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Dear Dylan Ratigan: Let's Rage Against the Machine ... but Tactically

06/28/2010 12:03 pm 12:03:22 | Updated May 25, 2011

I'm a big Dylan Ratigan fan, and I'm glad we have his voice on the airwaves. That's why it was unexpected to find myself presented as the voice of accommodation in contrast to his angrier tone, when the Huffington Post placed his post on the financial reform bill back to back with mine on Friday. My piece was called The Road Behind, The Way Forward, and his was entitled Politicians Lie, Media Applauds, America Suffers.

We agreed on the essentials: Although it does some good things, the bill doesn't fix our systemic problems and the Wall Street casino's still open for business. Our difference was one of emphasis, and can be seen from our first-paragraph framings of the situation. I said "And for those of us who care about this country, it means that we still have work to do. We must be the voices of reason, the ones who praise what's been accomplished but call for even deeper reforms going forward." Dylan said:

The same Washington spinsters who have driven our country into the ground seem to be out in full force this morning, claiming that their latest policy "victory" is the most "sweeping change" of our financial regulatory since the Great Depression.

Actually, it is nothing more than window dressing.

My initial reaction wasn't all that different from his when I woke up Friday morning and discovered what had been done to gut the Lincoln amendment, especially after the defeat of the Brown/Kaufman "too big to fail" amendment. My first comment on a call that morning was "The plane is still crashing but they're giving out free peanuts." Then two things happened:

First, I spent some time with the bill. What I found, and what I've found since then, is that despite its glaring weaknesses it's better than it looks at first glance. The Consumer Protection Bureau is a big step forward. The transparency provisions are important. The Volcker Rule is better than it looks at first, especially given enforcement provisions on how much they can bail out casino subsidiaries. It's nowhere near enough, but it goes further than many people think.

As for Dylan's list of what's not fixed, I agree .... with some reservations. Yes, "the cops" (regulators and ratings agencies) are still "working for the crooks," although there's pressure built into the bill to adopt something like a Franken rule for raters in a couple of years. Banks are definitely still "too big to fail," which is both an outrage and an ongoing threat to our economy. They can still play "mark to market" games while getting trillions from the taxpayers.

That gets me to the second thing that happened to me Friday morning. Like Dylan (who I've never met, though we've both guest-hosted The Young Turks), I recognized that the economic crisis and the subsequent debate has left us with "an awakened citizenry." What, I wondered, was the best course of action to encourage that citizenry? One way would be to articulate the anger against the "Washington spinsters" and pseudo-liberal hypocrites who have sold their ideals for thirty million pieces of silver in campaign coffers throughout America. But where would that take us? To a November electorate where everybody's cynical and disaffected ... except the Tea Party. As Scott Brown's relentless shilling for Massachusetts banksters have shown us, that leads only to a more bank-friendly government than before.

Or, it seemed, I could acknowledge what was right in this bill as well as what's wrong. I could recognize that we'll have this conflict between well-intentioned legislators and sell-outs to corporate interests until we have campaign finance reform (which we desperately need), and push for an incremental approach: Encourage people to congratulate legislators for what they've accomplished, but let them know it's not nearly enough. You go to war against greedy bankers with the political reality you have, not the reality you wish you had.

Who was right: Dylan Ratigan or me? There's no simple answer. I respect and sometimes share in the anger. Hey, you want rage? I've played CBGB's, pal. I can do rage. But too much rage could lead to a disaffected electorate ... which could lead to a triumph for the party whose members unanimously voted "no" last week to any change at all (except for the one who took a deal for his local banksters). So if I could say one thing to Dylan Ratigan and his supporters it would be this: Let's rage against the bank/political/media machine ... and it is one single machine in some ways ... but let's do it judiciously. Let's praise the politicians when they work for us, punish them when they don't, and always keep the long view in mind.

Can we agree on that?

Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.

He can be reached at "rjeskow@ourfuture.org."