Bullies

There is an old adage that always was a lot of comfort to those of us who barely survived our junior high school years: if you stand up to bullies, you’ll find they tend to be cowards not very far beneath the surface. Part of it is that they are so used to people cowering and giving way before them that when someone does stand up and fight back, they don't how to handle it.

We are seeing that play out right now in the world of politics. Big corporate interests and conservative Republicans are so used to bullying people into easy submission, that when someone stands up to them, they lose it awfully fast.

My first example is Republican reaction to the President's budget speech last week. Can you believe the level of high-pitched whining coming from Republicans when the President pointed out the fairly obvious fact that their budget is a tad bit unfair because it takes health care and nursing home coverage from seniors and those with disabilities while giving massive new tax cuts to millionaires? Seems obvious to me, but when Obama stood his ground and made these self-evident points, these guys squealed like stuck pigs. "Partisan,” "class warfare,” and all that. Ryan even complained that Obama invited him to the speech but then criticized his plan, which sounded a lot to me like Newt being invited onto Air Force and then complaining about his seating assignment. Now, as Jon Stewart hilariously pointed out, this is coming from a party whose leaders have spent the last three years calling Obama a socialist, communist, Nazi, and a friend of terrorists, questioning his citizenship and his religion and his patriotism. Great on the old dishing it out thing, not so much on the taking it thing.

Here's another example: Wall Street bankers fretting about the "moral hazard" of homeowners having their mortgages written down or about the fact that other businesspeople are tired of having the big banks make tens of billions of profit off of swipe fees while refusing to negotiate on the issue. The big Wall Street banks have been so used to having their way all the time, unfortunately with either party in power, that when anyone challenges their right to do whatever they want, they get very hurt. They were appalled when Obama and other Democrats said the mildest things in reproach while working to pass last year’s financial reform bill. One Wall Street billionaire, chairman of Blackstone Stephen Schwarzman, even compared Obama to Hitler, saying about a modest proposal to close a big loophole for wealthy bankers, it’s a "war... like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939." Schwarzman and other top bankers are said to be furious about the fact that Obama occasionally suggest modest new regulations and taxes on the elite circle of financial wizards who created a the biggest financial bubble in history, wreaked trillions of dollars of destruction on the economy (both ours and the world’s), got saved by our government and the taxpayers, and got to keep not only cushy jobs but their nifty bonuses anyway.

Now they are appalled that Elizabeth Warren might want to force them to not have misleading fine print in their consumer financial documents. They are outraged at the idea that Dick Durbin and retail businesses might want some oversight that would keep them from charging whatever swipe fees they want to charge. They are deeply disturbed at the moral hazard of underwater homeowners getting their mortgages written down a little. They take umbrage at the idea that a senior citizen taking in $14,000 a year in Social Security isn’t willing to sacrifice by letting their benefits be cut, or to have to pay $6,000 more a year in out-of-pocket Medicare costs. If we don’t stop outraging these poor Wall Street bankers so much, they might have to get treated for hypertension.

When they aren’t comparing Obama to Hitler, or complaining to their friends at very expensive dinner parties, they are spending lots and lots of money. Campaign contributions, lobbying expenses, advertising, money to the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove front groups that is harder to trace because there is no reporting requirements. And a lot of this money will go back to Republicans so they can do PR campaigns attacking Obama as being too “partisan,” or engaging in “class warfare.”

By the way, speaking of front groups, here’s the other thing the Republicans and Wall Street are colluding on: using Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s rating services to support their agenda. I wrote last week about Moody’s changing the rating on Wisconsin to help Scott Walker’s jihad against unions. Now Standard and Poor’s are issuing vague threats — engineered to get headlines — about lowering the federal government credit rating if we don’t do “something” about the deficit sometime soon. The problem, as I wrote last week, is that having the two companies at the heart of the financial fraud, the two companies who rated everything their client banks asked them to as AAA bonds regardless of how weak they were, be the arbiter on good fiscal policy is like having a convicted murderer be a character witness at your trial. This is politics pure and simple, with Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s continuing to serve their main clients’ agendas no matter how much fraud is involved.

Congressional Republicans and the big banks are classic bullies, used to getting their way on all issues all of the time. When you stand up to them and ask for something as foreign to them as fairness and decency, they lose it and lash out in return. Obama, and Democrats, and progressives in general need to keep them from getting away with it.

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