Dylan Ratigan on what’s wrong with America

MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan, telling people what's what

MSNBC political and financial commentator Dylan Ratigan went all me-after-four-drinks on Representative Kevin Brady (R–TX) Monday, delivering a long rant while the latter clung to GOP talking points and smiled like a man invited over for a big slice of crap cobbler. Props to Pete for the link. Let me first say that I do not usually have truck with MSNBC, for reasons exemplified in Ratigan’s interview style. He begins his segment by pointing out that Wall Street and high finance is one of the few sectors of the economy that is hiring again, which seems kind of ironic given that they were, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, the dildo of our original clusterfucktion. Ratigan then advances the thesis that the stock market, originally conceived as a means of encouraging investment capital to flow to new ventures, has become a “giant sucking machine” that draws money from real industry and into a realm of computerized abstraction. Cue Kevin Brady.

Representative Brady apparently entered the Dylan Ratigan Show with a plan, and that was to talk about how the federal government is too big and also taxes. His answers have almost no bearing on the questions he is asked, which encourages Ratigan to formulate ever more belligerent and statement-resembling questions, which of course leaves Brady with only his talking points and…we’re yelling.

Two things strike me about this video. First, Ratigan is right: the US financial system, originally an enabler of industry, has become an industry unto itself—one that offers no benefit to the majority of Americans. As our host points out, 70% of the NYSE’s trading volume is in computerized transactions with an average holding period of ten seconds. It’s hard to argue that those ten-second investments are doing anything to produce jobs or useful goods, and the news that the people who own the supercomputers that make them are back on top after two years of slightly diminished richness is not exactly heartening to former auto workers whose unemployment benefits have just expired.

That being said, I defy you to watch this video without wanting to punch both participants. Dylan Ratigan starts as a man whose point can be metaphorically discerned among his repeated uses of the word “stealing,” then quickly makes a run for the mayoralty of Pricksville. Meanwhile, Kevin Brady is like a robot programmed by Mitch McConnell. His explanation for the growth of jobs on Wall Street is that the only place creating new jobs is the federal government (which is, somehow, bad,) and his assessment of the morality of the finance economy is that “you can’t tax yourself into prosperity.”

This is not political inquiry, or even partisan debate. This is two men yelling their preconceived opinions over each other, and besides the thrill of watching a political hack smile nervously while hearing himself described as exactly what he is—which thrill is considerable—it produces nothing. There’s a point in the video when Representative Brady says that it’s impossible to tax yourself into new jobs. Ratigan could have, at that moment, mentioned the established practice of using tax money to create jobs via pubic works projects—an interjection that might have returned the whole thing to the realm of productive debate. Instead, he lambasts Brady for not answering his non-existent questions.

It makes for good TV but poor government. Sooner or later, the country’s failure to pull itself out of the recession in any area but the one that recessed us in the first place is going to be a crisis-level problem that we have to solve. When that time comes, we will need sharper deliberative tools that trying to say “I’m against government and taxes,” more times than the other guy says, “Wall Street is stealing from us.” As much as I like politics as entertainment, I would also like to someday watch one of these videos and change my mind about something.

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  1. Excellent post. The quality of our debate must improve. We need leaders courageous enough to take the lead, but we can’t just sit and wait. In our consumer choices, we need to pick better television. In our electoral choices, we need to pick better politicians. And, you know, launch our own media and campaigns and hold ourselves to a higher standard.

  2. (first, I tried to post this earlier, but it didn’t take. So if it shows up twice, sorry)

    Anyway, I think that this video is a sorry example of cable-tv “debate” and therefore is an example American journo-theater. But Ratigan has been running a pretty serious show for a while, and I think he just got fed up. Of course, what did he expect when he invited a Texas Republican on?

    But apologetics aside, the truly interesting–and novel–thing about this guy and his show is that a mainstream cable host, on a GE-owned outlet, is constantly voicing the stupidly obvious truth: that Wall Street is the puppetmaster of government. The US Treasury and the Fed is a revolving door that constantly spins in and spins out Goldman Sachs employees, creating very consistent policies that serve the people (and the economy as a whole) no better than the World Bank’s “structural adjustment” programs serve peasants in the third world. Basically, cable news has a Naderite with his own show.

    In times of crisis, good journalists in the corporate media sneak in good reporting; the range of discourse opens up a bit. Think Seymour Hersh and Gareth Porter during Vietnam. John Pilger throughout the 80s. Jeremy Scahill currently. But I don’t think there’s ever been an anchor on a television show who has devoted himself to pointing out the fundamental fact of the US government: the fact that “government is the shadow cast by business over society.” Ratigan’s calling it out for what it is, and demanding that people truly see that the country is bought and paid for. That he’s voicing this nightly on an NBC outlet is wholly different.

  3. Also, he’s pointing out another new development in late-stage capitalism that you won’t find on television or in the NYT: that now there is an upper and lower class of capitalist. The financial capitalists are now winning the class war against not only the lumpenproletariat, but also the industrial capitalists. We’re at the stage of JP Morgan versus Henry Ford, and Ford is getting his ass kicked. With financial services running the show and trading huge sums every nanosecond, the industrialists (who at least create jobs) are getting something of the shaft as well.

  4. I like when news reporters get frustrated and start losing their temper. It’s nice to know they are people who feel emotions too. I like John Stewart for that – take a look at his interview with Jim Cramer.

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