Contextual Content

The Populist Moment

Everyone agrees: The populist fires are burning. But what’s next? Bob Borosage, co-director of the
Campaign for America’s Future, thinks our historic moment could push Obama farther to the left. But
only if the forces of the left start pushing.

anppopularmovement

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Story Transcript

TEXT ON SCREEN: Robert Borosage is co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, in Washington, DC.

ROBERT BOROSAGE, CO-DIRECTOR, CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE: From the gilded age through the ’20s, the large view was social Darwinism. Then we hit the Depression, and it turned out the bankers were banksters, that people who worked hard for a living got crushed under a set of catastrophes that came from their speculation and their greed and their corruption, their crimes. People suffered through a horrible depression together—25 percent unemployment. And then we went from that depression into World War II, where the entire society was mobilized. All the men went abroad; all the women went to work. Everyone was told to save. So there was a totally different ethic of shared sacrifice, shared value, the need for shared opportunities. So, for example, we have 120 percent debt-to-GDP at that time. Now, today, it’s about 60. Massive debts compared to the size of our economy. And yet, as the war ends, we do the GI Bill.

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Clip: promotional video

VOICEOVER: Before the Army got him, he was going to school. Now he’d like to go back.

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BOROSAGE: Which allows an entire generation to go to college or advanced training. Right? An extraordinary investment in people at a time when we had no money, right? Because there was a sense that everybody had sacrificed—everybody ought to have an opportunity now. And, similarly, in the corporations, you had unions that were stronger at 30 percent, you know, growing to 30 percent of the economy. But you also had executives who believed that their workers should share in the prosperity of those companies. Well, over time that disintegrates, and then, in the ’80s, rapidly, as we got under Reagan, we go back to the cult of the entrepreneur.

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Clip: Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987)

MICHAEL DOUGLAS: Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

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BOROSAGE: And the sense, well, we got to align bonuses at the top level with profits, with, you know, short-term profits, so that the managers will be rewarded if the company does well—absolute personal incentive to cook the books, which we see happen across the economy after the Enron scandals. We free up Wall Street. We end up all the regulation on Wall Street. We break down all the barriers that bankers go become masters of the universe. They’re celebrated as building this new global economy. And America is not going to make things anymore; we’re going to sell paper and make finance across the world. We go through a period where it’s the survival of the fittest again. It’s they’re the best and the brightest. If you don’t get it, you know, it’s your own problem. Get an education. Pick yourself up. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. And then they drive it over the cliff again. So now we’re at the beginnings once more about do we learn from that another story? Does this crisis get bad enough, in a sense, that people feel this sense of a shared stake and a shared sense of value about each other so that we come out of this with a different ethic? You need an independent movement that is going to drive that. It’s Dr. King forcing Johnson with demonstrations that Johnson told Humphrey to stop if he could—and he couldn’t, forcing Johnson to do something that Johnson didn’t think he could do, which was the Voting Rights Act and the next round of civil rights acts, and then, eventually, the War on Poverty. And so where is the independent movement now? We do have the energy that came out of the blogosphere, kind of symbolized by MoveOn, which played a huge role in the election. You have this young generation that came into politics, really, summoned into politics to some extent by Barack Obama, that was mobilized in a way that it wasn’t or aware in a way that it wasn’t before. You have a union movement that played a bigger political role in this last election than it has, probably, in any previous election in terms of mobilization of members and education. But all of these things at this point are supporting the president and, you know, engaged in helping to pass his program, and looking forward to his support, as opposed to the angry, populist, independent movement that is driving bigger changes and forces the president and the Congress to react to them. And that we see very little signs of yet. You should see this period not as a period that has closed, that the door has closed on reform, that we’ve got a static political situation, they’re all bought and sold by Wall Street, they’ll never get there, etcetera. In fact, Wall Street is discredited, the collapse is profound, politicians are searching for where they’re going to light, everything is in motion, and we should see this as a period where opportunities are extraordinary to really push fundamental change. Independent thinking, independent organizing, independent anger has real traction.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.