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Memo to Jackass, the Credit Card Industry Doesn't Need Anyone Standing Up for It

A columnist decides the credit card industry is a victim of "public anger" --- how revolting is that?

"Is there any business in the United States more vilified than credit card lending?

The card companies stand accused by Congress and the Federal Reserve of gouging customers with impenetrable fees, enticing innocents to borrow themselves into bankruptcy, and blowing off cardholders who try to correct errors in their accounts.

Attacking these firms is a crowd-pleasing sport for lawmakers, in part because every constituent has a story about being mulcted by a card issuer. Last week the House of Representatives easily passed a credit card holders' bill of rights. The Senate will take up a similar measure soon. President Obama has signaled his approval.

Someone has to stand up for these companies. I guess it'll have to be me…

…The real scandal, according to the common refrain, is that issuers such as American Express, Citigroup and Bank of America have received billions of bailout dollars from taxpayers. How dare they repay the favor by putting the squeeze on us?

This is where populism shades into demagoguery. Critics who argue that it's inappropriate for bailed-out banks to tighten credit terms on taxpayers have it exactly wrong: If we're footing the bill, we should praise these banks for being stingy with credit, not hammer them for it. It won't be any easier for them to pay us back if we hector them into maintaining the loose standards that produced this mess."

-- Michael Hiltzik, Credit card companies as evil villains? It's not that simple, Los Angeles Times.

"Someone needs to stand up" for the credit card companies? Did I hear that right, Michael Hiltzik?

Apparently it is not enough that the credit card companies have spent $15.5 million on lobbying fees in the first quarter of 2009 alone (this according to CREW, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), while employees of credit card companies spent an additional $14.5 million last year, and credit PACs spent $8.6 million more. It's not enough that when the President even considered making a change to the credit laws, 14 top-ranking credit card company officials got to meet with Obama to plead their case in person; conveniently, none of the 14 was a registered lobbyist, which made them exempt from laws banning lobbyists from influencing officials with responsibility for distribution of stimulus/recovery funds. Apparently despite all that the credit card companies are voiceless yet, and still need Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times to champion their cause.

Of all the truly revolting political developments of the financial crisis age -- and there have been a lot of them -- probably nothing is more disgusting than the weirdly intense media backlash against "populist anger," anger that is inevitably described by media sages like Hiltzik as irrational, unfounded, and pointedly unhelpful. The public is depicted as a great dumb beast lashing out wildly at shadows and hallucinations, with the poor diligent hardworking members of the financial class (slaving away to pump much-needed capital into the bloodstream of international commerce) suffering the collateral damage. And while commentators are always careful to note that much of the anger "may" or "could" be justified, rhetorically these lines always lead to a but clause. Rick Perlstein of Newsweek, for instance, noted that some populist anger is useful, but it can very easily transform into the " 'bad' kind of populism -- the hateful kind; the violent kind; the demagogic kind." Author Robert Frank talked about the public anger over the AIG bonuses being reasonable up to a point, but "if we're not careful, we could end up shooting ourselves in the foot," as "any broader effort to cap executive salaries would do more harm than good."

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