And it could work.
The plan is to channel anti-Wall Street rage into an overall fury at "them" - big government, "liberal elites," everybody who seems to be better off than you and your family - and turn that rage toward the political party that most favors banks. It's not a new game. It's been going on since Nixon and Agnew inverted the historical understanding of the GOP as the party of big business and successfully painted the Democrats as a snobby group of elitists.
It's based on a simple bait-and-switch: Make sure that people stay angry at the bailout, which will essentially be history by the time of the next major election, and keep them from thinking about deregulation, which was the initial cause of the crisis. Emphasize the big bonuses - an artifact of the bailout - and ignore the rapacious and greedy behavior permitted by the weakening of oversight and actions like the repeal of Glass-Steagall.
That plan needs Democrats clumsy enough to let themselves be painted into a corner, despite their more middle-class-friendly proposals. Sadly, as back in Nixon's day, Dems seem happy to oblige. The President's hapless remarks yesterday about bonuses for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein weren't quite as bad as some have painted them, when taken in context - but the problem is what Democrats haven't yet learned: People don't take remarks like these "in context." Nuance isn't an effective response to fury or desperation.
Democrats disparage Palin's speaking skills, but she spoke to the public's frustration much more effectively: "While people on Main Street look for jobs, people on Wall Street -- they're collecting billions and billions in your bailout bonuses ... Where are the consequences? They helped to get us into this worst economic situation since the Great Depression. Where are the consequences?"
Contrast that with Obama's "I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen ... I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system." Palin came across like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, while the President sounded like Mr. Drysdale from The Beverly Hillbillies.
Granted, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision makes groveling for corporate cash an even greater part of the political process than before. Even reliable Democratic ATMs like JPMorganChase (led by "very savvy businessman" Dimon) are firing a warning shot across Democrats' bow by stuffing fat wads of cash in the GOP kitty. Not that Democrats aren't benefiting plenty from Wall Street largesse - Chuck Schumer's still their #1 Capitol Hill beneficiary - but Dems are pushing for tighter regulation and far better oversight than the GOP would provide (not enough, but better.)
The irony is that this "populist" movement was a creation of the wealthy and privileged from the start. The "tea party" phrase arose, supposedly spontaneously, from the lips of CNBC reporter Rick Santelli. Santelli, a former futures trader himself, led a televised mock "uprising" of other traders - the very people responsible for the problem - against any effort to help homeowners seduced or duped by banks offering irresponsible mortgages. (A more odious display of sanctimonious self-righteousness is almost unimaginable.) Yet a variety of domain names related to the phrase "Tea Party" had already been registered before Santelli used the term, by organizations tied to ultraconservative and Republican interests. (More here - apologies for the repellent title, but the reporting's good.)
A quick review of the organizers behind what the National Journal calls "12 Key Tea Party Players to Watch" gives us the following:
- A Republican Senator (Tom Coburn)
- A wealthy New York real estate developer (Howard Rich)
- the ultraconservative head of Koch Industries (David Koch)
- a former Republican House Majority Leader (Dick Armey)
- the son of a Republican Member of Congress (Ned Ryun)
- the former campaign manager for a Republican Member of Congress (Frank Anderson)
- a former Republican member of the California Assembly (Howard Kaloogian)
- a fulminating Fox News mouthpiece (Glenn Beck)
- a former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush (Michael Johns)
It seems as if the only influential individual without glaring ties to the GOP or the ultra-right is the organizer of the Convention that hosted Palin, and he's a Nashville DUI attorney. (Write your own joke, as Ed McMahon used to say.) If the GOP/Tea Party connection isn't obvious enough already, in South Carolina they made it official. The Republican party and the Tea Partiers agreed to share a variety of resources, turning a long-time flirtation into a vow of marriage.
The "anti-bank" Tea Party movement's a Republican front, and Republicans are actively marketing themselves to Wall Street as a better - make that even better - bang for their campaign contribution buck than the Democrats.
The GOP's push for "less regulation" is exactly what the banking industry needs to confirm its absolute dominance over the American economy. It would ensure that its excesses are never curbed, perpetuating a system where bankers reap the rewards of success and taxpayers bear the cost of failure. And what's the other centerpiece of Republican economic policy?
Privatizing Social Security.
Where would everybody's Social Security dollars go under a privatization scheme? Why, to Wall Street, of course. The Tea Party plan is simple: Use anti-bank rage to help the Republicans win, so they can give banks even more power. Can the banksters really outsmart the Democrats and pull off a trick like that? From the look of things, the answer might well be:You betcha.