Sixty-one years ago, the novelist George Orwell published the novel "1984" - a social science fiction classic about a future totalitarian regime that had perfected the art of propaganda and mind control.
The book contributed several iconic terms to the political lexicon - "Big Brother," "thoughtcrime" - and perhaps most profoundly prescient - the concept of "doublethink." "Doublethink" is the act of simultaneously accepting as correct two mutually contradictory beliefs. The concept was later refined as "doublespeak" - which is simply the notion that if you say something often enough, you can convince normal people that something is its opposite.
The concepts are clearly on display in this well known excerpt from 1984:
"From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH."
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH."
The modern Republican Party has worked hard over the last decade to perfect the arts of "doublethink" and "doublespeak." Karl Rove and George Bush were masters of the craft. They called their plan to reduce restrictions on polluters the "Clear Skies Initiative." When they eliminated Clinton-era rules conserving forests they called their program the "Healthy Forests Initiative." And, of course, they argued that their program of warrantless wiretaps enhanced our "freedom."
Now Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has carried Orwellian "doublespeak" to new heights of sheer chutzpa. Tuesday McConnell took to the Senate floor to charge that President Obama's proposal to hold the Wall Street Banks accountable actually "institutionalizes" bailouts of Wall Street.
Of course, McConnell forgot to mention in his floor speech that he and the chief of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Senator John Cornyn, had just returned from a trip to New York, where they had private meetings with top Wall Street executives to enlist their help in funding Republican campaigns this fall in exchange for killing tough financial reform.
And the big Wall Street banks have plenty of reasons to oppose reform. J.P. Morgan Chase just published its new earning figures for the quarter -- $3.3 billion - up almost 300% from last year. The firm spent a record $6.2 million on its attempts to lobby Congress last year, and you've got to admit - that the money spent on that army of lobbyists got a pretty good return on investment.
And it's not limited to a well known names. David Tepper CEO of Appalossoa Management - a hedge fund - made $4 billion last year - personally. Four billion dollars is enough money to pay about 80,000 teachers.
Wall Street has every intention of trying to buy off enough Members of Congress to allow them to continue precisely the reckless behavior that sunk the economy eighteen months ago - and cost seven million Americans their jobs - all the while making a lot of executives and traders very, very rich.
You've got to give it to McConnell. He has gall to march straight from a New York meeting where he got instructions from Wall Street, and go to the floor of the Senate where he attempted to convince Americans that a bill to hold the big Wall Street Banks accountable, is really a "bank bailout bill."
This cynical tactic is taken directly from the pages of the now-famous memo penned by Republican pollster Frank Luntz who found that it was the only argument that has any traction with swing voters - or even the Republican rank and file. The fact is that there is a huge fissure in the Republican Party between the Wall Street elite that has always been the core Republican constituency - and the rank and file party membership that is almost as suspicious of Wall Street as it is of "big government."
The Party's ability to successfully sell this Orwellian notion is their only hope of taking political high ground in the upcoming debate over holding Wall Street accountable. But selling the notion that this is a "big bank bailout bill" is a much more difficult lift than convincing seniors that the health bill included "death panels." The "death panel" fantasy had traction because it built on the underlying foundation of hatred for "big government" in the Republican base and among some independents.
But as soon as people learn that the Republican leadership actually represents the big banks - and takes huge sums of money from the big banks - their argument that they oppose the bill because it is a "bank bailout" falls flat.
You can say anything you want. But to be persuasive it has to have at least an ounce of credulity. Not even the most ardent right wing zealot could believe that the big banks would back the Republicans so they will oppose a "big bank bailout". No, the big banks are backing Republicans because they don't want to be held accountable. Their CEO's want to be free to continue their reckless speculation, so they can take home their ten or twenty or fifty million dollar bonus checks regardless of the impact it has on the economy or the jobs of Americans.
For instance, the bill's requirement that "derivatives" be traded on transparent public exchanges instead of privately by a few big banks, will cost the biggest Wall Street banks $20 to $40 billion a year. But it will also help prevent the reckless speculation in these instruments - which are really nothing more than bets that the price of stock or commodity will go up or down. Speculation in "derivatives" was a big factor that caused the financial collapse in the fall of 2008. But the big banks don't care. They just want to keep on stuffing huge sums of money into their pockets.
In many respects their attempt to sell the "this bill is a bank bailout" fantasy is a mark of Republican political desperation over this issue. It is up to Democrats to make the distinctions crystal clear. Democrats should refuse to compromise with Wall Street-Republicans or water down the bill one iota. We will get the Republican votes for the final bill to hold Wall Street accountable, not because we have compromised and incorporated "Republican" (Wall Street) ideas - but because they are compelled by political reality to vote yes on the bill.
To win, we have to squeeze the Republicans - to expose the fact that they are fronting entirely for the big Wall Street Banks. Forcing the Republicans into a corner - not compromise - is the road to success. It is the road to success both from the standpoint of enacting a policy that reins in the Wall Street banks and holds them accountable - and from the standpoint of electoral politics. It is the only path to assuring that the recklessness of Wall Street doesn't result in another economic catastrophe that costs millions more Americans their jobs.