When Hippie-Punching Goes Wrong

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 5 2011 9:20 AM

When Hippie-Punching Goes Wrong

Via Digby, we see CNN's newest host Erin Burnett closing out her show with some head-shaking mockery of Occupy Wall Street.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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This is a real growing-up moment for the hated hippies. Between this and the confrontations with Fox News, Occupy Wall Street is building a record of media confrontation comparable to the early Tea Party. Getting dismissed by CNN is a rite of passage; when Susan Roesgen was too combative with Chicago Tea Party protesters, the ensuing anger got her reassigned.

Roesgen and Burnett made the same mistake. Neither reporter tried to understand where the protesters were coming from.

BURNETT: So do you know that taxpayers actually made money on the Wall Street bailout?
DAN: I was unaware of that.
BURNETT: They did. They made -- not on GM, but they did on the Wall Street part of the bailout.
DAN: OK.
BURNETT: Does that make you feel any differently?
DAN: Well, I would have to do more research about it.
BURNETT: If I were right it might?
DAN: Oh, sure.

This is spectacularly glib, but understandable -- Burnett is assuming that voter anger at government is based on how much money the state is taking, not on what the state is doing. A Tea Party protester would probably agree with her. A left-winger wouldn't, because from his perspective, the GM bailout was more successful than TARP. Why? TARP was supposed to prevent the economy from a total collapse, give banks the support they needed to keep lending and stave off a continued foreclosure crisis, and mark the end of "too big to fail." It has done, arguably, one of those things. The fact that the money has been paid back doesn't really soothe TARP opponents. Imagine if you gave your neighbor a $1,000 loan in exchange for him cutting down a tree that was falling over into your yard. He pays back the $1,000, but you notice that the tree's still there, just missing half of one branch. Are you happy about the loan?

Contrast that with the auto bailout.

The Center for Automotive Research said today the government’s bailouts of the U.S. auto industry spared more than 1.14 million jobs last year alone, and prevented “additional personal income losses” of nearly $97 billion combined for this year and last.
Another 314,400 jobs were saved this year thanks to the $80 billion in taxpayer lifelines extended to GM, Chrysler, and the GMAC and Chrysler Financial financing businesses, CAR said. The research organization based its conclusions on the potential impact of auto-industry collapse for jobs at U.S. auto makers and suppliers, and cascading effects on the economy at large.

From a mainstream Occupier's perspective (let's leave aside the anarchists, as we'd leave aside the conspiracy kooks at a Tea Party), this is what the government's redistribution of wealth is good for -- creating or saving jobs for people. GM hasn't paid back its loan, but a million people are still working and participating in the economy. You could figure this out if you asked the protesters some question, but it'll stay elusive if you smugly assume that they're idiots.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.