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Bill Moyers: Thomas Frank and Mother Jones on the Vast, Corrupting Power of Money in Politics

When it comes to the vast, corrupting influence of money in politics, historian Thomas Frank has sounded the alarm loudly and often.

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Bill Moyers: And everybody was saying, "Come on Barack, give us an FDR, right?

Thomas Frank: That's right. I thought it was a Roosevelt moment. And he certainly had the public, the kind of public adulation that Franklin Roosevelt had in 2008. Remember those crowds when he was inaugurated, all those people out on the National Mall. He was something like a national savior. People really thought it's Franklin Roosevelt all over again. Didn't work out that way.

Bill Moyers: But recently Barack Obama sent his campaign manager, Jim Messina, to New York to assure the financial services industry, Wall Street, that when they heard Barack Obama talk populist rhetoric on the campaign trail he wasn't going to demonize them.

Thomas Frank: He wasn't going to demonize Wall Street? Oh no. This is the amazing thing to me, that we have just come through this sort of extraordinary real world demonstration of the folly of our financial system, of all the stuff that we've been doing, the deregulation of the last 30 years, the setup of the Federal Reserve system, however you want to put it, it has all failed us.

And we haven't been able to rise to the challenge and do anything, you know, to fix it in a really structural way like they did in the 1930s. We haven't done that. And Barack Obama who had that opportunity and had both houses of Congress and had, I mean, the world at his feet in 2008 could have gone in any direction he chose, instead chose to basically follow in the footsteps of the sort of tepid centrist Democrats before him, you know, to do little regulatory things here and there, to use some sort of mean-sounding rhetoric at times, but to not really change anything.

And the failure is the Democrats. Democratic Party has by and large not risen to the challenge. I mean, this is not the party of Franklin Roosevelt, it's not the party of Lyndon Johnson. This is a part that can't, you know--

Bill Moyers: And Barack Obama for all of his virtues and intelligence is not a man of the people.

Thomas Frank: No, he's not. And he also, he's a man of academia. He's a man who believes in experts and expertise as we've seen in many, many, many, all the different sort of arenas of his presidency whether you're talking about the war in Afghanistan or whether you're talking about the financial crisis.

This is a man who defers to experts, believes in expertise. He does not have much sympathy for, say the labor movement. He can't go out there and tell you why, say the regulatory agencies failed. He can't, it doesn't make sense to him. He can't talk about these things that everybody wants to know about.

Now, on the other side you've got a movement, the conservative movement, a right wing populist movement that talks a very good game, that speaks to people's anger and that offers them a kind of idealism, a kind of hope that perversely draws on a lot of the rhetoric of the 1930s and models itself after a lot of the movements of the 1930s.

And what they offer, this is interesting. What they offer, the dream, the sort of utopia, the vision that they have for the future of our country is pure free markets. And they say this all the time. It's not me making this up. You go to any Tea Party rally--

Bill Moyers: That's right. We've covered them. You're exactly right.

 
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