In the film classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” good and evil battle. James Stewart, alias George Bailey, owns “Bedford Falls Savings and Loan.” George has dreamed of a vacation, even a new life, where the careworn years of crushing responsibility are lifted from his shoulders. But George knows his dream will always remain just that – a dream.
Mr. Potter is a vicious slumlord, and a quintessential, Conservative Republican. Potter covets George Bailey’s bank. He wants to end the “sentimental hogwash" of home loans for the working poor, whom he calls “suckers” and “riff raff.” After surviving a run on the bank, Uncle Billy misplaces $8,000 of the bank’s money that Potter scoops up in an opportune moment. Bursting with malicious glee, Potter tips the Bank Regulators who immediately begin an audit of George’s bank. George knows he’s very likely going to jail, and at the least, he’ll lose the bank to Potter. George Bailey decides to end his life by jumping off a bridge. He is saved by an Angel, Clarence Odbody, who shows George what Bedford Falls would be if not for his devotion to the community.
Bedford Falls is gone. It’s been replaced by Pottersville, a slum filled with sleazy bars and pawn shops. Potter’s greed has reduced a once decent community to a study in human misery. George knows he must keep living - he can’t let the town fall into Potter’s hands. His many friends step in and raise the lost $8,000, and Bedford Falls is saved.
Capra’s film examined the effects of unregulated capitalism, and thus attracted the attention of republican, Joe McCarthy, who made Capra a prime target of his Un-American activities committee. Today, deregulated capitalism has made Capra’s message clearer than ever. The business community cannot be trusted to modify its behavior and reign in its greed. Letting it off its leash through deregulation brought a hard lesson to taxpayers, who are told they must pay for the business communities excesses - again.
As long as taxpayers keep bailing out failed corporations, Americans must expect further cuts in programs that improve the lives of all Americans. After the Great Depression regulations were put into effect to control the business community. Almost a century later California’s Legislators deregulated California’s Public Utilities Commission. Enron, Duke Energy and Reliant swooped down like vultures, eventually costing Californian’s over $90 billion. Next were the S&L’s that were deregulated during the Reagan Administration. That sleight of hand cost taxpayers about $600 billion.
Today, taxpayers are shelling out trillions to salvage the deregulated financial community. Just what will it take, one may ask, before voters recognize that politicians, obeying their corporate masters, are not trustworthy, and when large corporations fail, they drag the entire economy down with them. While it’s true that Reagan’s deregulation frenzy laid the groundwork for the S&L failures, it was a Republican Congress, and Bill Clinton, who repealed Glass Steagall.
These failures and the subsequent taxpayer bailouts should have been a wake up call that regulations were crucial in controlling corporate zealotry for ever more profit. This unlearned lesson was doubly painful because the previous results of deregulation were plain to see, but were completely ignored. The roaring 20,s are comparable to the booming 80,s. Margin buying in the mid and late 20,s brought about the market crash, just as bundled derivatives and other so called “investment vehicles,” brought about today’s economic morass.
It is a shocking realization that blind greed can so effectively lead the afflicted to make disastrous decisions. Wall Street and the Banks are a little like the monkey or raccoon, that has stuck a hand into a hole in a log to remove a treat, or something shiny. The animal has made a fist when it grabbed its prize, and can‘t pull its fist out of the hole, even as it sees the hunter approach.
Getting elected is expensive. A candidate running for Congress or the presidency must be in the pocket of business if he expects to compete. The candidate’s constituents understand this as well as the candidate. Politicians, Big Business and its lobbyists, are perfectly aware that ordinary Americans are not represented because campaign finance laws allow moneyed interests to pick the candidates of their choice.
Obama knows how he got elected. In the last two months of his campaign he saturated battleground states with television and radio ads. The media reported almost daily that Obama’s record breaking contributions were coming from donors contributing less than $200.00, but according to the Campaign Finance Institute only about one quarter of his money came from donors whose contributions totaled $200 or less. 80% of Obama’s campaign contributions came from large donors, banks, insurers, investment houses - you know - the folks who went bust, and are getting bailed out by taxpayers?
The conflict, between rich and poor, is as old as the repeated revolutions and wars that such conflicts inspire. Business must reassess its profit motive if society is to ever evolve beyond the confining limits of material possession. The Bush Administration ran the national debt up to around $11 trillion. What do American taxpayers have to show for that excruciating debt? Two unnecessary wars, a defense budget that exceeds the combined defense expenditures of Europe, China and Russia, and corporate handouts in excess of $2.5 trillion.
Universal health care? Can’t afford it, and besides, isn’t that socialism? A serious investment in the development of green energy? No. Better to be dependent on Middle Eastern Oil. Besides, global warming is another one of them boogie men the liberals trot out to scare everyone. Rush said so on T.V! Taxpayers should want to increase spending for education, and sink some money into the long neglected infrastructure. But corporate interests say otherwise, and placid America is witness to the deterioration of their republic.
It’s not news that Obama has been a terrible disappointment to many. Progressives imagined him as a resurrected FDR - or at least a president who would finally represent the people’s interests, over his campaign contributors interests. It may be that someday Americans will shake themselves from their lethargy, and reclaim their republic. If there is any truth in the adage “it’s always darkest just before the dawn” Americans should be reclaiming their republic any day now.