Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rage Is Good

Demonstrations April 4 calling Wall Street to account could help progressive populism come alive in America. Obama and Congress need the pressure.

By Tom Hayden - Hopefully, the demonstrations planned on Wall Street April 4 by United for Peace and Justice and other groups will contribute to the global uprising. Our president and Congress need the pressure.

The world has turned against American hegemony before: against the Vietnam war, against the World Trade Organization and against the invasion of Iraq. On all three occasions, the world was right and Washington was wrong.

On this occasion, the global economy is being devastated by the Wall Street crash. Hundreds of millions are are hurtling into extreme poverty, export industries are collapsing, currencies being destabilized.

As the conservative French president Nicolas Sarkozy says, "Laissez-faire, c'est fini." (Laissez-faire is finished.)

As nations blame Wall Street and move to protect their people, the protests need not be anti-American nor anti-Obama. Sarkozy cannot be accused of being anti-US. Neither are Iceland nor Ukraine. The global opposition might just may be what we need, an organized populist counterforce to the business and banking lobbies entrenched in Washington.

Obama's stimulus package and proposed budget are not the problem. They represent the most progressive government initiatives in a half-century. But as Franch Rich noted in the New York Times March 1, Obama "was fuzzy when it came to what he wanted to do about" more bailouts.

The Obama administration is in trouble on the question of what to do about the financial system and the credit crisis. But Rich is wrong, for once, in suggesting that it's "bad news" for Obama that "the genuine populist rage in the country...cannot be ignored or finessed."

The "bad news" is really an opportunity for progressives, unions and Democrats to build a bottom-up populist alternative to the "greed is good" politics of Wall Street, which has infested both parties. Obama should privately welcome "populist rage" as a stimulus to reform. If he does not, he may see right-wing populism making a comeback as soon as 2010.

Some progressives, including even Warren Beatty, think it's time to introduce a discussion of socialism, if only to point out that our present course is one of socialism for the banks and corporations. Obama himself says good things about Sweden's nationalization of banks, but quickly demurs that Americans are not "culturally" ready for such an option. At the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson, a democratic socialist in the tradition of Michael Harrington, prefers re-regulation to either nationalization or socialism at this point: "To avoid socialism (to whatever extent throwing public money at banks is socialism) you need liberalism (that is, the willingness to restrain capitalism from its periodic self-destruction.)

My sense is that we are moving too rapidly towards economic hell for a socialist ideology to catch up. While efforts to dust off and legitimize the term will go on, Meyerson is right that the battlefield just ahead is over reregulation, which may evolve into a contentious, awkward, bureaucratic nationalization out of necessity. That is why the sturdier and heavily regulated Canadian and Swedish banking systems already are being closely examined.
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