A good many true believers think "capitalism" and "America" are synonymous. What makes the Tea Party so powerful is that it also appears to be an uprising against capitalism, against Wall Street -- in particular against the bailouts. For example, Tea Party protesters often talk about how much they hate "crony capitalism." It's only when you really dig down that you discover that their understanding of "what went wrong" in the housing bubble and the financial crisis is that government played too large a role in the economy, not too small a role. And their crazy idea for getting revenge on "crony capitalism" is to cut red tape and get regulators out of the picture altogether. A perfect example of this is Newt Gingrich's Super PAC's TV commercials against Romney and Bain Capital: The ad's narrator is all for "capitalism," but oh how he hates what Bain Capital has done to working people's lives! (But Newt's solution would be further deregulation!)
[Watch this very slick million-dollar video (paid for by Newt's sugar daddy) that utterly destroys the credibility and alleged integrity of Mitt Romney and the doings of his predatory, leveraged-capital buyout operation, Bain Capital and other such enterprises.]
In his book, Frank says that the right wing and their media shills suffer from a "victim complex." But how is this possible? (How to understand books such as "The Persecution of Sarah Palin"?)
That they do indeed understand themselves as victims is undeniable. It is Sarah Palin's entire raison d'etre. Whenever one sees her face TV, one knows that very soon someone is going to make the point that someone, somewhere was mean to her. This is also what explains the whole fantasy of concentration camps for conservatives, which continues on in places. [See this link, for example].
Not surprisingly, perhaps, this ties in with the absurd theme that runs throughout "Atlas Shrugged," where the main character, who has organized a strike of the billionaire class, describes himself as "the defender of the oppressed, the disinherited, the exploited," by which, quite incredibly, he refers to his fellow billionaires! That's right, in one of the most popular novels in recent history, billionaires are said to be -- insisted to be! -- the "disinherited" and "exploited" class. And millions of college sophomores and others who came to be of like mind have gobbled this up!
How can conservatives keep this down, once they've gobbled it up? The explanation is that they merely understand "elitism" in a different way than you and I. In their deluded way of thinking, the true "powers' of society are not the rich, but the professionally-credentialed and the government-connected. Conservatives basically invert the populist categories of yore: Instead of blue-collar workers or farmers being the exploited producer class, it is entrepreneurs. Why? Because it's they who have to work so hard and have to comply with regulations and pay taxes and put up with the whining of their tattooed hipster employees. And so to their way of thinking it is the rest of us who are the real parasite class.
Ironically, utopian capitalism is, in all sorts of ways, a delusion that runs parallel to utopian communism.
It's not a coincidence that both movements, utopian capitalism and utopian communism, had their heyday as responses to systemic economic breakdowns, and that both of them have spawned similar social movements, in which the gleam of the utopia is so blinding that it cancels out all sorts of realities that are obvious to everyone else (famine in the Ukraine; the role of toxic credit default swaps in the US). There are dozens of other curious parallels, all of them drawn out in shocking detail in Frank's book.
The Obama presidency was the time for a second FDR, not Clinton II.
As a result of Obama's accommodation to Wall Street, the wealth and assets of the US have shifted so much into the hands of the few that (bipartisan) big-money governance is by now virtually unstoppable. Sadly, even tragically, we have missed what will probably prove to be our generation's greatest opportunity to reverse the direction of history. In 2008 and 09, Wall Street was so hated by the American public that we could easily have chosen a New Deal type of direction. The conservative economic policies of the last forty years were in ruins around us. But Obama was afraid (or otherwise unwilling) to point this out. So this golden opportunity was squandered. Obama had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take our financial oligarchy apart -- not just for electoral reasons, but because that was what real democracy required. Yet despite the right's perception of him, already, as Robespierre reincarnated, he didn't do it! Yes, he may win re-election this fall, but at best he will be remembered as just another Clinton -- a guy who "triangulated' and got the best deals he could, while supposedly facing down a right-wing nation. That the nation isn't right wing, and that it would have followed him had he led with boldness, is something that people like you and I will get to meditate on sourly for the rest of our lives.
But what about the bait and switch of the "small business operator" vs. the emergence of global corporations, many based in the US? One of the biggest myths of the populist right, that the Wall Street/global corporate overseers exploit, is that some kind of absolute "free market" benefits the US. The reality is that with the global trade agreements, global financial markets and corporations don't have significant national allegiances. Multinational corporations put small business out of business! -- think pharmacists, hardware stores, clothes stores, small grocer, bakeries, book stores etc. These global corporations belong to the market place and labor forces of the world, not to the US. But there are no Tea Party members who are out protesting companies like Walmart or General Electric.
The important fact here is that the Tea Party, and to some degree the larger conservative revival generally, is a movement of small business. Small biz carries with it its own variety of populism, which is sometimes mistaken as representative of the interests of the people as a whole, but which almost always tends to act as a front for the larger corporate interests. So: Small merchants are out there in the town square, mad as hell about the Wall Street bailouts, rallying the public with them. But their solution is always to get government "off their backs" and to defenestrate organized labor -- "solutions' which have nothing to do with the problems before us!
The funny thing is, you can see a situation where small business might have gone the other way, had the Obama administration made even the smallest effort to correct their populist narrative. Once upon a time, small business people were fairly progressive -- because progressives were the people who enforced antitrust laws. So how might the Obama team have reached out to the angry small retailers demonstrating in the park down the street? Answer: By promising to bring back antitrust enforcement and Glass Steagall, just for starters -- things that are deep in the Democratic tradition, but that for whatever reason are off limits in this day and age. But even to bring this up as a topic of discussion is to understand the terminal absence of creativity from which the Democrats suffer.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once concluded his greatest novel with these lines: "Gatsby believed in the green lights, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further.... So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Parallel to this, Frank writes, "Every problem that the editorialists fret about today will get worse, of course: inequality, global warming, financial bubbles. But on America will go, chasing a dream that is more vivid than life itself, on into the seething Arcadia of all against all."