06/21/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Abracadabra Is Not Enough: The Week the Republican Magic Wand Failed

Well, it took endless explanations from CNN, CBS, NBC and Jon Stewart, but finally I think I understand the causes of the financial meltdown. It's about as satisfying as learning how magicians pull off their illusions; one can't help but feel a little bit stupid to find out it's just adorned trickery.

As far as I understand, this is how the private sector works. Someone borrows money from a bank, or saves it up, or inherits it. She starts a business that sells a good or provides a service, and in the process hires and pays employees. These employees, in turn, buy goods and services, which creates more jobs and more capital, and so on.

The public sector arises as a result of the taxes paid by the private sector. These revenues allow our democratically elected representatives to spend money on things we all agree are necessary for the common good: education, a national defense, infrastructure, the police and courts, and so on. Some people are too young, too old or too sick to work. We all agree that some of our money needs to be spent on them.

All of the money that represents this wealth, defined as goods, services and property, ultimately lives in a bank. We pay bankers to distribute and invest it, to see that it flows from where it is made to where it is needed. This money belongs to us. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line the bankers seemed to have concluded the money belonged to them. This has been, of course, infuriating.

It took me a moment to recognize my sentiment toward the banks was virtually identical to that expressed against the government by the right. This recognition comforted me a little but mostly filled me with horror. I empathized with their emotional reaction, but couldn't have disagreed more concerning at whom it was directed. If nothing else is clear by now, it's the Tea Party sentiment that the worst capitalist is still preferable to the best government employee -- Republican congressmen exempted, of course.

It's as if free market fairy dust has been tossed in their eyes, rendering them incapable of seeing the postal worker delivering their mail, or the meat inspector protecting their food supply. These gun-loving extremists don't even seem to realize their tax dollars pay the salaries of our brave men and women in uniform. They seem genuinely convinced most federal employees spend the day stamping "approved" on welfare applications for newly arrived illegal aliens. It is a toxic misperception, but not remotely accidental.

The anger of the Tea Party right has been masterfully but intentionally deflected. This misdirection has been so effective that we had Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate insisting the party of Big Business is actually its scourge. He almost got away with it too, but he didn't. McConnell and his cronies blinked. They still hold the attention of those seated in the orchestra, but someone in the balcony evidently saw the rabbit hidden under the cape and pointed it out to his neighbors.

As any magician can tell you, once you lose the cheap seats, the expensive ones are soon to follow. If you can't pull off an illusion from a distance, you sure as hell are going to have trouble managing it up close. This week may be more than just an aberration in the resolve of the Party of No. This could mark the beginning of one long disappearing act.

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