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In Case You Thought We Knew Each Other…

January 14, 2010

Gerald F. Seib thoroughly misunderstands partying like it’s 1773:

Could all those populist pitchforks currently pointed at Washington be turned toward Wall Street instead?

That’s the question that ought to worry Wall Street executives as they prepare to pay themselves nice bonuses this month, hard on the heels of a government bailout of the financial system, and amid continuing job losses around the rest of the country. Financial firms know they’re in for heat on bonuses; they’ve already been chastised on national TV by President Barack Obama’s chief economist.

The more searing heat, though, might come not from Washington’s corridors of power but from the streets, where disjointed populist armies are starting to organize in the so-called tea-party movement.

It’s a movement dominated for the moment by mistrust of big government and big government health-care plans. But it’s also animated by mistrust of big institutions in general, and a tendency to see those institutions secretly working in tandem to the detriment of the little guy. So it’s a short leap from anger at Washington’s spending of taxpayer dollars to anger at Wall Street executives saved by those same taxpayer dollars — and then taking home big bonus checks.

Listen, bro.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Tea Partiers are generally conservatives, and conservatives don’t really care about what people get paid because they happen to think that it’s none of their damn business in the first place.  The Right somehow got hemmed in as a staunch defendant of big business, mostly because of all the ordure that the Left flings at it on a consistent basis (The individual mandate is a handout to the evil insurance industry!).  Conservatives are just as opposed to the close relationship between big business and government as they are to the man crushes that the President and Andy Stern seem to have on each other.  But that doesn’t mean that suddenly it’s Sarah Palin’s or anyone else’s business how big Ken Lewis’s retirement package is.

Sure, those are taxpayer dollars they’re using.  Tea Partiers were mostly opposed to the financial bailout in the first place.  But really?  You think conservatives are going to sit around and say “It’s not fair that they get paid so much!”  That’ll be the day—people are more likely to get Zoloft prescriptions because they don’t get to live on the alien planet in Avatar.  Wow, that’s true?  I guess I’ll need another analogy.

Why don’t we talk about things that the Tea Partiers might actually get mad about?  Say, like the retroactive spontaneous taxation of bonuses that insurers were contractually obligated by a Congress and a President who were supposed to have read the legislation that established that very remuneration to provide?  I’d certainly put my money on conservative populists raising hell because of federal breach of contract than bank bonuses.  Recall that it was the populist Left that was behind that charade.  At the very core of the Tea Party movement is an insistence on principled action from elected officials.  And people in this country actually think that its members will abandon theirs to bitch about bank bonuses.  It never ceases to amaze me how little we understand each other as a country.

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