Thursday, March 12, 2009


Recently the airwaves and editorial pages have been full of conservative pundits and academics intent on making the case that “The New Deal didn’t really work.” These economic “revisionists” are motivated in part by a seemingly never –ending hatred of Franklin Roosevelt. In addition, although they won’t say it, they are fearful that the extreme measures currently being taken by the new administration will actually work, thus bringing about another half-century of progressive and to their minds “socialist” policies

In many respects these current day naysayers are the descendents of the greedy plutocrats of the 1930s and 40s who found themselves unable to cope with the fact that desperate times call for desperate measures. The right wing naysayers are not all wrong. Even the most vehement FDR proponent will admit that WWII and not the New Deal was the key to restoring the economy to full health. The critical point that the aforementioned misguided critics gloss over is that the many progressive programs brought about by the Roosevelt administration were critical to sustaining hope and to maintaining the fundamental underpinnings of society until the economy could recover.

The bottom line is that anyone who tells you that New Deal actually prolonged the depression is either stupid or misinformed. The country was headed for revolution. Food riots were common. Half of our nation’s citizens were suffering immense hardship. What the New Deal gave the common man was hope for the future. Prior to FDR, the US government went out of its way to drive home the point that if you and your family found itself headed for the gutter it was no one’s fault but your own. During the Hoover administration, when previous hardworking men and women applied for government assistance, it was official policy to humiliate them and make them feel as if they had failed. The truth was of course that it was America’s leaders who had failed. Rich people always like to make the poor believe that they are the cause of their own misfortunes. They did in 1930 and they do today.

Which brings me to Mr. Rick Santelli, the CNBC beat reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade. For 2-3 days last month Mr. Santelli’s rant against the administration’s newly released housing bailout plan, dominated the 24 hour news cycle. During his tirade he made several glaringly inaccurate statements. One in particular noted that “Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ‘54 Chevys” Yes, it is true, before Castro, Cuba did have mansions, mansions owned by a tiny minority of wealthy Cubans who were lucky enough to be connected to the US backed Batista regime. During Batista’s reign the majority of the people on the island lived in poverty or near poverty. Before Castro took power if one walked the streets of Havana, one would see plenty of beggars and prostitutes but very little of what we in America refer today as a middle-class. Granted, the lifestyle of the average Cuban today is far from “moonlight and canoes” but the people of that nation enjoy the highest literacy rates in Central and South America, adequate health care, and guaranteed food and shelter. All of the aforementioned would have been unthinkable under Batista.

Santelli’s lack of knowledge on the causes of the Cuban revolution was troubling but he really went beyond the pale when he called the many people who stand to benefit from the proposed mortgage plan, “losers.” He also noted that to his mind, helping mortgage holders whose houses were going ‘underwater” was tantamount to rewarding bad behavior. This kind of thinking is typical among conservatives. Rather than try to find ways to help people they are always ready to punish anyone who does not meet their self-serving standards. Like the heartless cretins who ran relief programs during the Hoover administration, Santelli cannot wait to blame the victims.

The fact is that the plan, despite the disinformation being spread, is not going to pay the mortgages of those whose loans are in default. Rather the imitative is designed to keep people in their homes by refinancing the loans to a point where homeowners will decide to stay and make a go of it. I will grant you that many of the people who will be helped by this program did indeed make bad decisions, however the critical point is that, for good or for bad, they have the potential to keep paying their loans. Which brings me to the central question, which is better, calling someone a loser and making them feel like a failure or giving them a chance to save their home? Or for all you born again Christians out there, What would Jesus do?

The answer is he would do all he could to help keep a family in their home. When homes are foreclosed on, neighborhoods and eventually families die. No one should get a free ride, but when someone makes a mistake, but still has the wherewithal to holds things together, society should do everything it can to help ameliorate the situation. David Brooks, the conservative columnist for the New York Times said it best, The nation’s economy is not just the sum of its individuals. It is an interwoven context that we all share. To stabilize that communal landscape, sometimes you have to shower money upon those who have been foolish or self-indulgent. The greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen. And at some level, we’re all in this together. If their lives don’t stabilize, then our lives don’t stabilize. I could not agree more. Brooks makes it clear, as was the case in 1932, the real losers are those rich and powerful individuals who would rather punish and condemn than help people who need it.

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