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11-dimensional deck chairs on the Titanic

The Economist has some interesting data relevant to political economy:

The General Social Survey has been polling Americans about their confidence in major institutions (among other things) since 1972. The preliminary data for 2008 show a marked drop in confidence in every American institution since 2000 except military ones and education. The proportion of people expressing “a great deal of confidence” fell from 30% in 2000 to 16% in 2008 for big business, from 30% to 19% for banks, from 29% to 20% for organised religion, from 14% to 11% for the executive branch and from 13% to 11% for Congress. It was up, to 52%, for the armed services.

That's quite a groundswell of opinion. Versailles under Bush took a ton of good will off the balance sheet (as it were).

These figures are the stuff that nasty movements are made of.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Populism poses serious problems for both political parties, not least because the very institutions which they spend their lives squabbling over are some of the least respected in the country, just above television and the press. The danger for Mr Obama and the ruling Democrats is that the administration is relying heavily on private investors and Wall Street banks to implement its various rescue plans. This inevitably means rewarding some of the people who were responsible for the crisis. The president hopes that his budget will channel destructive anger into support for his policies. But he could also find his administration blown off-course or even swept aside by popular outrage.

We need a way to combine outrage and The 198-fold Way. Versailles is slowly but surely being eaten away from beneath, so while it is important that the courtiers there be as sane as possible, and the sane encouraged and the insane mocked, that may turn out to be not as important as being... Well, where the puck looks like it's going to be next.

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Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

The danger for Mr Obama and the ruling Democrats is that the administration is relying heavily on private investors and Wall Street banks to implement its various rescue plans.

And, therein lies the administration's trouble, the administration unable to at the very least convey (even if they don't feel it themselves) a sense of empathy. Some president's and governments have been able to get away with Big Gives to the private sector, or even just private-public patnerships to deal with economic crisis, because they were at least able to effectively convey feeling the pain of those they governed, even if it were not true. This president's inability to convey empathy has been apparent from Day One, and when you can't convey empathy, you have no real way short of a show of political force and spending your own political capital to channel populist rage.

He's now brought himself to the position of having to be worried about tamping down on populist rage, instead of worrying about where to direct it. Who'd have ever thought and empathy deficiency could be a political and social liability?

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Katrina destroyed the Bush Administration. It revealed not only incompetence--which had been omnipresent in the Bush Admin for years--but an appalling indifference to how things are actually supposed to work and the suffering that incompetence and tragedy can bring. With unemployment expected to increase 1-2 more points in the next year, and Obama's "outstanding Job Timmy" comment, the president may find himself in Bush's situation circa 2005/6/7/8.

On the one hand, a lame Duck Obama is bad (means he can't fix things). On the other, it may be good (he can't continue to transfer trillions of dollars to the already hyper wealthy and destroy liberal legacies (unions, Social Security, Medicare, etc.). I never expected to be this worried about an Obama presidency. I thought that the media could maybe get something right in their choosing of presidents this go 'round, and still hope they did. But I'm not so sure.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

From Yves. Of course the complete quote is:

A new business trade group run by Democrats close to President Obama may offer K Street an avenue into a White House extremely wary of lobbyists.

Some of us--myself included--have never found the White House to be that wary of lobbyists.

I like the definition of progress:

The whole point of lobbying in the old days was to give businessmen and other special interests plausible deniability by creating organizations (often with innocuous to Orwellian names) to provide cover for who was behind them. Stripping away the veil is now deemed to be progress.