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Lionel Beehner Headshot

Please Stop With The Main Street-Versus-Wall Street Rhetoric

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Political candidates across this great country of ours, I ask you -- nay, I beg you: Can you please put a moratorium on the words "Main Street" and "Wall Street" in the same sentence? I know it won't be easy (Gosh, I even enjoyed writing that last line). Surely the best thing to come from this financial crisis is the gooey schlock that it's given speechwriters -- after all, who doesn't come off sounding Lincoln-esque after dropping these two street names back-to-back?

The problem with this turn of phrase, besides dumbing down our discourse or sounding cliché, is manifold. First, it assumes a good-versus-evil duality to the financial problem at hand. Main Street assumes wholesomeness and apple-pie-eating America. Wall Street connotes wickedness, Gucci socks, and guys who post Craigslist ads on why they are "appreciating assets." The financial meltdown, of course, is more complicated than that. I'm sure you can find someone out there in Middle America who wears Gucci socks and there are corporate Gekko-types in downtown Manhattan who probably eat apple pie.

Second, pundits and politicians love to talk about streets for some dumb reason, whenever making blanket, ivory-tower statements about some social group's behavior. No discussion about the Middle East is complete without some mention to the "Arab Street," which instantly catapults the viewers' mind to images of angry young Arab men burning U.S. or Israeli flags and shooting stuff into the air. The expression assumes every Arab thinks in lockstep with the other and masks an inherent religious prejudice: Rarely does it refer to Christian or other non-Muslim Arabs.

Finally, it ignores all the other streets from popular lore. What about Elm Street or Easy Street? It overlooks boulevards and byways and romantic highways like the New Jersey Turnpike. Most people live in such exurban-like settings with flowery street names, they'd be embarrassed to mention their address in an argument ("Those guys on Wall Street just doesn't get us good folks on Pumpernickel Drive.")

Bail us out. Raise our taxes. Do whatever. But politicians across America please stop casting the debate over this financial mess in such lame yin-and-yang prose. It's not about Main Street versus Wall Street. Get it out of your cliché-loving, lemming-like minds.