March 7, 2009

The right's second-favorite new talking point -- right behind "Leave Rush Aloooooone!" -- is the claim that the ongoing downward spiral of the stock market is now President Obama's fault.

It's utter nonsense, of course. Indeed, a far more plausible explanation for the continuing lousy psychology of the stock market is that all the hysterical fearmongering, marked by absurd charges that we're descending into "socialism," coming from the mouths of Republicans and various right-wing talkers (most prominently Limbaugh) has created a blanket of groundless fear and suspicion around Obama's recovery program that is keeping the market in freefall.

It's been everywhere on cable TV: Larry Kudlow, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Charles Krauthammer, Lou Dobbs, even the morning talking heads at MSNBC -- they've all been pitching the concept that this is an "Obama Bear Market" and that his "bad-mouthing" the economy to get his stimulus bill passed -- and more importantly, the shocking "socialism" of the Obama program -- is the reason the market continues its slide.

Probably the apotheosis of this was Michael Boskin's piece in the Wall Street Journal declaring that "Obama's radicalism" is tanking the markets.

That's a fine how-do-you-do: Boskin was a member of George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. In other words: One of the architects of the current economic debacle is already trying to blame it on the man upon whom the job of cleaning it all up has descended, less than two months into his tenure.

There's no chutzpah like right-wing chutzpah.

As Robert Reich explained at Salon:

The argument that Obama is somehow responsible for the collapse of Wall Street is absurd. First, every major policy that led to this collapse occurred under George W.'s watch (or, more accurately, his failure to watch). The housing and financial bubbles were created under Bush and exploded under Bush. The stock market began to collapse under Bush.

Second, it's inevitable that stocks, led by the bloated financial sector, would lose their remaining hot air as the new administration begins "stress-testing" the big banks, many of which are technically insolvent. After all, their share prices were built on a tissue of lies and dreams. Other sectors whose values were similarly distorted and distended by years of financial deception and regulatory disregard, such as housing and insurance, will also have to return to the real world before they can recover. Which could mean more stock losses.

Indeed, contrary to any radicalism, even David Brooks can see that Obama's economic program is pragmatic and centrist:

They see themselves as pragmatists who inherited a government and an economy that have been thrown out of whack. They’re not engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution, a fight that was over long ago. They’re trying to restore balance: nurture an economy so that productivity gains are shared by the middle class and correct the irresponsible habits that developed during the Bush era.

The budget, they continue, isn’t some grand transformation of America. It raises taxes on energy and offsets them with tax cuts for the middle class. It raises taxes on the rich to a level slightly above where they were in the Clinton years and then uses the money as a down payment on health care reform. That’s what the budget does. It’s not the Russian Revolution.

Second, they argue, the Obama administration will not usher in an era of big government. Federal spending over the last generation has been about 20 percent of G.D.P. This year, it has surged to about 27 percent. But they aim to bring spending down to 22 percent of G.D.P. in a few years. And most of the increase, they insist, is caused by the aging of the population and the rise of mandatory entitlement spending. It’s not caused by big increases in the welfare state.

What Republicans can't really handle, of course, is confronting the reality that it was their misbegotten approach to the economy -- mass deregulation, complete "free markets," and tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts -- that was responsible for creating this mess.

So what we're actually seeing is the Right busily constructing its own fresh new wing of Planet Wingnuttia, the alternative reality they're coming to inhabit: Liberals conspired to cause the housing crisis, and therefore caused the economic collapse. Then Obama started the stock-market slide even before he was elected, and now his radical socialism is driving the market into the sub-1000 region.

Hoo boy. Get ready to deal with this nonsense for the next four years. And particularly its consequences: Wall Streeters have always shown a propensity for gullibility when it comes to right-wing talking points, and the continuing drop in the markets almost certainly reflects that.

We got a glimpse of the kind of craziness the right is flinging up on the wall in its flight from reality earlier this week from J.D. Hayworth:

Hayward: No, I'll tell you what was bad. The sneak attack on our economy, the dress rehearsal of Indy bank, when Chuck Schumer helped get that started and the guy in the background George Soros manipulating all the currency.

Matthews: What?

Hayward: You want to keep that going?

Matthews: You mean the economic situation we faced right now...JD you can talk fast but I don't know what you're talking about.

This was a conspiracy theory worthy of the Protocols of the Seven Elders of Zion. Which kind of makes sense, considering that Hayworth, before he went down flaming in the 2006 election, was out there touting Henry Ford-style "Americanism":

That would be the Henry Ford who in 1920 began publishing The International Jew -- one of the most infamous anti-Semitic screeds in history. This text first raised to national prominence the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion hoax -- and indeed may have been responsible for its subsequent wide distribution in Hitler's Germany as well.

Speaking of Hitler, here's what he had to say about the speculation in 1923 that Ford might run for president:

I wish I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago and other big American cities to help in the elections ... We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America ... We have just had his anti-Jewish articles translated and published. The book is being circulated in millions throughout Germany."

...But Ford wasn't the only one out there thumping the drum for "Americanism." Indeed, as I've detailed previously, one of the main slogans of the Ku Klux Klan then (and later) was that its program was all about "pure Americanism" or "100 percent Americanism." (The same was true of William Dudley Pelley's openly fascist Silver Shirts organization.) One of its best-known pamphlets was entitled "The Klan's Fight for Americanism," which

... makes no apologies for its members' attempts to impose their views upon "liberals," immigrants, Catholics, Jews, or peoples of color. Instead it sounds a clarion call for the Klan's "progressive conservatism" and celebrates its influence in American public life.

Indeed, the path of right-wing populism is clearly where the current rhetoric is taking us. As Robert Reich observes in his Salon piece:

Finally, none of the financial wizards who are now charging Obama with leading America into the abyss have offered an alternative plan for getting us out of the mess that, not incidentally, many of these same wizards happily led us into. For years, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the financial gurus of cable news cheered as Wall Street leveraged its way into oblivion.

This bizarre charge wouldn't be worth mentioning were it not a market test for a more intense attack from Wall Street and Republican media outlets next year as the nation moves into the gravitational range of the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans have made no secret of their wish to blame Obama for the bad economy, and to stir up as much populist rage against his so-called socialist tendencies as politically possible. History shows how effective demagogic ravings can be when a public is stressed economically. Make no mistake: Angry right-wing populism lurks just below the surface of the terrible American economy, ready to be launched not only at Obama but also at liberals, intellectuals, gays, blacks, Jews, the mainstream media, coastal elites, crypto socialists, and any other potential target of paranoid opportunity.

Guess it's time for us all to head for our Doom Bunkers. Because once they have their new wing of Planet Wingnuttia all decked out and furnished with specially collected talking points, there's never any talking them out.

We just can hope that Wall Street isn't taking up a room there.

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