March 22, 2009 | I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy.... I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad.
You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'
OK, we're there. We're mad. Everybody's mad. Boiling mad. Mad as hell. We're not gonna take it any more. But what are we going to do? That's the question.
We worked hard. Played by the rules. Paid our taxes. Bought our houses. Saved for a rainy day. Had a million dollars in the IRA so we could enjoy our golden years. And now it's all come crashing down. Trillions of dollars of wealth have evaporated, seemingly overnight. The IRA is worth half what it was a year ago. More than half a million workers are losing their jobs every month. Millions are losing their homes to foreclosure. Millions more owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth. Huge companies — supposedly "blue-chip" companies — are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and the government has pumped billions of dollars into them to bail them out and keep the entire economy, US and world, from collapsing.
Now we find out that many of these companies that have accepted bail-out money are redecorating the executive suite (Citibank), passing out bonuses to executives (AIG and others), and — worst of all — passing out bonuses to the very boy-geniuses that caused the problems in the company (AIG). Most of us grudgingly pay our taxes, but when we find out those tax dollars are being used for things that are clearly wrong under the circumstances, we start to boil.
Now that we're paying attention, we find out that these AIG bonuses, for example, have been known about — or should have been known about — by people in the government for several months. We rightly wonder if anybody is in charge. Do they "get it"?
We find out that Bernie Madoff bilked people out of billions of dollars in a massive Ponzi scheme, many of them people who should have known better. And we're not sympathetic that he wants to stay at home until he is formally sentenced, even though he plead guilty.
Google finds 1,250,000 English web pages that contain the word "outrage" or "outrageous," just within the last seven days. Oh, yeah, we're mad.
The problem is that un-directed rage, or rage directed at the wrong target, can really get in the way of doing the things necessary to solve the problem that makes us so angry. And if that rage is combined with feelings of helplessness, as many people feel right now, the results can be disastrous. Think rioting and looting in the streets. Think increasing armed robbery.
This is a perilous moment for the Obama administration. The tsunami of rage building in the country could easily overwhelm recovery efforts and destroy the hope and promise that got him elected. For all the promise of transparency, the Obama administration has been remarkably unforthcoming about some things. Those bank "stress tests," for example. Of course they don't want to cause panic and precipitate runs on the banks, but it's our tax money we're talking about, we deserve to know that the money is going to institutions capable of surviving, not zombie banks, to use a currently popular phrase.
We need to know the full dimensions of the disaster we are coping with, instead of waiting for the next shoe to drop, the next appalling disclosure. If we don't know what the big problem really is, it's too easy to be distracted by what are probably sideshows, albeit outrageous sideshows. It's too easy to be manipulated by politicians more interested in scoring partisan points than solving problems. And we need some tough-love leadership to reacquaint us with reality: there is no free lunch, nothing is risk-free, sometimes you have to do things you don't like to do or want to do, nobody is indispensable, failure and recklessness have consequences. We need to see some accountability. Heads need to roll.
Afterwords. Last night 60-Minutes showed an interview with Obama in which he (Obama) said:
One of the things that I have to do is to communicate to Wall Street that, given the current crisis that we're in, they can't expect help from taxpayers but they enjoy all the benefits that they enjoyed before the crisis happened. You get a sense that, in some institutions that has not sunk in. That you can't go back to the old way of doing business, certainly not on the taxpayers' dime. Now the flip side is that Main Street has to understand, unless we get these banks moving again, then we can't get this economy to recover. And we don't want to cut off our nose to spite our face.
Commenting on Obama's interview, Capehart said:
The unsettling pitchfork waving last week was a signal that the president is going to have to sit the nation down for a serious talking to. Obama must give some tough love to the financial sector by stating clearly that things will never be as they were. He must make it clear to the taxpayers that getting credit markets flowing again will mean swallowing a bitter but necessary pill. And he will have to clearly explain the consequences if that bitter pill is not taken. Obama should break out the charts, graphs and laser pointer for a teach-in that will leave the American people with a better understanding of what's going on, why he's doing what he's doing and what he expects the outcomes of his actions will be.
Last updated on Jul 16, 2016