By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Late last week we saw CNBC's Rick Santelli ranting on the floor of the Chicago commodities exchange about the various bailout measures being promoted by the administration and Democrats in Congress. Since then, the video of his rant has been downloaded more than half a million times on YouTube.
What made his rant so riveting was that he was saying what everyone else seemed to be thinking but not saying: "What about the rest of us—the ones who work hard and play by the rules?" It's the elephant in the room that everyone's avoiding—the feeling that those who drove their personal finances, their companies or our entire economy into the ground are now getting rewarded for their reckless behavior—and they're getting rewarded with everyone else's hard-earned cash. True, there are people who were not reckless but who deserve our help. But there's a lot of resentment out there, and Rick Santelli hit the nail on the head.
It reminds of the story of the Prodigal Son. The reckless son spends all of the father's money and then comes home to open arms and a fatted calf. Meanwhile, the responsible older brother seethes at the unfairness of it all. Most of the law-abiding, hard-working folks I know identify more with the responsible rule-following brother than with his devil-may-care sibling. And while they admire the generosity of the father, what they really connect with is the unfairness to that older brother.
The problem is, the analogy only goes so far. In the biblical tale, the father's love is unconditional. No matter how wayward his sons may be, he always welcomes them home. That works for a divine being governing the universe, but it doesn't work for anyone governing here on Earth. We may seek as individuals to love others unconditionally, but as a civilized society we can't afford unconditional "love" when it comes to public safety, law enforcement, entitlement programs, or foreign affairs. Or for that matter, an unlimited and unconditional stream of taxpayer-financed bailouts for banks, car manufacturers, investment houses, and mortgage holders.
Furthermore, the bailout money isn't dad's money. It's our collective money as taxpayers. And while the unfairness of the bailouts could have been better expressed than by ranting about them from the floor of the exchange, the White House should not belittle the messenger. (Over the weekend, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Santelli doesn't know what he's talking about, and that he should actually read the bailout because, presumably, to understand it is to love it.) Don't tell that to the many Americans who understand it and who are opposed to the housing bailout package. Their sense of injustice is real, and could be of biblical proportions.
On Facebook? You can keep up with Thomas Jefferson Street blog postings through Facebook's Networked Blogs.