**UPDATE, 5:30PM EST**
Apparently, the White House seems to have at least partially gotten the message – or perhaps I should say, gotten at least part of it. Obama today announced “The Volcker Rule,” with a bang-up press conference by the President, including the following line:
So if these folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have. And my resolve is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform; and when I see soaring profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms claiming that they can’t lend more to small business, they can’t keep credit card rates low, they can’t pay a fee to refund taxpayers for the bailout without passing on the cost to shareholders or customers — that’s the claims they’re making. It’s exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary.
Briefly, the proposed “Volcker Rule” would “…ensure that no bank or financial institution that contains a bank will own, invest in or sponsor a hedge fund or a private equity fund, or proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving customers for its own profit.” Throughout this past year’s financial turmoil, Paul Volcker has been in the background of the Obama administration’s response to this crisis, while Rubin acolytes like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers took center stage – and had the President’s ear. On the few times Volcker was quoted publicly, it was clear (in contrast to the Summers-Geithner crowd) that he “got it.” The problem was, he wasn’t being listened to much. It’s encouraging to see, as Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly points out, “It’s seemed as if Volcker was on the outside looking in for much of the last year. I think that’s changing.“
Amen, Steve. Now, if we could only convince the administration that similar bold, progressive action is needed in health care — and across the board. Well, at least this is a start.
If the White House isn’t paying attention to this poll, done by Research2000 in Massachusetts for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and MoveOn, in the wake of the Scott Brown upset on Tuesday, they should be. It’s a pretty compelling study of the real-world discontents of the voters who actually elected Scott Brown. Among the most startling findings is of course the response to the marquee question: (for Obama voters in ’08 who voted for Scott Brown instead of Martha Coakley) “Would you favor or oppose the national government offering everyone the choice of a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private health insurance plans?” The answer? Out of all respondents (Obama voters who voted for Brown on Tuesday): a whopping 82% support a public option – the same one that was stripped out of the Senate bill by Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson:
But that’s not the only findings from this poll which should concern the White House, as it determines which direction to pivot as a result of Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts. Consider the stats found a little farther down in the poll: in answer to the question “Is the issue of the economy very important, somewhat important, or not important when deciding how or if to vote,” a jaw-dropping 95% answered either “very important” or “somewhat important.” That figure might as well be 100%, total unanimity; from a statistical standpoint, you usually can’t get 95% of respondents to agree on what day it is. Yet, in today’s economy, virtually everyone polled considers the economy at least somewhat important to how – and if – they vote.
Going even a bit beyond that startling figure is the follow-up question, “Which candidate in Tuesday’s special election for Senate did a better job of representing you and your family on economic issues: Republican Scott Brown or Democrat Martha Coakley?” And these are the results that the White House should take to heart, just as much as the ones about the public option:
Check that out: across every demographic (men, women, Republicans, Democrats, all of them), the most popular answer (sometimes by a factor of two or three times the next-closest contender) to that question was: neither. Think about that for a minute: ninety-five percent of voters considered the economy either very or at least somewhat of an important issue to their vote. Of those (all but 5% of the state), fully 62% – nearly 2/3 again – didn’t feel either Coakley OR Brown really represented their own views on what should be done about the economy. That reinforces Bill Clinton’s very smart old dictum that “it’s the economy, stupid,” and it ought to give the White House – and Congressional Democrats – if not exactly hope, at least a strategy for how to proceed. People are frightened and angry about the economy. Almost everyone knows someone personally who has been laid off, is already out of work, or about to be laid off. They read the newspapers and watch the evening news; they see the “official” unemployment rate hovering around 10% (with the “real” unemployment rate much closer to 18%), and they can’t believe their eyes in regard to what’s happening with the bailouts of Wall Street.
President Obama and Democrats: you guys didn’t cause this mess – or most of you didn’t, and the ones that did ought to be tossed out with the trash anyway. This was caused almost entirely by Congressional Republicans and Presidents. Yes, Bill Clinton signed the CFMA and Gramm-Leach-Bliley…but all three of Gramm (Phil, John McCain’s choice for Treasury Secretary, had he won – and the guy who told America we were just suffering a “mental recession” and being “whiners”), Leach and Bliley, the authors of the bill, were Republicans. And they were heavily backed by some of the same bad actors who are now tipping their hats to say thank you for the 100 cents on the dollar buy-backs of bad debt on the taxpayer’s dime, and continuing to hand out record bonuses. You could run all DAY on this issue – and you’d better start. Because if you don’t, either some faux-populist “independent” will jump in and start running on it, stealing thunder that could very easily be yours, or some hoary old Republican hack will use the shopworn but effective tools that crushed Democrats in 1993-4: muddy the waters by claiming “everyone’s dirty” so that the general electorate is so dispirited that turnout is restricted to a hard-core base of motivated conservative activists….who then return the same, tired, corrupt band of GOP thugs to office…again.
But the reason that Massachusetts voters didn’t see Martha Coakley as better on the economy than “none of the above” was because she was perceived as a “machine” Democrat…and right now, you’re in charge of that machine. And the fact that MA voters – from your OWN party, let alone Republicans and independents – feel like your Democratic party isn’t preferable to “none of the above” on economic issues, ought to matter to you. It ought to matter a lot. If you ignore it, you’ll wish you hadn’t, this fall – and possibly in 2012. Stop with the Bob Rubin-acolytes in every position of consequence: Geithner, Summers, etc. Bring forth the people like Brooksley Born who warned of the coming crisis like reliable sentries a long time ago. Bring back Glass-Steagall (or do something like it). Make people feel less economically insecure — and that doesn’t just mean a one-off tax cut, but an overhaul – with TEETH – of how we do finances in this country.
I know that this poll is only one poll — but, to my knowledge, it’s the only poll so far which has tried to determine why voters in bluest-blue Massachusetts either stayed home or turned out for an unknown, telegenic nude model over a regular, well-credentialed Democrat. Everyone knows the MA voters DID turn out that way…but you and your staff desperately need to know WHY they did, and the PCCC/MoveOn poll is the only survey so far that’s even close to comprehensive on the subject. You should be listening to what it says: voters – independents, Democrats and even a few Republicans – care a great deal about perceived injustice in the economy: favoritism toward big banks and corporations while Main Street rots. They want the modern-day robber-barons like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon reined in, or even smacked down. And they want health care that reins in the insurance companies in real, measurable ways, like a public option. In short, they want you to be bolder about the change you promised.
There’ll always be the Joe Liebermans and the Evan Bayhs who’ll jump at the first chance they see to tell you, the media and anyone else who’ll listen that results like the one on Tuesday in Massachusetts mean that Democrats need to move towards the “center” – meaning towards corporatism and the Republicans. But think about this: in the latest Quinnipiac poll, 62% of Connecticut Democrats surveyed (and 49% overall!) say they have an unfavorable opinion of Joe Lieberman. That means they don’t like him, but more importantly, it means they don’t share his views. Think about that when you see Joe reach for the microphones and the cameras and tell anyone who’s listening that people “don’t like” this health care bill. Joe’s right, of course….but what he won’t ever say is why they don’t like it. And it’s not – as this PCCC/MoveOn poll shows – because they think it’s too aggressive, but because it doesn’t contain enough real reform. Joe won’t admit that, but remember that nearly 2/3 of the members of YOUR PARTY, the people who got you elected, don’t agree with him.