for questions like why corporate taxes have been so piddling during the biggest bull market in history. Or why corporate bigshots who’ve been getting performance bonuses for years and years can turn out to have No Idea Whatsoever about what’s been going on in their company when law enforcement and the SEC come knocking.

If voters ever do get their indignation tamped down, the additional space gets filled with pointless flustering non-issues. Flag-burning, for instance: that’s good for any amount of content-free fuss and botheration. Some years everyone’s exercised about it, other years they aren’t, and either way the flag is still there.

Or take Monica Lewinsky, since she’s already been introduced into evidence. Clinton’s a skirt-chaser: film at eleven. So’s half of Capitol Hill, to estimate it charitably; many of the Republicans leading the “Impeach Clinton” effort were and no doubt still are shameless fornicators. They knew they were, and their colleagues knew they were, even as they pretended to be shocked by Clinton’s doings. They never were shocked. They just pretended they were because they thought it would punch your buttons.

They punch your buttons a lot. School prayer is not actually one of the biggest issues facing America. In fact, if the educational establishment announced tomorrow that they’d decided morning prayer is a good thing after all, and here’s the nice non-denominational prayer they’re going to be using, religious pressure groups would instantly be upset because it Isn’t The Right Prayer. Give them six months and the religious groups would be the ones demanding that prayer be taken out of the schools. The real issue here is that religious groups will reliably twitch any time you say “take prayer out of the schools”, and civil libertarians will reliably twitch if you suggest putting it in; so any time you bring the subject up it’s good for years of handwaving flapdoodle.

It’s as though the guys who are running things are reading the Wall Street Journal, but what they’re feeding the voters is the Weekly World News. They get us all exercised about fluoridated drinking water or politically correct nomenclature or whatever the flavor of the month is, and there’s a lot of sound, fury, and general fizzing about it; but when it’s over, nothing has changed. Meanwhile, while we’re distracted by this nonsense, the people who’re supposed to be our public servants are selling us out to the special interests for bribes, campaign contributions, and other considerations. The officials who do the selling make a good thing of it. The outfits that do the buying then turn around and gouge almost unimaginable sums out of the economic life of the republic.

Up at that end of the business, nominal party affiliation doesn’t matter. They talk about free enterprise, or at any rate some of them do; and they all talk about democracy. But they don’t believe in it for a minute. They belong to a club. You’re not a member of it and you never will be.

Comments on The real marketplace of ideas:
#1 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2002, 06:21 PM:

Ted Barlow first called my attention to the
Caldwell article. He thinks it may signal a
sea change of sorts that a conservative is now
bashing away at Bush this hard.

#2 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2002, 08:45 PM:

Possibly, though it may also indicate a decision that B-sub-2 is no longer re-electable. The Pentagon said today that they wanted a really good reason before they got stuck with invading Iraq, which implies that the War Leader meme is dying. This would begin the process of defining who (or, to be rude but perhaps more accurate, what), under the foreseeable circumstances, will be placed on the Republican bailout. Ballot. Whatever.

#3 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2002, 11:34 PM:

Mr. Ford, from your lips to gods' ears on the first part.

As for the second, I think 'what' is more accurate, and not at all rude. The GOP candidate will be defined on paper first (using market research and focus groups). Only then will actual 'who's be identified, by their fit with the design paradigm and ability to adapt to fit it better. Then a bunch of joke primaries, a joke convention, and a vacuous figurehead will stand up for his photo op.

At this point we will be constrained by courtesy to say 'who' again.

The Democrats, meanwhile, will have 10,000 candidates, who will tear each other into little bits by the end. The one survivor (perhaps a decent chap, but not nearly as good as the guys he destroyed in the Iowa caucuses) will be so tarred with the effluvia thrown at him by his own party that the GOP will hardly need to run attack ads, so they won't: but all kinds of front organizations will.

If the numbers are close, crypto-Republican Ralph Nader will run again, in case a spoiler candidate might do some good. Or evil.

The American people, in their infinite wisdom, will vote for the candidate who's taller, or who looks best on TV, or who projects the most optimism, or who they'd like to sleep with. The networks will call states before their polls even close, and Hawaii will once again be irrelevant; the losing candidate will concede before they even vote.

Only once since I started voting has this process resulted in a President who seemed to know anything about anything, and who seemed, moreover, to care about the good of America, and not just feeding the Enrons and Worldcoms their steady diet of ripoff profits and political favors.

I still hope, though. And I vote every time I have a chance. I figure at least the next time some Brit says "your President," I can say "I didn't vote for him," cold comfort though that is. I wish we could have Tony Blair. I like him, though that may be out of ignorance.

There've always been Starkadders.

#4 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2002, 12:04 AM:

My cynical Canadian gut tells me that George III will Ride Again, but that Mr Cheney will excuse himself because of his health (and to avoid the Silence of the Agnews) quite soon and a plausible Marble Head (a Republican Al Gore, perhaps John McCain) wheeled in to give the Tin Man a Heart, so to speak. But it's too long until the next presidential election for the residue of Financial Cheating Discovered to have much influence on the occupancy of the White House.

Also, if America refuses further Bushwhacking at some point, they'd have a Cincinnatus ready in line to serve out the balance of a term and lose in the subsequent primaries.

#5 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2002, 12:47 PM:

I think it's highly unlikely that W. will not be the next republican nominee. Even if the party brass doesn't think he's re-electable (or rather, electable, since he wasn't elected to this term), it looks very bad for a party not to re-nominate the president.

I do think it's likely that he will be paired with a new VP. I don't think McCain would do it -- he clearly likes being able to speak his mind, which he would not be able to do as Bush's VP -- but various ideas that I've heard floated include John Ashcroft (be afraid) and Condoleeza Rice (who would probably bring some voters that ought to know better to vote for the ticket, but would scare off a lot of voters, too). Or someone else associated with "the war on terror."

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 07:26 AM:

It would take a lot for Dubya to not be the next Republican nominee.

Ever since the South Carolina primaries, the chances of McCain joining forces with Mr. Bush have been very, very slight. They might do it if aliens were invading the planet and they were the only two people left who knew how to find and activate the hidden superweapon left here by a different batch of aliens.

Ashcroft's star is not in the ascendant. The religious far right doesn't like his proposed internal security measures, most likely because they find it easy to imagine themselves being the target of them. And Mr. Ashcroft himself has not been endearing himself to the administration by continuing to act like a showboating senator, rather than a well-disciplined team player. That's not good. The Bushes are particular about their house servants.

Mike, how firmly did the Pentagon say that? What was the context? That's interesting.

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 08:34 AM:

Knowing Christopher Hatton's outlook and views on a lot of things, I think he would be a lot less impressed with Tony Blair if he knew more about him. Frankly.

My own guess about 2004 is that Bush will be renominated (duh) and that Cheney will bow out "for health reasons." If the GOP is smart they'll replace him with Condeleeza Rice. If the GOP were smart, they wouldn't be known as "the stupid party."

John McCain will run as an independent.

The Democrats will nominate Al Gore. Particularly given their newly-foreshortened primary season, which was designed to produce a clear frontrunner quickly and which will act to amplify Gore's natural advantages: the loyalty of a lot of the party's rank-and-file grass-roots activists.

I'm probably wrong about every single detail in the above predictions. In fact, the 2002 elections will give the House to the Democrats and the Senate back to the Republicans, by a hair in each direction. George W. Bush will resign in mid-2003 as revelations emerge about intimate connections between the Bush family, the Bin Laden clan, and Skull and Bones. Two weeks later, President Cheney will expire of a massive heart attack brought on by apoplexy. Under pressure to conduct a bipartisan Administration, President Gephardt will retain many Bush/Cheney Cabinet members, and will submit Sen. Joseph Lieberman's name as his nominee for Vice President. In a bitter confirmation battle, Lieberman will be rejected by the Republican Senate when it is discovered that, hard though it may seem to believe, the Connecticut senator is actually a Democrat. Meanwhile, following the announcement of John McCain's candidacy as an independent, the Republican party will nominate George Pataki for President and, as a historic gesture and a slap to McCain, Arizona Governor Jane Hull. On August 31, 2004, the aliens will land.

#8 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 08:43 AM:

Roll on, August 31, 2004.

#9 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 10:20 AM:

Will they land in Boston? If so, we'll have one hell of a welcoming party for them.

#10 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 02:49 PM:

Teresa, I hope you're right about Ashcroft.

Patrick, your scenarios (both of them) are as believable as anything else I've heard.

#11 ::: Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 03:05 PM:

The last time an eligible incumbent (two-terms rule, now) wasn't his party's nominee was ...drum roll... 1968. I doubt we'll get into that messy a war in Iraq, or the Philippines, or wherever else the Shrub is looking.

Even if we do, the New Hampshire GOP primary won't be as open as the Democratic one was in 1968, and I can't quite see McCain as the anti-war candidate.

I'll see all of you, and the aliens, in Boston in a couple of years. (Anyone need a membership for San Jose? Discount for extraterrestrials.)

#12 ::: Probably-ignorant Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 03:44 PM:

Knowing Christopher Hatton's outlook and views on a lot of things, I think he would be a lot less impressed with Tony Blair if he knew more about him. Frankly.

Probably. I've heard some ick about him too. But he's better than That Churl, as I called her. And Clinton was far from great, but better than...

And like that. Evil. But less so.

That said, maybe he's just rottenrottenrotten and I haven't heard. Sigh. He sounded so GREAT last October.

#13 ::: Tim Frayser ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2002, 04:01 PM:

What cracks me up is that lots of other presidents have been the subject of movies. Washington, Lincoln, Truman, Roosevelt-- they were all president during times of strife, and they all had movies made about their lives. If someone ever makes a movie about Bush, how will the producers handle his going AWOL for a year, or the Harken deal, or his drinking & cocaine use, or Skull & Bones, or his shady business dealings, or his running like a rabbit on Sept. 11th, or his lifetime of privilege and luxury? I doubt even Industrial Light & Magic could make this guy look good.

"Shrub: the Movie!"... I'm thinking direct to video, for sure.

#14 ::: Jeremy Leader finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 06:30 PM:

Comment spam, directly above (until Teresa sees this).

#15 ::: PNH is on the case ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 07:46 PM:

It ain't Teresa who's been primarily on patrol the last couple of days, he grumbled. Mildly. Ever so mildly.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 09:05 PM:

See the power gauntlets? The superhero cape? The bandolier full of wooden stakes? That's Patrick, out on patrol. Let evildoers beware.

#17 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 10:14 PM:

Or, "Spammer, a word of advice: you're an idiot."

Patrick the Spampire Slayer?

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