We Want a President Who Won't Coddle Capitalism

The American public ain't buying the spoon fed load of crap that Wall Street executives had our economic best interests at heart but just somehow, by accident, went astray.

Recently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up a group of Tea Party activists by ranting against “big daddy” government. But when we’re facing the worst economic crisis in decades, brought about by Wall Street’s blatantly greedy and fraudulent manipulation of our economic security for their personal gain, we should be welcoming “big daddy” government with open arms. Wall Street needs a spanking.

But instead, in his recent speech to financial sector executives, President Obama was at pains to provide comfort to the crooks of Wall Street rather than chastise them. “I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings.” According to the White House, the President is intentionally avoiding a scolding tone in favor of the sort of plain-people-joining-with-powerful-CEOs bipartisanship that was so plainly absurd in health care reform. Obama’s Kumbaya calculus seems based on two assumptions — first, that the American public doesn’t want their president to fundamentally criticize capitalism; second, that the American public will believe the spoon fed load of crap that Wall Street executives had our economic best interests at heart but just somehow, by accident, went astray.

Average Americans who’ve had their homes pulled out from under their feet, their credit card interest rates quadrupled, their jobs shipped over seas — because the financial industry literally created “investments” that bet against the American dream — are not stupid enough to believe that this was all an honest mistake. Taxpayers who were told that bank bailouts were the only way to save our entire economy from disaster can smell the deception buried beneath record Wall Street profits and bonuses now surfacing in the first quarter of 2010 alone. Our collective critique scratches more than the skin of “a few bad apple” executives here and there. In November 2009, a BBC World Service poll found that 63% of Americans think capitalism in its current form is not working. Since then, everything from the Citizens United ruling to the Goldman Sachs indictment has only confirmed our deep suspicion that the nature of capitalism in America is rotten.

That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in markets and business. Americans are nothing if not entrepreneurial and industrious. But that’s not what capitalism in America looks like today. The version of market economics that’s been shoved down our national throat is designed exclusively by and for the benefit of giant corporations. Big business buys our politicians and writes our laws so they can crush small competitors, pillage our environment and destroy workers lives and human rights and anything else that stands in their way. And because big business owns our media, too, they have the perfect platform to persuade us over and over again that this arrangement is in our collective best interest.

As Americans, we buy a lot of crap, but we’ve finally stopped buying this lie. What’s good for big business is not good for America.

For too long, mass public disaffection with the way capitalism in America is structured has been silenced because politicians and the media, beholden to big business, convinced us there is no alternative. Now, faced with such a sobering and stubborn economic crisis caused by very deliberate flaws in our economic structures, we’re more aware than ever not only that there is an alternative but that we must embrace it. That doesn’t mean socialism. But it does mean aggressively critiquing and re-constructing capitalism so that the market’s primary goal is to work for working class and struggling Americans. The very survival of the American dream is at stake.

On Thursday, April 29, 2010, thousands of ordinary Americans will descend on Wall Street to call for meaningful financial reform that holds big banks accountable and makes our economy work for everyone. Those of us who will be at the Showdown on Wall Street — and the millions of Americans we represent — are worried about our jobs, our homes, our farms, our children’s education, our very way of life. What we’re not worried about is hurting capitalism’s feelings. After all, capitalism never coddled us.

Sally Kohn is the director of the Movement Vision Project of the Center for Community Change, which is interviewing hundreds of activists across the country to determine the progressive vision for the future of the United States.
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