Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spitzer and populism

Yes, I know, as a feminist blogger I'm supposed to be OUTRAGED at Eliot Spitzer, right?

Yeah, F that.

When the man is right, he's RIGHT. And he is absolutely right on on the financial crisis, and I wish he hadn't been stupid enough to be caught with his pants down acting like a hypocrite. My views on sex work (decriminalize, harm reduction) aside, the point is that Spitzer's voice is an important one that is simply not getting heard on this issue.

Today, he appeared on Fareed Zakaria, for my money the only person on CNN worth watching (I know Karthika agrees with me on this subject). In his first interview since resigning from office, Spitzer, who went after AIG when he was NY Attorney General, called out executives, regulators, and congresspeople alike. He denounced false populism from legislators who had plenty of authority to enforce regulation (:cough: Chuck Schumer) and noted that the SEC and other regulatory agencies had plenty of authority to do what they needed--like I wrote here, they simply didn't do it.

Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation has an interesting proposal.

Then there's a novel idea. Why not bring in the man who took on Wall Street and AIG long before it was trendy? Elliot Spitzer. Call me crazy. But he foresaw the bubbles and disasters resulting from deregulatory frenzy and the financial service industry's creation of toxic credit default swaps and derivatives. As the Sherriff of Wall Street, Spitzer launched investigations and lawsuits deploying the creative cudgel of the previously-obscure 1921 Martin Act. Yes, he acted miserably toward his wife and family and he should pay the price for that. But some believe Spitzer was taken down by certain "masters of the universe" seeking vengeance for his aggressive policing of their financial fraud and corruption.

"The search for villains is emotionally satisfying, does not solve the problem," Spitzer said, and he's right. And whatever you think of his past screwups, he's right the hell on and has EVERY moral authority to speak out on AIG and Wall Street, and far more than most.

After Spitzer, Fareed lost a whole bunch of credit with me by convening a "panel of experts" to talk about populist rage. His panel? Megan McArdle, Henry Blodget (formerly investigated by Spitzer on fraud charges from his tenure at Merrill Lynch, now a "journalist"), and Roy Smith (formerly of Goldman Sachs). A bunch of experts on populism, in-fuckin-deed.

Or absolutely not. Fareed's had Barbara Ehrenreich on before--he knows where to find actual populists and outside voices, if he wanted them. Instead, he chose a bunch of the very same vapid insiders who both caused the current crisis, and failed to see it coming--or made excuses for it. One of his "experts" is banned from ever working in securities again after fraud charges. Seriously?

This is exactly what's wrong with the media. The reliance on insider voices, a circle of consensus and a very, very narrow sphere of legitimate debate. You're talking about public rage without a single voice of public rage? People are organizing a march on Wall Street--where are they? Where are the labor voices, the people? How about William Greider, with a great op-ed in the Washington Post today?

How about our own Erik, whose study is actually relevant? How about historians, organizers, anyone who is actually used to dealing with "the great unwashed"? (Y'know, us?)

This isn't helping. Following Spitzer's great interview with this panel of so-called experts is insulting--or maybe a failed attempt at balance?

I was starting to have a little faith in the media for a second. But by the end of that, I just wanted my pitchfork again.

Maybe that was what Fareed was going for? Stoking the populist rage rather than understanding and explaining it?