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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP’s Bogus Populism and Wall St. Reform

Liz Sidoti’s AP article, “Analysis: GOP, Dems compete for populist title” provides a revealing take on the framing battle between the parties with respect to financial industry reform. As Sidoti notes, both parties are “furiously casting each other as the handmaidens of Wall Street” because of “…polls showing voters favoring tighter controls on Wall Street.”
Fair enough. But Sidoti strays into false equivalency territory when she overstates her point that both parties have overindulged the financial industry. “Both share the blame for deregulating the industry in the 1990s and bailing out Wall Street when the financial sector was on the brink of collapse.” She provides some data on financial contributions which indicates Dems accepted more in contributions from the “the financial services, real estate and insurance sectors,” a curiously broad grouping, without noting that very few Republicans have supported major financial reforms in recent years, while leading Democrats have been in the forefront of advocates for reform.
Yes, some Democrats did go wobbly on their obligation to check Wall St. power. But suggesting that Democrats bear equal blame for the Bush meltdown with a party which views most forms of financial regulation as socialism is a big stretch. This part of Sidoti’s article provides an instructive example of how the MSM impulse to go overboard in being ‘even-handed’ can do a disservice to the truth. I sometimes wonder if this more subtle kind of distortion — particularly in the nation’s leading wire service — misleads more voters than Fox ‘News.’ (Media Matters for America documents examples of Sidoti’s alleged distortions in other articles here.)
Sidoti does better in illuminating the struggle for hearts and minds with respect to financial reform in the rest of her article, as in this glimpse of the respective ad campaigns to win the support of “the little guy”:

For years, Republicans stood by while Wall Street ran wild,” says a Democratic National Committee television spot. “Risky bets. Lax regulation. When the economy collapsed, Republicans looked the other way. … Now Republicans are working with Wall Street lobbyists to block reform” that would “protect consumers and prevent a future bailout.”
Countering, the Republican National Committee rolled out a video claiming the legislation rewards Wall Street with a “permanent bailout fund. … Propping up Wall Street is what Obama does, and Obama does it well.”

Sidoti also shows how ‘conflicted’ the public can be regarding Wall St. reform:

More than half — 58 percent — say that “the government has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the free enterprise system,” and roughly half oppose government exerting more control over the economy. But, perhaps because their own pocketbooks are at stake, people make an exception for regulating the financial industry: Sixty-one percent say it’s a good idea for the government to more strictly limit the way major financial companies do business.
All that — combined with the fact that two-thirds of Americans own stock — underscores why the White House as well as Republicans and Democrats are competing to be the most populist. It also explains why Democrats and Republicans are trying to agree on a bipartisan bill even as they publicly castigate each other.

All of which suggests that pollsters could be doing a better job of pinpointing exactly what kind of financial industry reform the public believes is needed, and which reforms they consider intrusive. I suspect there is a small business/big business distinction lurking undetected outside the polling data
When the deal is finally done, don’t be surprised if the “blame game” is pretty much a draw, owing to the Republican MSM advantage. In terms of getting credit for presenting financial reform solutions, however, it shouldn’t be much of a contest. Democrats will have to screw up very badly to let the GOP get any credit at all.

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