The Ghost of Populism
As always, I was awakened by a sudden draft through the closed windows, saw the curtains ominously stirring and sensed instantly that someone was in my bedroom. Without even looking up, I knew it was my long-dead grandfather, an immigrant of socialist leanings and what he would call common sense. Wearily, I went through the drill.
"Grandpa, is that you?"
"You were expecting maybe Lucy Lohan?"
"Lindsay," I corrected.
"'Scuse me. Where I am we don't get People magazine."
I tried to get to the point. "What brings you down this time?" I asked.
He was holding a newspaper, always a dangerous sign.
"What's happened to the Democratic Party?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? What do I mean? Listen, college boy, in my day, the Democrats stood for the little man. You know the little man, boychik?"
"Yes, grandpa ... "
"He's the working stiff. He's the guy with a lunch pail. You think it's right he pays a higher rate of taxes than those hedge fund managers?"
"Oh, grandpa, you're talking about something called the 'Carry.' It stands for carried interest and it means that these money managers and hedge fund guys, wonderful risk takers and builders of wonderful wealth, get taxed as if their income is capital gains - 15 percent. The IRS says it's legal."
"Legal, shmegal! You think it's fair?"
"Yeah, fair. You heard of fair, Mr. famous columnist?"
"This is not a matter of fairness, grandpa. Believe me, there are vast issues of macroeconomics and tax policy here which, if not handled properly, will sink the economy."
"Who are you?" my grandfather bellowed. "The poor pay more than the rich and you give me this macaroni economics stuff. You should be ashamed of yourself." He paused.
"You know this Schumer?"
"Chuck? The senator? Yeah."
"He's opposed to this tax fairness. What kind of Democrat is this?"
"You have to understand," I explained. "Schumer represents Wall Street."
"What about Main Street?"
"Hillary supports your view."
"You think I was born yesterday? She's not going to campaign on that. She'll let this Chuck character take the heat and she'll do nothing."
"Do you have two sources for that?"
"Oh, wake up! Don't you know nothing about bosses and workers and who controls politicians? Too much college made your brain soft." He paused again.
"You know any subprime people?"
"These people who got these lousy mortgages. They got this fancy word for these poor suckers. Subprime."
"These are wonderful financial instruments that have made us a great nation of homeowners."
"This is a Brooklyn Bridge for poor people to buy. This is a way of selling houses to people who can't afford them. It's a way for bankers to make money. They take the loans from these poor people and then they put thousands of them in a Vegematic or something and then sell what comes out. The lenders don't lose nothing. They didn't warn people that interest rates would go up and they would lose everything - their house and everything they put in it. That's a crime in my book. Someone should be punished. Instead, the mortgage people make out like bandits."
"You have a point."
"Thank you. And where is the Democratic Party? Where is the party of the little man? Nowhere. Who's yelling and screaming about this or, God forbid, leading a march or holding a rally just like the old days? Who's organizing a boycott or maybe holding a show in a theater? Not the Democrats. Too afraid of Wall Street."
"Oh, grandpa, that's so old-fashioned."
"You think so, smarty-pants? You think honesty and fairness is old-fashioned? You think it's right for the head of this Blackstone group to make hundreds of millions of dollars and pay almost no taxes? Virtually nothing! And he gives a party for himself in New York that costs millions. He has a 35-room apartment that once belonged to a Rockefeller and fancy art on the wall and has the chutzpa to buy lobbyists by the dozen so he don't pay his fair share in taxes. Is that right?"
"Maybe he should pay more."
"Maybe? Maybe you should write columns kicking the Democrats in the pants for forgetting who they represent. Maybe you should get angry yourself. Maybe you should remember who you are and where you come from?"
"Good. How's your mother?"
"Pretty good. She was 95 on July 4th."
"Tell her I love her."
"Go back to sleep, boychik."
And, like the rest of the country, I did.
Richard Cohen's e-mail address is email@example.com.
© 2007 The Daily Camera