Thursday, April 23, 2009


A closer look at what the Obama administration is saying and doing about the banking industry shows that critics who charged socialism when it seemed Obama was close to nationalizing the banking industry were wrong. What he is doing looks more like the fascist system of government dictatorship over business. Or, as economist Alan Reynolds puts it, “The deeper purpose of the Treasury's ‘capital purchase plan’ appears to have been . . . to ensure that big financial firms will now be managed according to the principles of politics rather than economics.”

The method of setting up the system also bears similarities to fascist methods of winning public support—the propaganda of fear. This kind of fear requires dividing the country into us and them. This comes naturally to politicians who have built much of their careers on the idea that novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald was supposed to have embraced-- “The rich are different.” Fitzgerald, creator of The Great Gatsby, never wrote or said that. It was a lie Hemingway told about him.

Fitzgerald replied, ''Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the greatest charm or distinction.'' Politicians, for their part, have never been interested in the rich as fellow human beings. Except for their rich friends and campaign contributors, the only use politicians have for the rich is to call them greedy and cold hearted while in private squeezing them for campaign contributions.

Side note: notice that the politicians seldom call their own rich campaign contributors greedy. Thus, the concentration on private bankers' and investors' high salaries while not a word about the often higher salaries and percs of Hollywood stars and pro athlets and university presidents. Not a word about the high salaries of officers in government run corporations like FNMA or of people in the World Bank or IMF where Tim Geithner and Larry Summers used to work.

Hemingway invented a conversation with Fitzgerald in which he has himself reply to "the rich are different." He puts down his old friend with, “Yes, they have more money.” That exchange actually took place when Hemingway, then quite rich himself, told literary critic Mary Colum that the rich were different. She put down Hemingway with the reply, ''The only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.''

Hemingway, of course, was like so many rich dilettantes, secure in his wealth while romancing socialism. Maybe Hemingway stole Colum’s wisdom and claimed it for his own out of guilt at being a rich and increasingly lazy drunkard. He knew that Colum spoke the essential truth, one that wold rob the present administration of its scapegoat. “Wall Street” (whoever that is) and bankers are no less and no more greedy or compassionate than other human beings.

So why is President Obama, the self-declared reconciler and unifier leading a team that is intent on pretending superficial economic differences are moral chasms between innocent suffering and evil greed?

The easiest excuse, of course, is that he has set aside only a small group of the rich as villains, and why cry for those who have the consolation of wealth? We do note that his villains are those rich who generally did not support his campaign or his policies.

More important than the numbers or the victims' resources is the President's methods. Scapegoating a small group is a typical fascist ploy for popular support. The President is neither embraces fascism nor does he hate his fellow rich Americans. Even more reason for him to reject fascist tactics that have never achieved anything but making trains run on time before disaster hits.

I suspect that this wealthy President who grew up in modest circumstances and who succeeded on a combination of talent and membership in a favored class, and who then, by his own admission, failed as a community organizer among the poor, feels considerable guilt. So did Ernest Hemingway. The aging writer, unable to change or redeem himself, losing his literary powers, ended his binge of drinking and self-glorification in suicide.

Obama, young and enjoying the highest political power, has chosen to work toward compassionate ends through cold-hearted means. Villifying productive people, telling them how much they can earn, telling them it’s their patriotic duty to pay higher taxes, and even telling them when they can return government money they didn’t want will result in alienating or paralyzing not just a few bankers, investors, and auto industry executives. It has already begun to send productive people looking for hiding places and escape routes.

The combination of spending binge, higher taxes, and propaganda campaign can destroy the economic hopes of the poor and the middle class. In a country where almost everyone wants to be rich, and where they can vote, Obama’s methods will not lead to fascism. They could lead to political suicide. In the life that exists beyond that limited death, President Obama would continue to be rich, and the poor he wants to help would continue to be poor.


  1. Hemingway was a great writer, but often an unreliable and even abominable friend. He began his career as a reporter. He emphasized truth in his writing, but in real life this theft of words fits into a pattern of lies. He often lied about his war experiences, for instance. Also typical of Hemingway, he was building up his own reputation at the expense of his friend, Fitzgerald. One can't prove that his memory and not his morals was at fault, but it would be odd if he remembered the words from Fitzgerald's character 10 years after publication but did not remember his own conversation with Colum that was quite fresh.

  2. Politicians don't care about money-yeah, right. A rather ignorant statement.