THE BLOG

Giving Voice to the Great Oz

01/05/2012 12:34 pm ET | Updated Mar 06, 2012

America in 2012, like the boxer in the late rounds of a grueling prizefight, continues to answer the bell because it is averse to quitting. It is held up by an indomitable pride, more so than the required stamina to continue.

For several decades it has been peppered by a consistent jab that says: "Government is the enemy." On several occasions it has taken the punishing body blows of fear that has made breathing the oxygen of our democratic values difficult.

Since 9/11, fear has been used as the protective coating that made rolling back civil liberties possible, suspending habeas corpus plausible, and amending the 14th Amendment sound reasonable.

America is woozy, but it is still standing. The question remains: Have the bruises that America sustained over the years rendered it unable to see where the challenger stands?

The tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements are singing the same song, but in a different key. Both movements are the byproduct of justifiable fears -- fears resulting in part from a Wall Street that gorged taxpayer dollars with bipartisan support.

Both movements find themselves, as do most Americans, on the wrong side of the Glass-Steagall divide. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, though not the sole reason, is emblematic of the challenges confronting America today.

In 1933, following the stock market crash in 1929, a nationwide commercial bank failure and the Great Depression, Senator Carter Glass (D-VA) and Representative Henry B. Steagall (D-AL) authored legislation that created a firewall between commercial banks, which take deposits and make loans, and investment banks, which underwrite securities.

For 66 years, Glass-Steagall prohibited banks from returning to the practices that fueled the Great Depression. In 1999, this important piece of government regulation was repealed.
The repeal of the Glass-Steagall was seen as necessary for banks to grow larger and better compete. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers stated at the time of the repeal, "This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy."

The repeated mantra of onerous government regulation repealed Glass-Steagall, paving the way for the infamous derivative market to expand as it played a significant role in the financial crisis beginning in 2007.

The arguments that made Glass Steagall necessary of improper banking activity before the Depression had once again returned. But financial institutions were viewed as too big to fail, while our elected leadership appears unable to find ways to keep more Americans in their homes, avoiding foreclosure.

Who provided the talking point that raising taxes on the wealthiest is class-warfare? Even more ironic, it is members outside of the wealthiest class who serve as the primary spokespersons in support of this peculiar institution of reverse populism.

But "tax the rich" may be a wonderful sound bite for some; it fails to fully address the complexity of the problem.

Given that some estimates have President Barack Obama raising $1 billion in his reelection bid, it is doubtful that campaign finance reform will be part of the 2012 Democratic Party platform in any meaningful way. Could they at least end the charade that the president's gargantuan war chest is based on a plethora of $100 contributors who still believe they are the change that they have been waiting for?

While the anger and fear that dominate our discourse is justified, it cannot be allowed to blind the electorate to certain realties. Who is the one standing behind the curtain giving voice to the Great Oz?

If we can answer that question we might also find out that members of the tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements as well as those in between have far more in common than they realize.