Turn Those Machines Back On!

You may have seen this viral video from CNBC’s Rick Santelli, whose rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has made him into the new Joe the Plumber (finally, someone replacing Joe the Plumber as a folk hero). It’s a strange but familiar form of populism, essentially predicated on the idea that commodities traders represent the “silent majority” and that traders and brokers and CNBC viewers will lead the new revolution against deadbeats and “losers.” Populist anger is fine, though the results aren’t always satisfying (the huge antiwar protests of 2003 didn’t influence many lawmakers, even Democratic ones). But while there’s plenty of opportunity for populist backlash against all the recent bailouts, most of it has been expressed through demanding more tax cuts (Congressional Republicans) or CNBC guys like Santelli saying that the CME is representative of all America. I think the Republicans probably will improve their message in time for a good showing in the 2010 midterms, but for now, they do seem to have misunderstood the success of Nixon’s “Silent Majority” catchphrase: it wasn’t about just claiming that the elites really are the Silent Majority.

But in casting traders and CNBC anchors as the underdogs being crushed under the jackboots of The Man, he’s not alone; Randolph and Mortimer Duke already created the Revolution 26 years ago when they railed against the fat cats who were trying to take their money away from them. Stand tall, Rick!


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