06/19/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Golden Bull

The story of the golden calf in Exodus is the perfect allegory for the conservative movement's rapturous worship of the free market uber alles. In their religious fervor, the free market is always good, and therefore corporations -- no matter their size, power, or history of malfeasance -- are always good too, and all government is always bad, all of the time, no matter what. They worship their idol of gold no matter what actually happens in the world around them, and nothing can change their religion. The economy can collapse in a terrible financial panic on their watch, and it still doesn't shake their faith in their golden idol. The big banks can commit fraud and create massive bubbles they know will pop and it still doesn't shake their faith -- they still don't want financial regulations. Mine accidents can kill people, and they still don't want more safety inspectors. Toys with lead in them can kill toddlers, and they still don't want stronger consumer protections. The number of people killed from E Coli can rise to record levels, and they still don't want stronger food safety rules. Bridges can collapse, and the still don't want to raise taxes to pay to rebuild our infrastructure. 40,000 people a year can die from a lack of health insurance, millions can be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, Medicare can prove to be a popular and effective way of delivering health care to people, and they still don't want government involved in health care. Social Security can lift generations of senior citizens out of abject poverty, and they still want to get rid of it.

I could go on and on and on, because heaven knows conservatives do. But the government is always bad, corporations are always good, religion is going to cost them politically on the banking issue. Republicans are threatening to filibuster a bill to regulate the big banks and hedge funds that trashed our economy and that would be the greatest gift they could possibly give Democrats. Filibuster to your heart's content, Sen. McConnell. Let's have this debate go on and on and on. Let it drag on for weeks, or even better, months. I know you will keep repeating Frank Luntz's talking points word for word about how reining in the power of these mega-banks would lead to more bailouts, but voters are already seeing through the act. Even tea partiers, as anti-government as they are, hate the big banks, so go ahead and do your ritual incantations at your altar of gold, and we'll see how this debate plays out.

I'm happy to have this debate, I'm happy to have the debate over whether people want to repeal the ban against insurance companies not covering people with pre-existing conditions, and I'm happy to have the debate over whether to worship corporate America and the free market in all situations. Progressives understand that businesses, big and small, and entrepreneurs of every type, have a centrally valuable role in building our economy. But we also understand that government has a valuable role to play as well, and that sometimes corporations do abuse their power and hurt people. Conservatives want to leave each of us on our own to deal with corporate oligopolies without any help or support from our government. If we get hurt, so be it, because after all, as Glenn Beck puts it, in nature the lions will eat the weak. Progressives believe that power is corrupting- government power, yes, but also corporate power- and that government should be on the side of the little guy instead of on the side of the richest and most powerful in society.

So let's have this debate. Mitch McConnell wants to make the debate this week about big banks and whether government should play any role in holding them accountable and reining them in. I'm good to go on that debate -- and I want to have it on all those other issues as well.

It's time to melt down the golden calf of the free market above all else. That golden calf has turned into golden bull, and it's time to stop worshipping it.