Matt Taibbi on Deluded Tea Partiers, Ayn Rand and How the U.S. Is Like the Soviet Union
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The United States has become mired in a complex web of economic instruments that are directly tied to the so-called “bubble” economy. Some economists held them as potential means to assist Americans buy homes, but others think these instruments have merely enabled fraudulent behavior that wrecked the U.S. economy. Making matters worse is the dearth of understanding among many in the public and the exploitation of that misunderstanding by particular politicians, according to author and journalist Matt Taibbi. His latest book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids and the Long Con That is Breaking America, identifies some of the personalities and looming problems within the troubled financial and political system.
Maria Armoudian: In Griftopia’s first chapter, you connect three important elements that are exacerbating our political and economic crisis. One is politicians’ rhetoric that feeds into the misunderstandings. Another is that mass media, when covering politics, tend to focus on the trivial, rather than the meaningful.
Matt Taibbi: Sure and I was part of that. The campaign press are trained to cover politics like a sports story because it’s a successful way to bring eyeballs to television. You present it as an ongoing conflict between these two great parties, red and blue, conservative and liberal, and the rhetoric is more and more heated with each successive electoral cycle. And we present it like a World Wrestling Entertainment smack-down showdown. Even if you watch the actual political shows, they’re even structured exactly like ESPN’s football analysis programs, where you have the anchor guy on one side and there are four commentators, two from each team. That’s the way we do the news; that’s the way we do politics, and we’re not really trained to look at a deeper, more nuanced story. That’s the reason we missed this finance thing because it doesn’t fit into that formula at all. It’s very complicated. It’s also not partisan. It’s not the fault of one side or the other. But it makes it hard for us to digest.
MA: And the rhetoric that you find that has been used over and over from politicians. Sarah Palin’s approach, you said, was right out of the playbook of Richard Nixon.
MT: Right. This is the whole silent majority idea is playing on this kind of Southern white resentment, this idea that, “we obey the law, we pay taxes, we work and somehow it’s all these other people that are reaping the benefits, these people who don’t want to work, these people who are immigrants, and they want to come and steal our social services.” That’s the same kind of idea, the silent majority. Hillary Clinton used some of the same rhetoric in her campaign as well, the “forgotten people” that she talked about. This rhetoric is very useful in getting people to not focus on what happened on Wall Street. It was creating resentment between white middle-class people. And lower-income minorities and the rich New Yorkers were never in the picture anywhere.
MA: How does the Tea Party fit in with your overall assessment of our economic disasters?
MT: I wrote Griftopia really as a crime book about what happened on Wall Street in the last ten or fifteen years. But the politics are an element of the crime, and there had to be a mechanism through which they could get ordinary people to not pay attention to what was going on. To me, the Tea Party was an example of exactly how that works. I see it as a phenomenon where Wall Street has found a way to convince ordinary people to back their political agenda and their deregulatory aims, under the rubric of “we’re going to get the government off our backs,” and it’s really, in the end, it’s just going to be off their backs, but ordinary people believe in it.