Two recent news stories keep coming together in my mind. The first is the incredible Goldman Sachs bonuses amounting to more than $16 billion. It will provide approximately 31,700 of its employees $700,000 each even if they were somewhat mediocre, and multiple millions for the stars! The news story is juxtaposed in my head against the recent report by the Coalition for the Homeless, of the record 40,000 homeless people sleeping in NYC shelters. I'm trying to wrestle with how all this is going to play out over the next 3-5 years as the economy begins to recover but, if history is any guide, the reduction of joblessness and lousy pay and benefits will go on much longer.
I find the growing anger in even the most casual conversations. I was flying down to Washington on the Delta shuttle on Tuesday and was talking to the Delta representative as we waited for her computer to spit out my ticket. I mentioned that it had been hard getting out of the city because the President was in town at a number of events including fund-raisers. She immediately mentioned that tickets to some of the events were $15,000 a piece and we both laughed when I suggested chicken wouldn't be served. But she then went on to say who could afford that kind of money, "it must be all the Wall Street people who got the bonuses."
In her mind the Wall Street excesses were being linked back to the new administration which did so much to stabilize the financial sector, a sector which is apparently completely deaf to the suffering that's going on across America with millions in job losses, housing foreclosures and wage and benefit cut backs. Even if the executives at Goldman didn't care, didn't they recognize a public relations nightmare? I guess a small saving grace is that it totally debunks the notion that people of wealth are innately smarter than the poor, stupidity seems evenly spread across class lines.
But President Obama's handlers can't be given high marks for "getting it" either. In the space of two weeks they do a fly by stop in New Orleans offering very little in substantive help to the poor of that city and then go to New York City to raise money from the same Wall Street executives who are taking obscene bonuses, while apparently making no specific mention of what's to be done for the unemployed and working New Yorkers who are watching their world collapse. I applaud his thanks to law enforcement that thwarted another potential terrorist attack but it would have been nice to see some words, of even token concern, about the 40,000 in the shelters.
I don't want to come across as entirely naive about political expediency and the need to raise huge sums of money to run campaigns, but I think the Democratic Party runs the real risk of allowing right wing conservatives to convince working people who were the core of the Obama victory, that they've been abandoned by the party in favor of bailouts to unscrupulous Wall Street financiers. It won't mean that the working poor and young people will vote against them, but it could mean the most effective voter suppression effort in American history. A major jobs creation program is vital and, almost as significantly, the President is going to have to talk directly to the Democratic base as to what's in it for them and their children. In addition to the $15,000 dinners, a visit to the shelters, job centers and streets of New York's working class neighborhoods would be nice too.