America’s whining reactionaries

Market fundamentalism as identity politics

Thomas Frank critiques the plutocratic wing of the GOP mostly by describing it in plain English:

Just as the financial crisis has created toxic assets and "zombie" financial institutions, so has it transformed conservatism into a movement of the living dead. Its partisans cling to a now-toxic portfolio of discredited notions, rhetoric, gestures and strategies. They lumber comically on, their only goal being to obstruct efforts to save the economy from catastrophe.

These days the zombie right is rallying around CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, who won fame last month when he railed against a rescue of the economy's "losers."

Mr. Santelli claimed he was backed in his outrage by "the silent majority" — meaning a floor full of traders at the Chicago Board of Trade — and he called for a "Chicago tea party" to protest the administration's mortgage plan.

Next thing you knew, there were "tea parties" all over the land. When I showed up for one last Friday in Washington's Lafayette Park, however, my suspicions were immediately raised. A fellow in an expensive-looking pinstriped suit came hustling into the gathering knot of the discontented, handing out pink pig balloons. This had to be a put-on, I thought, one of the "Billionaires for Bush" pranksters in his capitalist costume, preparing to lead us in a chant of "Four More Wars."

But no, this was for real: the pigs symbolized "pork," the stuff of which President Barack Obama's stimulus package was supposedly made. Suits were common among the protesters. And the slogans on the signs made their undead politics impossible to misinterpret: "Liberalism Socialism Communism," read a typical one, "What's the Difference?"

Lending proletarian authenticity to the proceedings was the famous Joe the Plumber, who took up the bullhorn to deliver a dose of working-class cynicism that would have been convincing in, say, 1978. "Our politicians up on the hill, Republicans or Democrats, don't give a rip about you, and that's the bottom line right there," Joe Wurzelbacher declared.

Banks are insolvent, asset prices are falling, GDP has taken a nose dive, but what exercised this bunch was the possibility that government — understood as a force of pure evil — might get too big.

Frank gets it wrong when he claims that the market fundamentalists consider the government a "force of pure evil." These folk mostly were not troubled by Bush's police state methods, his deficit, his wars, his torture regime, etc. They merely wish to maintain the class and identity asymmetries promoted during the Reagan Era.

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