The Age of Outrage: Change and hope were fun while they lasted

How little time it took to go from the Age of Hope to the Age of Outrage. The same people who swarmed to the inauguration of a new president promising “change and hope” now find themselves frustrated and angry at what is widely perceived to be a continuation of the fleecing of America that began under George W. Bush. And you know what, the people of this nation have every right to be mad as hell.

It’s old news that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney tossed open the doors to the U.S. Treasury during their disastrous eight-year reign of error. But the way they did it was through no-bid contracts to their cronies. Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars flowed like water into the coffers of Halliburton, the company Cheney once led, Kellogg Brown & Root (the military supply arm of Halliburton) and the notorious contract security forces such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy. Meanwhile, billions more of taxpayer’s money was being funneled into hundreds of contract firms to take over jobs once performed by government agencies.

Lots of people knew what was going on under Bush’s administration and lots of people complained about it. But a complicit Congress, including those sessions in which Democrats held majorities, willingly allowed the perfidy to continue. There’s not a single good reason why Congress didn’t fulfill its role as an independent branch of government by exercising its duty to provide checks and balances on the president. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., could have killed any of the bills in the House, but she didn’t. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could have killed any of the bills in the Senate, but he didn’t.

Instead, the corrupt feeding frenzy went on unabated, culminating in Bush’s final, desperate “bailout” bill in which nearly a trillion dollars were given to the same Wall Street financial institutions and businesses that were wholly responsible for the economic shell games and over-the-top greed that led to the nation’s financial collapse.

But then came Obama, who rode to office on a wave of hope and the promise—promise, mind you—of “change.” No longer would these corporate pirates loot our Treasury and steal our future once the new hand took control of the nation’s tiller. The old ways were out, the new ways were in, and with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress as well as the White House, average Americans appeared to have some chance to have their voice, their needs and their concerns heard at the highest levels.

Were that naïve hope not so tragic, it might be funny. But there is nothing funny about what happened next. Instead of stopping the Bush giveaways, Obama merely relegated them to “the past.” When faced with a bloated, pork-laden spending bill rife with earmarks, Obama did not send it back to Congress and demand that his campaign promise to end earmarks be honored. No, instead he signed it, sending nearly another half-trillion off to fill the pockets of the well connected and piling on additional billions to the incredible mountain of national debt Bush bequeathed the future.

As luck would have it, the new president’s popularity ratings remained high as his stunning oratory worked its magic and, at least for a month or so, a frightened and confused public gave him another chance at change. Now, however, with the advent of the latest scandals, the public appears to have run out of patience and Obama’s approval ratings have plunged from the mid-60s to the mid-50s—a huge drop in just a month.

What outrages the populace more than anything is the on-going abuse of the billions of dollars Congress and the president continue to throw away. In the latest episode, it was revealed late last week that American International Group (AIG), the insurance giant that was dubbed “too big to fail,” handed out $165 million in bonuses to its executives. That money comes from the $170 billion Congress and Bush gave them last year. Even worse, AIG says there are hundreds of millions more in bonuses that they will be contractually obligated to pay—many to the executives of the mega-corporation that were directly responsible for activities that brought the company to the brink of bankruptcy. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo released data just this week that shows 73 AIG executives received $1 million or more in bonuses, including 11 who no longer work for the company.

When faced with this situation—and the incredible political backlash it has ignited—Obama’s legal and financial advisers told him there was nothing they could do under the law. For about a day, that worked. But now the peasants are storming the castle with torches and pitchforks, threatening not only any future bailouts, but also the future of Obama’s presidency.

In the meantime, the American public is once again treated to re-runs of representatives and senators issuing “stern reprimands” to the corporate pirates—a puppet show we have seen so often it has lost its ability to impress. One Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, suggested that the AIG executives should follow the example of their Japanese counterparts and kill themselves for their failures. Considering his role in all this, one might wonder why Grassley is immune from his own advice.

A panicked Congress is now considering taxing the bonuses to get them back. First Congress and the president give the money away, then they get angry that it is being used without any sideboards—which they themselves neglected to put in the legislation authorizing the giveaways—and now they threaten to tax the execs to get the money back.

Americans have every reason to be angry over how this country is being governed right now. The Republicans blew it, but we already knew that. We had every reason to expect more from the new administration and the Democratic Congress. Unfortunately, we’re not getting it, which brings us to the Age of Outrage.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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