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Mike Papantonio Headshot

Obama Needs an FDR-Style Public Works Program

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Henry Paulson has changed his mind three times about how he intends to give away $700 billion worth of taxpayer money. However, one thing is clear about Paulson's bailout mentality, and that is that he has no common ground with most of the people who are coughing up the money to save American capitalism.

By the time Paulson left Goldman-Sachs, he had raked in more than $350 million in compensation. He was paid that money, I suppose, for exposing Goldman-Sachs to $25 billion in toxic trash loans. Paulson today has a net worth of around $700 million. No failure goes unrewarded on Wall Street.

There is a fraternity-like mentality that exists among corporate CEOs who live in the rarefied air of multimillion dollar bonuses. There is an illusory standard of what "moral" or "legitimate" actually means in decision making for that elite crowd. It is that adjustable scale of decency and morality that has bankrupted America. For two more months, Paulson is the gatekeeper for whether bottom-feeders like Hank Greenberg from AIG or Frank Raines from Freddy Mac get a free pass to squander your taxpayer money the same way they squandered billions of dollars of their shareholders' money. It is becoming clearer every day that Big Government is not the nitwit entity Americans can no longer trust. It is the Wall Street-Paulson crowd that has earned that label.

One of Obama's first acts as President should be to change the corporate greed culture that the Bush crowd has built in the last eight years. One way to do that is outrageously simple; If taxpayers bail out a company like AIG, then government helps manage AIG. The alternative is to let the corporate failures fail and then rebuild America by moving those billions into the hands of Americans who will create new roads, airports, and schools.

In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt saved America not by giving money to the corrupt fraternity of robber barons who created the Great Depression. Instead, he moved money onto Main Street. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) moved America out of the robber-baron dark years by building roads, bridges, schools, levees and parks. Again in 1962, the Accelerated Public Works Act invested money into public infrastructure that in turn saved a failing economy and created sustainable jobs for taxpayers.

Conservatives love to object when a single mother of four gets a welfare check, but you can bet that money is spent in grocery stores where jobs are created. FDR understood that the WPA moved money the same way.

For example, when government pays money to rebuild an energy grid that can move energy from wind farms in California to homes in New York, the dollars that are spent create job opportunities in areas of construction, technology, manufacturing and sales. FDR was accused of being a socialist for doing exactly what Obama needs to do today. When Obama turns his back on Wall Street for a while and spends taxpayer money on Main Street, conservatives will label him the same way they labeled FDR. But America today has too much at stake for Obama to worry at all about dull-brained name-calling.