Reinventing liberal guilt

The most popular journalist in America at the moment is probably Rick Santelli. His impassioned attack on the administration's so-called "Home Affordability Plan" did more than strike a chord: it gave voice to the burgeoning rage many Americans feel about the way the current President of the United States and his administration are handling the great credit crisis of 2008-2009. In particular, he gave voice to the rage, tinctured by disgust, that most people feel when told that a feckless segment of the population is in line for yet another government handout--to be financed, naturally, by hardworking taxpayers. Ninety-two percent of people holding mortgages make their payments on time. Many of those people, too, have had to scrimp and save as the economy has sputtered to a crawl. Why should they be further penalized in order to subsidize those who irresponsibly took on more debt than they could handle? They shouldn't. And they don't like having the Great Nanny in Washington telling them they must. Hence the call for "tea parties" and "taxpayer revolts" springing up all over the country.

My only regret is that Mr. Santelli joined his critics in describing his attack as a "rant." To describe something as a rant is a prelude to dismissing it as exaggerated, over-the-top, irresponsible, i.e., something you can safely ignore.

As I noted yesterday, this is something that Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Sceretary, hopes you will do. It is also something that many of Mr. Santelli's left-leaning colleagues in the bought-'n-paid-for precincts of the Fourth Estate hope you will do.

When Mr. Santelli spontaneously attacked the administration's plan to step in and rewrite the contract terms for some--but only, of course, some--mortgages, you could tell that his colleagues at the other end of the video feed were a bit taken aback. Hey, wait a minute: this fellow is calling the whole redistributionist scheme into question! He called for a referendum on the question of whether people like the idea of in effect helping to pay for their neighbor's mortgage!

It was amusing to watch the other newscasters respond to Mr. Santelli's performance. You could tell they were torn between recognizing his "a-star-is-born" moment and feeling queasy at the spectacle of such frank, critical talk on what, after all, is an aspect of the mainstream media that has been ostentatiously "in the tank" for the current President of the United States.

It didn't take long, though, for the mainstream media to get fully on board with Robert Gibbs. On January 20, for example, the Today show's Brian Williams and Matt Lauer enlisted Steve Liesman, the network's Senior Economic Reporter, to help put Mr. Santelli in his place. Mr. Williams got the ball rolling by describing Mr. Santelli's criticism as "an outburst," i.e., something angry, irrational, and not worth paying too much attention to. Sure, it caused a sensation, but then Rush Limbaugh does that regularly and you know what the current President of the United States thinks of him.

There is some dispute over who deserves the credit for the sage advice "Never apologize, never explain." But I wish Mr. Santelli would absorb its message. He began by apologizing, saying that perhaps he could have chosen his words better, etc. He recovered somewhat when Mr. Liesman asked what should be done about the 9 million people (his figure, very much worth checking) who faced foreclosure because "they put people in loans they shouldn't have been in."

They? Who would they be? The banks? Why, yes. But why were the banks making so many loans they knew were risky? Because Democratic initiatives like the Community Reinvestment Act required them to. It was [update: and still is] the law. If they didn't make the loans, they faced huge fines.

But Brian Williams and Steve Liesman are amateurs at the sort of moral blackmail that our new socialists deploy. Matt Lauer, on the other hand, is an expert. The current President of the United States, he said,

"came to office saying the time for sacrifice is now, no more rhetoric about it it, we're going to actually have to do it. Isn't this a first example where those of us who can afford to pay our mortgages and our taxes are being asked to sacrifice. . . . This is the test isn't it?"

"A first example," mind you. There will be more to come. And as for the "test" Mr. Lauer mentions: The test of what? One's spinelessness in the face of liberal browbeating? Could Jimmy "Mr. Malaise" Carter have put it better than Matt Lauer? Demanding sacrifice of others has always been a popular pastime for demagogues who have no intention of forgoing any shred of privilege themselves. Remember Mr. Lauer's words: you'll be hearing many variations on them in the months that come as Democratic politicians and their media enablers seek to extort more and more from the wealth-creating classes in order to subsidize their utopian redistributionist fantasies.

I greatly admired Rick Santelli's performance on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange the other day. It was heartfelt, on point, and true. I am sorry that he wilted a little under Matt Lauer's obscene little shower of liberal guilt. Mr. Santelli did iterate some important points--why should those who have acted responsibly subsidize the failure of those who have not? But his conclusion--that the government should send everyone check--seems to me to have wandered dangerously off the point.

The government should not be in the business of giving its citizens money. Instead, it should endeavor to let them keep as much of their own money as possible. Private property. The free enterprise system: remember them? They are an integral part of what made this country great. That burgeoning rage I referred to is intimately connected with the sense that the current administration is hellbent on dismantling the free enterprise system in order to erode the institution of private property and make as many of us as possible docile wards of the state.

There was another trope in the Williams-Liesman-Lauer sandbagging of Rick Santelli that should be noted and exploded. It is the canard that until January 20, 2009, the government was a model of supine inactivity. "You come to a point, Rick," scolded Steve Liesman, "when doing nothing costs more than doing something." Oh, really? The fact is that the growing habit of governmental interference was a major reason for the credit crisis. The $1.5 trillion in bad loans that the Community Reinvestment Act mandated and that Fannie Mae guaranteed is part of the story of governmental interference. So was its new regulations in the wake of the Enron implosion: the "mark-to-market" rules that grotesquely undervalued the worth of bank assets and also helped precipitate the liquidity crisis institutions like Citibank and Bank of America are suffering through.

I am all for effective government action to nurture freedom and prosperity. The most effective thing the governmental can do now to further those goals is 1) to cut taxes and 2) get out of the way. I don't deny that there are many people who need help. But why should the necessary succor come from a bureaucracy in Washington?