In the Arena

The Worst Are Filled With Passionate Intensity

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The New York Times has two annoying stories on its front page today. Annoying story number one is about how TARP, the successful bank bailout plan, has been seized upon by populist fools–mostly of the right, but some on the left as well–as the prime irritant in their anti-big (government and business) frenzy. The trouble is, many of them don’t seem to know what TARP is. Here is Bob Bennett, the conservative incumbent Senator from Utah who was tossed by the Tea Partiers, discussing the phenomenon:

“People would walk by my booth and say ‘TARP, TARP, TARP, TARP!’ But when you tried to talk to them about it, they did not know any of the details,” he said in an interview. “They confused TARP and the stimulus plan. They confused TARP and the omnibus bill. They confused TARP and the president’s budget.”

Never in the history of the Republic has the public really understood the intricacies of legislation: it’s too complicated, sadly, even for many of the people who legislate it. But we’ve reached the point now where skeevy bloviators–Beck, Limbaugh et al–have created an entirely false knowledge base, which seems to be driving the narrative this year. Totally depressing.

The second annoying story is actually good news: Wall Street, sensing an imminent economic rebound, is hiring again. Why is this annoying? Because, in addition to hiring, the financial community is doing a good deal of whining these days–about Obama Administration policies that restrict the Madoff-style casino gambling that got us into trouble in the first place (but don’t go far enough, IMHO). I guess I’m an economic curmudgeon, but I’d be a lot happier if the headline was: Green Energy Hiring Boom or Auto Industry Rebounds Strongly. But what we may be looking at is a continuation of the disease that forced the bailout in the first place: a distorted economy, where too many of the profits come from making deals and too few come from making things.