News & Views from 465 California Street

Goliaths Beware!

Clint Reilly

When more than 75 percent of Americans believe their country is on the wrong track, the pent-up frustration is like a geyser ready to blow.

This presidential election could be the catalyst for angry voters to lash out at everything “big” – banks, Wall Street, special interests, lobbyists, oil companies and other corporations, not to mention a costly and ineffective federal government.

Americans have rebelled against “big” before. During the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, the country rolled back the excesses of unrestrained corporate power.

Is a new progressive era about to explode today, detonated by revulsion against pig-out greed on Wall Street and negligent oversight in Washington?

In his book The Age of Reform, historian Richard Hofstadter traced the roots of 20th-century progressive reforms to the excesses of unbridled economic growth in the last half of the nineteenth century. Although industrialization brought tremendous progress, it also created many new abuses.

In the late 1800s, corporations operated free of federal regulation. But the unbridled pursuit of profit came at a staggering cost: grinding poverty in the cities, exploitation of child labor, unsafe food, public corruption, illegal land grabs, hoarding of vital resources such as oil and minerals, rape of the forests and the destruction of public waterways.

At the dawn of the new century, however, reformers began to emerge. Crusading journalists known as “muckrakers” broke news stories which mobilized the nation.

President Theodore Roosevelt harnessed the growing anger among average Americans to invent “regulation” – government oversight of the private sector to protect the common good.

For the next 75 years, regulation saved capitalism by cleaning up its collateral damage.

Over the past 30 years, however, regulation has been under attack. Ronald Reagan effectively redefined public oversight as “red tape” and “expensive bureaucracy.”

Implicit in his critique was an indictment of the 20th century social agenda Democrats had implemented to bring economic and racial equality to all Americans. This anti-government mantra has anchored Republican domestic policy ever since.

But events have a didactic power that is unrivaled by slogans and ideology.

The recent implosion of unregulated credit markets has been a national teach-in for those who decry government regulation. When a trillion-dollar chain of debt threatened to level our financial system, taxpayers bailed out Wall Street to protect Main Street.

If taxpayers are the guarantor of our financial system, the federal government must oversee and protect the public interest through tough, strictly enforced rules.

Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson recently acknowledged the current vacuum by proposing that the Federal Reserve take action to police Wall Street.

Americans now see the intellectual bankruptcy of the Republicans’ laissez faire governance. They are left with questions:

Why is the United States the only major industrialized nation without a national health care system?

Why are our schools failing and our students lagging behind their counterparts in other countries?

Are we doing enough to empower poor and working class Americans to succeed?

Where is our energy policy?

Why isn’t America leading the way on climate change?

Why can’t our government respond to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina?

Why is the United States more unpopular abroad than ever?

The 2006 midterm election was a strong sign that the anti-government message had run its course. This year will be the election in which voters demand that a proactive federal government check the power of corporate behemoths and once again take up the fight for the average American.

Goliaths beware in 2008! David is coming to seek his revenge.

Comments (3)

  • Very, very smart.

    Posted by: Jef Loeb | July 1st, 2008 at 6:53 pm

  • I think the republican party lacks the one thing that would make the seven questions moot, a soul . Their party motto ought to be ” It’s morally wrong
    not to separate a fool from his money”. When the cats away the mice will play and have they ever. If Mr. Charles Ponzi were alive he’d marvel at how deregulation has turned his grand scheme into an art form. I second Mr. loebs
    comment , best one yet keep them coming .

    Posted by: Bob Snider | July 2nd, 2008 at 2:27 pm


    Posted by: barbara brooks | July 9th, 2008 at 3:23 pm

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