"Obama is positioning the Democrats as the party of order, responsibility and small-town values," David Brooks writes in the New York Times today. "If he pulls this mantle away from the Republicans, it would be the greatest train robbery in American politics."
Where the conservative Brooks sees theft, the less ideological may find an expectable reaction to eight years of Bush lawlessness and loony laissez-faire. There is an indication of this in new Gallup figures on the relative mistrust of business and government
Historically, Americans have always been more wary of those who want political power than money. In handing out control of the then-limited capacity of radio and later television, for example, they set severe limits on the sales of ideas but practically none on peddling everything else.
That traditional mistrust of government power, Gallup reports, "expanded greatly in the 1990s--reaching a high of 65% in 1999 and 2000."
But Bush changed that: "In 2002, after the wave of accounting scandals at companies like Enron and WorldCom, opinions shifted, and the percentage mentioning big business as the greatest threat peaked at 38%, while concern about big government dipped below the majority level for the first time since 1981," then returned to normal "until the recent financial crisis caused more to fear the power of big business."
Now Americans, to Brooks' consternation, are putting their faith in big government to clean up the mess.
"Obama understands," he writes, "that this is primarily an authority crisis. A system Americans have trusted--the market--has failed in important ways. He has found a theme and bids to reassert authority. But he will seem like an impostor and a manipulator if he imposes responsibility on everybody but himself."
His worry is understandable, but there is no alternative to taking that risk. Obama is now the only game in town, and all the chips are on the table.
As John Bogle, a champion of capitalism who founded the Vanguard Funds, puts it in the Wall Street Journal:
"(S)elf-interest got out of hand. It created a bottom-line society in which success is measured in monetary terms. Dollars became the coin of the new realm. Unchecked market forces overwhelmed traditional standards of professional conduct, developed over centuries."
It will take a lot of brains and guts to get through what Bogle describes as "a crisis of ethic proportions," and most Americans will not be fussy about whether they are Democratic or Republican.