At least in the movies. Michael Moore’s Capitalism has passed Expelled as the fifth-top-grossing political documentary EVAR! It’s showing on fewer screens and has earned over 2 million dollars more, to date, than Ben Stein’s crapfest.
This makes total sense. Michael Moore’s movie is quite good, is based on real and well-documented events, and has genuinely thought-provoking arguments to make. What’s the relationship between capitalism and democracy? When capitalism fails a society, can democracy save both the society and the economic system?
These are hardly new questions. When Franklin Roosevelt took the White House, several modest-sized revolts had already broken out in the heartland, as angry farmers seized town halls, threatened to lynch any bank agent executing a foreclosure order, and organizing a march on Washington that could easily have turned violent. It didn’t help that those farmers were joined by out-of-work veterans seeking their pensions. On taking office, Roosevelt had little choice but to move quickly.
His response was not to nationalize industry, but to use the power of government, especially of government borrowing, to prop up workers and to re-energize limping industries. Social Security and related programs carried whiffs of socialism, but there was no cross-cutting socialist agenda on the table, despite there being actual socialist and communist parties in existence at the time.
One might argue, even, that the existence of those extremes allowed Roosevelt to find a middle ground in which risk was socialized and rewards for success were left to a well-regulated market.
In Moore’s movie, Barack Obama is cast as the figure who will craft a similar solution to the current Great Recession. Alas, without genuine socialists in the wings to tug him toward a genuine political and economic center, Obama’s policies are driven by many of the same forces Moore attacks (including Tim Geithner, who the movie describes in truly Bush-like terms: someone who has failed at everything he attempted). Will the President find a solid fulcrum on which to rebalance our economic and political rights? Can FDR’s dream of a Second Bill of Rights be revived?
One hopes. One of the less-discussed works of the Obama administration’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is a book praising Roosevelt’s second bill of rights. I had suggested that as one of three books the incoming President should read, and it’s encouraging that he put the author in charge of vetting every new piece of legislation passing through the government, and we can hope he is being groomed for a seat on the Supreme Court. Ensuring universal healthcare would be a huge step toward Roosevelt’s dream, and toward a dream of a society with equal opportunities for all citizens, a society that matches the dreams of our forefathers.
History will judge whether Moore was right to present Obama as the president who fulfilled the broad dream of a second ? economic ? bill of rights, a president who will protect democracy when it is threatened by capitalism. Until then, it falls on the rest of us, to make it as easy as possible for that change to come. Congress still needs to hear from you about the importance of health care reform. Your banks and sheriffs need to be reminded that they have a choice in how they handle foreclosures, and they don’t have to wait on a good economy and new regulations before they do the right thing.
We don’t need a violent revolt. Last year we showed, as our grandparents did in 1932, that democracy can handle these challenges. But it only works when the people make their voices heard.