The marriage of American capitalism and democracy has always been a Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee affair—stormy and erratic since its hasty wedding. But during the debate over a Wall Street bailout this week, we watched that matrimonial knot unwind into a tangled tale of terror.In case you missed it, we--you, and i, and everybody else below the level of CEO/Cabinet officer--are not completely, totally, and unremittingly FUCKED.
As a financial crisis became a political panic, capitalism murdered democracy (ironically, while pursuing a vaguely socialist bailout). Only, unlike a typical horror story, the dead body wasn’t hidden, it was dumped in the nation’s public square.
The fiasco started, like most, with unreasonable demands. Under threat of financial meltdown, capitalism’s corporate lobbyists asked our democracy to forsake its usual deliberations and hand over $700 billion of taxpayer money in less than a week.
Many were surprised when democracy responded with such valiant defiance. As television screens split between the floors of the stock exchange and the House of Representatives, lawmakers initially voted with their constituents and against the bailout.
That’s when this husband-and-wife argument escalated into a grisly crime of passion.
CNN’s Ali Velshi frothed that “the banks and the companies don’t care about the intricacies” of democratic deliberations. A CEO angrily told CNN that “the money is being held hostage to the political process”—as if government resources are rightfully Wall Street’s. And as the Dow tanked, the Chamber of Commerce threatened retribution against recalcitrant lawmakers.
The final deathblow came from TINA, shorthand for “There Is No Alternative”—the motto that Margaret Thatcher used to peddle her corporatism, and that Washington and Wall Street used to promote theirs.
American democracy is defined by vesting government power in systems and rules, not in individuals and whims. We have been, as John Adams wrote, “an empire of laws, and not of men”—until now.
Instead of responding to this meltdown by updating regulatory institutions or investing in job-creating infrastructure, the bailout proposes giving one unelected appointee—the treasury secretary—complete authority to dole out $700 billion to bank executives, with little oversight. And here’s the scary part: That lurch toward dictatorship was motivated not just by crony corruption, but also by a deeper ideological shift.
We now face market forces uninhibited by democratic governance—Chinese dictators and Saudi princes can move trillions of dollars without so much as a press release. This bailout, marketed as a speed enhancer, is an aggressive attempt to discard democracy’s checks and balances and pantomime that kind of autocracy.
Don't look for the Mocha Messiah to change anything. Ask yourself: 1) When was the last time that the Congress went back to a bad bill and FIXED it? Oh, that's right: NEVER! Then 2) When was the last time a President gave back to the Congress powers arrogated for the purposes of negotiating a crisis? Oh, that's right. 1792.