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The Shadow of the Pitchfork


The vote by the House of Representatives on Monday to defeat the Wall Street bailout plan is the first act of political courage that the Congress of the United States has mounted in the last seven years. The fact that it was due largely to right-wing Republicans afraid of going down with the sinking ship of the witless leader they have followed blindly throughout his reign is a delicious irony — but the whys and wherefores of the vote are not important. What matters is that one of America’s moribund institutions has flickered to life long enough to derail a disastrous action that would have shoved the nation even deeper into the pit of corruption and ruin where it has been mired for so long.

The New York Times called the House vote “a catastrophic political defeat for President Bush, who had put the full weight of the White House behind the measure.” But this is manifestly untrue. As everyone but the nation’s media — and the Democratic Party — knows, George W. Bush has no “political weight” to use, or lose. Yes, he still retains the authoritarian powers that the spineless Democrats have given him with scarcely a whimper of protest (and often with boundless enthusiasm); but as a political force — i.e., someone whose opinions and statements can sway popular opinion — he has been a dead and rotting carcass for a long time. He is the most unpopular president in American history; and I can report from first-hand, eyewitness knowledge that he is thoroughly despised by some of the most rock-ribbed, Bible-believing, flag-waving, down-home, John Wayne-loving Heartland types that you can imagine. Even his own party — a party fashioned in his own image, the Frankensteinian melding of willfully ignorant religious primitivism and rapaciously greedy crony capitalism that he has embodied in his twerpish person — kept him away from their convention this year.

Nothing — absolutely nothing — could be politically safer than opposing George W. Bush. And yet the entire Democratic leadership, Barack Obama included, lined up to support a cockamamie plan proposed by this scorned and shriveled figure, a plan that was transparently nothing more than an audacious raid on the Treasury by Big Money hoods and yet another authoritarian power grab by a gang of murderous, torturing, warmongering toadies. This was the plan and these were the people that the Democrats decided to fight for.

What’s more, the Democrats stood shoulder to shoulder with the president on what is apparently the only issue that can now stir Americans to genuine anger and widespread protest: a direct threat to their bank accounts. Wars of aggression like the Nazis used to wage; elaborate tortures like the KGB used to practice; concentration camps, lawbreaking leaders, diminishment of liberty, the slaughter of a million innocent people in a land destroyed by an illegal and pointless invasion — all of that stuff is pretty much OK, easily swallowable, worth no more than a shrug or perhaps a frowny “tsk tsk” before going on to the sports pages or flipping over to another channel. But put out an open ploy to steal their money and give it to the filthy rich — and baby, it’s pitchfork time! Yet here, as the public face of just such a ploy, is where the Democrats chose to make their stand.

So Monday’s rejection of the bailout plan is not a catastrophic political defeat for George W. Bush; he has no political standing, no political future. But it is a vast and humiliating defeat for the Democratic leadership, across the board, who, as Democrat Lloyd Dogget of Texas said,

“‘never seriously considered any alternative’ to the administration’s plan, and had only barely modified what they were given. He criticized the plan for handing over sweeping new powers to an administration that he said was to blame for allowing the crisis to develop in the first place.” (From the NYT)

Now the Democratic elites have had their collective head handed to them on a platter. It is a dish most richly deserved. And although it is almost possible to believe that they will learn anything from this episode, there is now a chance — a chance — that we can at least have a discussion of alternatives to the Bush scheme.

I still believe it is unlikely any genuinely effective program — one that could manage and mitigate the now-unavoidable effects of the Wall Street/Washington-induced disaster — will ever get enacted. After all, the Democrats are largely owned by the same corrupt and greedy elites now seeking a handout. And it seems reasonable to assume that the Bipartisan Bailout Bunch will eventually find some kind of sugar to tempt away the two dozen votes they need for their next “compromise” on the Bush-Paulson plan.

Then again, who know? There are obviously a lot of very powerful and privileged people sweating more bullets tonight than they have sweated in many and many a year. They have roused the drowsy beast of popular anger at last, and no one can say what might happen next. Probably nothing — or rather, more of the same, in some form or another. But still,  it is good to see the icy beads of panic dotting the brows of elites who have inflicted and/or countenanced so much death, destruction, terror and degradation in the past few years. Today they have suffered a very rare defeat in the relentless, remorseless class war they have been waging against us for decades. And that it is something to celebrate — at least for one night.

CHRIS FLOYD is an American journalist, and a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. His blog is “Empire Burlesque,” at




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Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at

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