In the Arena

Pitchforks on Parade

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A new CNN poll is out, showing just what you’d expect: Barack Obama is very popular–69% have a favorable opinion of him. But there’s a question down at the bottom of the poll that merits some attention.

Do you think big business does or does not have too much influence over the decisions made by the Obama administration?

Yes, does 53%
No, does not 43%
No opinion 4%

Now, just to put it in perspective, a similar question about the Bush Administration in October 2006, yielded a 79-19% split, so this is progress. But still: Obama is a Democratic President, pursuing policies that are a sea change from Bush’s–and more than half the public still believes big business is in the driver’s seat. Some thoughts:

1. Bankers beware. You are about as popular as lawyers and journalists these days. It’s time to come to grips with the public mood and adjust. Very few Americans value your work–especially when it involves creating paper products out of exotic financial instruments–as much as you do. I would guess there’s a much stronger inclination to nationalize the banks right now than to give them any more federal funds.

2. Congress take note. You’re about to be overwhelmed by a Gucci army of lobbyists trying to water down Timothy Geithner’s regulation proposals. Normally, you can get away with caving to the moneybags–the issues are complicated, and no one pays attention. I expect people will be watching this more closely this year. There’s a far larger army than the Gucci crowd that wants to put the screws to the banks–to end the big casino. Your constituents, for example.

3. If the Republicans come back any time soon, they’re going to be riding this populist sentiment–it may not be Mike Huckabee who does it, but someone like him. I expect there will be an anti-immigration, neo-isolationist, God-and-guns candidate–I wouldn’t even count out Sarah Palin–who will make a big run in 2012. On the other hand, it might be a useful idea for Republicans in the Congress to start rethinking their opposition to Obama’s middle-class policy initiatives, especially health care…and even more especially if it begins to seem that Republicans are just obstructionists, in the pocket of the insurance companies and Big Pharma.

4. Barack Obama beware: today’s popularity could be tomorrow’s disdain, if your economic plan–which depends on the bankers playing ball–doesn’t work out. If you don’t have contingency plans, get some (although I suspect you know that and are working on them).

As I was saying: This popped up on Huffington as I was writing the post above. The most surprising name among the Democrats siding with the banks on cramdown–the provision that would allow a bankruptcy judge to renegotiate the terms of a mortgage loan–is Jon Tester, the flat-topped Montana farmer who ran for the Senate as a populist in 2006. Hmmm.