Market populism vs. grassroots populism

David Sirota's take on the Santelli meltdown

The rhetoric of American class conflict grows hotter by the day. Sirota's recent article directly addresses this conflict when it gives his take on Rick Santelli's now famous if not infamous CNBC-Chicago Mercantile Exchange piece and on Lansing, MI mayor Virg Bernero's response to — actually, his beat down of — a Fox News talking head.

While Santelli's "let them eat cake" moment may turn out to be another spectacle which merely diverts attention from the real problems now confronting the country, the event may gain greater significance than that. For instance, as Sirota rightly points out, the mass media in America routinely treat market populism as populism per se; it also deems grassroots populism as a kind of political irrationalism which expresses mass resentment, ignorance and fear. This bias becomes a problem when the difference between the market populist ideology and common lived experience of most Americans grows starker and more disturbing every day. Such has been the case since 2007 for many Americans. Many Americans may now reasonably wonder whether good, hard work and honest intentions matter for much. They may doubt that these "goods" count at all since the discrepancy between ideology and reality reflects the dissolution of the "American way of life" that has proceeded apace since 1968. Given the secular decline of the American economic system, I suspect that the Reaganite consensus founded on this social disintegration has now reached its limit point and appears for what it always was: A commitment to extend and secure the national and global powers of American finance capital. Santelli's belligerence, his crude manner and sub-rational thinking, may reflect the sense of entitlement embedded within the market fundamentalist ideology.

If this characterization of the situation is accurate, then the issue of the day becomes: Which one among America's many possible futures will the country select, a future which includes American militarism and Wall Street-led globalization or a future which respects the ecological limits imposed upon humanity as well as the dignity that necessarily inheres within the world's diverse assortment of human ways of life?

Update (2.22.2009)

Glen Greenwald's latest reflects upon the Santelli outburst by comparing it to a noteworthy forerunner, namely, the resentment-laden, tribalist militia movement which opposed Bill Clinton's presidency, "fought" the culture wars and brought about the Contract with America Congressional class of 1994. Greenwald continues by considering the civil war mongering that has begun to take hold of the rightwing dead-enders who seemingly cannot accept that the world will never again mirror their vainglorious imaginings. It is in cases like this where one can see the paranoid political style generate fearsome dangers for everyone involved, especially since this hard core has access to the mass media. Greenwald then rightly asks: "…I wonder what would happen if MSNBC broadcast a similar discussion of leftists plotting and planning the imminent, violent Socialist Revolution against the U.S. Government."

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