His inspiring personal story, penetrating charisma, and soaring rhetoric rallied his party’s base. Throughout his presidential campaign, he spoke of the need for sweeping reforms, the plight of the working class, and the fundamental lack of justice in the status quo, but as president there can be no mistaking the powerful influence of corporate interests, especially those of the financial sector, in the administration of Barack Obama.
This election cycle, Republicans are likewise enamored by the story, charisma, and rhetoric of self-made millionaire, Herman Cain. His meteoric rise in the polls over establishment favorites also mirrors the underdog candidacy of Barack Obama, who ousted Hillary Clinton for his party’s nomination in 2008. But the similarities don’t end there. While speaking of change and social justice, Obama’s campaign and presidency would bear the unmistakable mark of Wall Street influence.
During his campaign for president, Obama would raise more money from Goldman Sachs than did all the Republican candidates combined. Other top Obama donors included JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley. His administration would return the favor. Despite promising that no lobbyist would have a place in his administration, within days of the inauguration, the president had already made a dozen exceptions, staffing high posts within the White House with corporate lobbyists, many of whom– like Goldman Sachs lobbyist Mark Patterson– came from Wall Street.
Fast-forward to 2011, and while assuming the mantle of the grassroots Tea Party movement and speaking the language of reform and change in style, Herman Cain is already siding with the banking establishment in substance. The inconsistency couldn’t be more clear in Cain’s position on Wall Street and the Occupy Wall Street protests: “To protest Wall Street and the bankers is basically saying you’re anti-capitalism.”
But what’s capitalistic about the way Wall Street runs? Capitalism and free markets are all about letting voluntary economic interactions reward productive behavior with profits. The last decade in particular has seen this system turned upside-down, with the government in Washington using taxpayer dollars to reward unproductive and irresponsible Wall Street behavior with profits taken from the wallets of responsible, hardworking Americans. Protesting Wall Street is actually anti-socialism in a country where the government has privatized Wall Street’s profits and socialized its losses.
In this case, Mr. Cain isn’t siding with free markets and the Tea Party– he’s siding with corporate welfare and Wall Street, just like President Obama, who as a United States Senator voted for the 2008 TARP program to bail out Wall Street’s bad decisions with hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money, using logic oddly reminiscent of Reagan’s trickle-down economic theory. Siding with Obama and every other congressman who voted for TARP, Herman Cain wrote an article in 2008 emphatically cheering the Wall Street handout as a smart decision, implying that its critics– many of whom would go on to join the Tea Party protests the following Spring– must be on another planet, and deriding them as “free market purists.”
Voters shouldn’t be surprised by the inconsistency. Herman Cain’s history belies his posturing as pro-reform and pro-capitalism. His interests have always been with corporate America and big banks, not middle America and small business. As chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Herman Cain worked for the most secretive, unregulated, and unaccountable of all the big banks in America. As a candidate, he has continued to oppose an audit of the Federal Reserve bank, despite all of the questions raised by the recent one-time Dodd-Frank audit, which revealed the largest transfer of wealth in human history: trillions of dollars created out of nothing to loan at functionally zero-percent interest rates to an exclusive club of big financials and foreign central banks.
The recent Occupy Wall Street protests along with the 2009 Tea Party protests signal the possible beginning of a major realignment in American politics, one that centers not on superficial partisan feuds, but the substantive problem ailing this country: the privilege, corruption, and excess that characterize a well-established cartel of powerful corporations and their political collaborators in Washington– the well-connected 1%.
Will Americans declare Independence from politics-as-usual, partisan grandstanding, and special interest lobbying, or will they remain divided by faulty labels and deceived by shining rhetoric? Will they side with big banks, or small business? Will they allow the continued consolidation of power in the hands of a few, or will they support the kind of localism that empowers the people at the community level? And most urgently, will they start asking all these questions about their political candidates and earnestly searching for information in these candidates’ records to learn the answers? If not, voters in 2012 might find themselves choosing between two partisan versions of the same kind of candidate.