Democrats are now benefiting from the confluence of the public’s outrage over reckless self-dealing on Wall Street, debate over a Democratic bill to regulate such casino-style financial practices, and prosecution of Goldman Sachs for profiting from an economic collapse it helped cause. But the bigger question is whether top Democrats are willing to make the sustained case that it’s the rich who have screwed over the vast majority of Americans, and it’s time to recover that plundered wealth to deal with pressing problems like poverty, global warming, and infrastructure needs.
Central to that question is Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who should be a poster child for a campaign against the predatory rich, whose increasing wealth has come at the expense of the working class and public institutions. As the Sacramento Bee reports today, Whitman is a former Goldman Sachs board member who profited from insider trading deals that are now illegal. And now she’s using her ridiculously over-inflated net worth to try to buy the governor’s office with unprecedented spending, something that should profoundly offend our basic democratic values.
Presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown and some union officials have tried to highlight Whitman’s extensive Wall Street connections, but Brown has been way too tepid. Maybe that’s because he has his own Goldman Sachs ties, as the Los Angeles Times reported this week, although they pale in comparison to Whitman’s, which continue to this day and help pay for her takeover of California airways with her deceptive yet poll-tested propaganda.
As we wrote in our endorsement of Brown this week, it’s frustrating that Brown has been so unwilling to go after the rich, whether it be raising income taxes on millionaires (who have weathered the Great Recession far better than working stiffs) or letting commercial property be assessed at fair market value (since Prop. 13 passed, corporations that used to pay about two-thirds of the property taxes in California now pay about one-third, with individual property owners now paying two-thirds).
This is fertile ground for some long-overdue class warfare on behalf of the vast majority of people whose livelihoods have been threatened by the greedy, self-dealing rich. Anger at Wall Street for destroying the economy and then being bailed out by the federal government cuts across traditional ideological lines. It is felt by progressives, by conservative members of the Tea Party movement, and even by many political moderates.
At this point, few people trust the Democratic Party to lead the way toward a real accounting for the financial collapse, a recovery of the money from those who profited from the disaster, and an application of that money toward the most pressing public problems.
That’s a shame, but it’s also a real opportunity for a Democrat-led populist movement that unites disaffected factions on the left and right. After all, the problem only lies with about the richest 5 percent of Americans, those who have used elaborate financial ruses and tax shelters to hoard the wealth this country needs, even as the rest of us have lost financial ground. If there is any real democracy left in this country, it shouldn’t be that difficult for 95 percent of Americans to act in their own best interests.
After all, just this afternoon, even the most stubborn Republican leaders relented on allowing debate on the Democrats’ financial regulatory legislation, bowing to the very political pressures that I’m talking about. But if the Democrats want to try to regain their status as the party of the people, and begin to finally deal with this country’s long-neglected needs, they’ll need to see this as just the first small step down a path they should have taken decades ago.