Protesters disrupted a convention of mortgage financers in San Francisco this week, storming the stage as former Bush adviser Karl Rove spoke, heckling bankers with bullhorns, and badgering a panel with demands for a foreclosure moratorium.
Fear and frustration compelled ordinary citizens to harangue the green-visor set at their normally-staid annual meeting. Middle class Americans are losing their jobs and their homes and their hope while watching Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson spend their tax dollars to bail out the infinitely-wealthy on Wall Street whose reprehensible risk-taking caused the country's financial crisis. The middle class want their piece of the American pie.
Congress is trying to dish it out in the form of a second stimulus package that would extend unemployment insurance and food stamps and create jobs through programs such as highway construction projects.
Republican candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin oppose it. They're running around the country with caricatures of Joe the Plumber and Joe Sixpack, pretending the GOP ticket represents the best interests of the working class and small business owners. It's all false rhetoric and no real action. McCain and Palin object to intervention for anyone other than the wealthy, for whom they plan to enshrine tax cuts; for overfed CEOs, for whom they believe the $700 billion bailout was justified, and for themselves, for whom they believe the Republican National Committee appropriately opened its purse to purchase haute couture wardrobes, hair stylists and makeup artists.
McCain wants to brand a socialist S on Barack Obama although both voted for the bailout plan under which the U.S. government is nationalizing banks.
Unlike McCain, however, Obama is a man of the people and believes not in socialism but in the religious concept of everyone serving as their brothers' keepers. This is how he explained it in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention:
"What -- what is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect.
It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, to look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.
Ours -- ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools, and new roads, and science, and technology.
Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.
That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.
That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now."
That philosophy has great appeal with unemployment at a five-year high of 6.1 percent, with the poverty rate rising to 12.5 percent in what is supposed to be the richest country in the world; with 47 million without health insurance; with 1 million homes lost to foreclosure in the past two years and another 1.5 million in the process, and with the chronically ill across American skipping medications because they can't afford them, as the NYT reported this week.
Because this philosophy is popular, Palin and McCain are trying to channel it, to steal it just as they did the "change" slogan, to try to make Americans believe that they would best serve the middle class. The problem is that everything they do belies their claims.
Sarah "Sixpack" Palin definitely has an elitist eye for clothing, hair styling and makeup. She spent $150,000 of Republican National Committee money on designer duds for herself and her family since accepting the nomination on Sept. 3. That's three times the annual income for a typical American family. If she doesn't shell out another dime, she'll have spent $2,400 a day on clothing between the convention and the election. The vice presidential candidate's taste includes a $2,500 Valentino Garavani jacket from Saks Fifth Avenue that she wore to the convention.
In addition, she and McCain decided their most important adviser, the one they would reward with the highest salary in the first two weeks of October as the stock market crashed, was Sarah Palin's makeup artist. Her earnings for proper Palin powdering were $22,800 for two weeks, nearly twice the salary McCain and Palin gave their second highest paid staffer -- their chief foreign policy adviser. They paid him $12,500, just $2,500 more than the $10,000 they ponied up for Palin's hair stylist, whose compensation was fourth highest. The total for Palin's hair and makeup in two weeks: $32,800.
While you're scrimping and saving and shopping at Costco to prevent foreclosure of your home, just remember what Palin told CNN reporter Drew Griffin about providing a stimulus package to help the middle class: "But now that we're hearing that the Democrats want an additional stimulus package or bailout package for what, hundreds of billions of dollars more, this is not a time to use the economic crisis as an excuse for reckless spending and for greater, bigger government and to move the private sector to the back burner and let government be assumed to be the be all, end all solution to the economic challenges that we have."
So, for Palin, great big government is okay to bail out Wall Street fat cats, but not to help the middle class. Palin's knee-jerk Republican "let-the-private-sector-solve-it" attitude shocks the consciousness after the indiscretion of the private sector just landed this country in financial crisis. We're not inclined to trust them, frankly, Ms. Palin.
McCain said the same, backing the bailout for the reckless on Wall Street, and damning attempts by Democrats to help those on Main Street -- of course, all the while dragging up the image of Joe the Plumber and contending he's the guy's advocate.
The ticket clearly lacks both introspection and economic expertise. McCain said it himself last year -- that he was no authority on the economy. By contrast, a person with some degree of economic proficiency, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, this week endorsed additional fiscal stimulus, saying it was appropriate now because the economy is likely to be weak for several quarters. In addition, economic expert and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman said this week that additional government spending now - for a stimulus package -- is appropriate, particularly for infrastructure improvement, which would provide real value and create jobs.
Though McCain and Palin clearly don't understand, it's time for everyday Americans to share in the American pie. At a rally in Florida this week, Obama talked about how the policies of the Bush administration have shrunk the pie and permitted the wealthy to grab the few remaining crumbs. He told he crowd he has no desire to reapportion the pie, as McCain keeps accusing him wanting to do -- as a Socialist, you know. Also, Obama objects to the McCain-Palin policy of continuing to feed the rich all of the crumbs, which is particularly evident in the GOP tax plan.
Obama told the group that his goal is to expand the pie to ensure that all Americans get a piece. The crowd responded with a spontaneous chant of, "We want pie!"
That's what is going on in America. That's why protesters accosted mortgage bankers at their California convention. The middle class won't stand for the rich wolfing down all of the pie anymore.