The House that Jack Built

What is at least partly driving  Al Sharpton's call for civil disobedience if the city of Sanford doesn't arrest George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin? What is at the heart of Keith Olbermann's dispute with Al Gore? Why are Rosie O'donnell and Oprah Winfrey no longer best friends? What has made the Huffington Post bloggers sue Arianna Huffington?

A subject as old as the ages; a matter discussed in the Bible which has gone by many names down through time. A matter so solid some have called it the foundation of society -- even a memorial to dead presidents on which their likenesses are emblazoned. Found in large quantities it is called grand. The central pole of the Big Tent is made of it. Yes, we're talking about money.

The chief problem with money, as Walter Russell Mead observes, is that the Blue Model is running out of it. Once upon a time the money was just out there. The dollars were mooing and lowing like the buffalo on the Great Plains. The only problem was divvying it up. But now that it's getting harder to come by, a whole host of professions based on the dollar hunting and skinning business is becoming endangered. Mead describes the situation in his vivid prose:

The dream machines of the blue social engineers don’t sail serenely across the azure sky anymore. Think of the various carbon exchanges and environmental planetary schemes; think of high speed rail proposals like California’s $100 billion train to bankruptcy; think of Obamacare. These days the experts, “social entrepreneurs” and smart young blue twenty somethings fresh out of the Ivy League whomp up social programs with as much verve and dedication as their New Deal and Great Society predecessors, but the new Dreamliners don’t take off. At most they roll around the runway, emitting clouds of noxious smoke; wings fall off, windows pop out, turbines misfire and the tires go flat.

The Big Tent is the house that  jack built. And jack has left town.

So don't be surprised if the the Big Tent is sagging at the edges. The marketing department has been particularly hard-hit. Al Gore's Current network was paying Keith Olbermann $50 million to attract viewers they hoped to have.  Olbermann was supposed to be its primary liberal voice. But the New York Times explained that Olberman wasn't attracting anybody, even though he acted like he was:

In his 40 weeks on Current TV, he had an average of 177,000 viewers at 8 p.m., down from the roughly one million that he had each night on MSNBC. Just 57,000 of those viewers on any given night were between the ages of 25 and 54, the coveted advertising demographic for cable news.

Talking Points Memo quoted a source which said "Olbermann failed to show up for work without authorization, missing almost half of his working days in the months of January and February. Olbermann asked for a vacation day on March 5, the night before Super Tuesday, according to the source. He was told it would be a breach if he took the vacation, which Olbermann did." For his part, Olbermann said he would sue Gore. In the end, perhaps, they both needed and deserved each other.

Olbermann was a reprise of the recent fall of Rosie O'Donnell. Early this March the "Oprah Winfrey Network issued a press release announcing The Rosie Show had been canceled, following six months of humiliating ratings. ... What went wrong? Multiple insiders interviewed for this story say that both Ro and O are to blame; the network never fit O’Donnell, and O’Donnell wasn’t able to make the splash she was supposed to."

Becoming a "liberal voice" was once where the money was. The jack. A lot guys still believed that. And boy were they wrong.  Arianna Huffington won the right in court not to pay her bloggers a dime from the money she received from AOL for the sale of the Huffington Post. "U.S. District Judge John Koeltl rejected claims by social activist and commentator Jonathan Tasini and an estimated 9,000 other bloggers that they deserved $105 million, or about one-third, of the purchase price."

It was, as one Columbia Law professor put it, signing up to engage in  "the electronic equivalent of someone writing a letter to the editor." It is no longer so easy to hitch one's wagon to the liberal star.

But if these individuals were facing a loss of income, Al Sharpton, by contrast, was trying to climb out of a deep financial hole. "The left-wing National Action Network Inc., headquartered in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, owes at least $1,556,059 in federal taxes and $108,489 in New York taxes, according to the Nexis tax liens database. Tax agencies typically file tax liens only after taxes have become significantly overdue and other collection methods have failed."

After Trayvon Martin was killed, the Chicago Tribune found the Reverend raising money for Trayvon's cause.  At a rally he shouted:

"I'm going to start off with $2,500," Sharpton said, holding up a check. "Who's next?"

Then Sharpton announced that television personality Judge Greg Mathis donated $10,000.

Several elected Florida officials were present, and each took a turn addressing the crowd before Sharpton was scheduled to speak. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was one of the first to address the crowd Thursday night. She rallied the crowd by yelling, "I want an arrest, I want a trial."

The she asked the crowd: "What do you want?"

And the crowd responded, "We want an arrest!"

Doubtless Sharpton really wants an arrest. But given the parlous state of his finances, it would be understandable if he didn't mind making a few bucks on the side as well. All across the board the Blue Model is experiencing what parliamentary systems call the loss of "supply." Supply is a term used to describe money bills, either taxation and government spending, which is the lifeblood of politics.

Karl Rove notes that even President Obama is feeling the pinch. He is raising far less money than he did during his first campaign and is having to work much harder for it.

Last July, President Obama's campaign announced that it had raised an average of $29 million in each of the previous three months for itself and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). I was only mildly impressed. After all, that was well below the $50 million a month needed to reach the campaign's goal of a $1 billion war chest for the 2012 race.

Seven months later, I'm even less impressed. Through January, the president has raised an average of $24 million a month for his campaign and the DNC. Next week, the Obama campaign will release its February numbers, but the president is on track to be hundreds of millions of dollars shy of his original goal.

It's not for lack of trying. Mr. Obama has already attended 103 fund-raisers, roughly one every three days since he kicked off his campaign last April (twice his predecessor's pace).

The Obama administration fears a Supreme Court finding that its health care law is unconstitutional above all because it is one of the dwindling number of places from which it can source the megabucks needed to feed its army of public sector and activist constituencies. Without Obamacare to fall back on as a milking cow, things could really get tough.

Just how bad things have become was illustrated by the floor defeat of Obama's budget 414-0.  It received not a single vote. "Republicans wrote an amendment that contained Mr. Obama's budget and offered it on the floor, daring Democrats to back the plan, which calls for major tax increases and yet still adds trillions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade. ... But no Democrats accepted the challenge."

The Achilles' heel of the Big Tent -- and Big Government -- is its penchant to spend money faster than it can raise taxes or borrow. Its very bulk works against it. Told that mighty German cruisers were loose in the South Atlantic during the Great War, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill declared that they were doomed in any case. Without fuel and sustenance, they could not survive -- "a cut flower in a vase, fair to see yet bound to die." He might have been talking about Hope and Change.

The Blue Model has had a good run. But it needs to reform itself. If even celebrities like Keith Olbermann and Al Sharpton are feeling the pinch, how are the Occupy Wall Street dupes going to fare? And who else is going to have to tighten his belt in the house that jack built?


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