The Blame Game

So, as best as one can tell, we are flat broke. Every one of us. No change to jingle in our pockets as we walk confidently into the future.

You know things are bad when there is a garage sale and a little company we used to call Merrill Lynch is on the driveway next to the baby clothes and stereo speakers.

The reasons we got here are complicated. But one thing is clear. Folks in fine suits were napping, or plotting, at their desks.

If we really want to prevent this from happening again, we should hold someone accountable. Blame is a powerful deterrent. So here is a Blame Rant. Aside from fines and prison, let’s add some public humiliation.

First on the list is Wall Street. The entire avenue and everyone on it. That address has now taken its place alongside The Strip and Sunset Boulevard as streets that make the rest of the world think America is totally nuts.

In my Midwestern way I have always been suspicious of Wall Street and its denizens. Everyone there makes a lot of money, but I can’t figure out what, if anything, they actually do—besides the occasional indecipherable cable television interview.

Best as I can tell they take value that someone else has created, shuffle it around on their computer, and end up making far more than folks who actually produce something. And they act smug as they are doing it. Because they went to Tufts.

These cats feign brilliance when in fact, as the headlines verify, they are as weak at math as the rest of us. The only difference is that they get monster annual bonuses for their ignorance and failure, while we get another disappointing 401(k) statement in the mail.

What we have finally discovered is that they are simply back-room palm readers in wool-blend suits.

If anyone is serious about preventing this crisis from happening again, they should create a reality show with the worst of them. Call it “America Doesn’t Have As Much Talent As It Thinks.”

Big-bonus CEOs from Lehman Brothers and other failed Wall Street firms would be plucked from their penthouses or the St. Regis and escorted to jail. No charges. No due process. Just a two-thousand-dollar-suit perp with a bunkmate who has plenty of tats and two thirds of his teeth. And a web cam.

The next on the blame list is Washington, and every politician (which is all of them) who think Americans can have everything we want for absolutely nothing.

Somewhere along the way Washington convinced itself and us that debt is good. Really good. We have been given wonderful incentives for being in over our heads. Don’t have a job? Buy a house. Bad credit? Buy a house. Can’t afford the house? Buy it anyway.

The only difference between Washington politicians and your average neighborhood crack dealer is that Congressmen have health care.

And this crisis is bipartisan. The Republicans liked the sub-prime play because it made for fat Wall Street bonuses and more free private jet rides for themselves. The Democrats liked it because they got to play Oprah. “You get a house! And you get a house! And you get a house! You ALL get a HOUSE!”

Of course the president also deserves some blame, for the simple reason that he seems to have no idea what is going on. But then, we have come to expect that from him.

The president, Congress and Wall Street have conspired to amend the mantra of the American Dream. That coda used to read: “ If you work hard, and keep at it, you can live the American Dream.”

But greed, ignorance and self-delusion on a grand scale have edited that statement to read, “Anyone can live the American Dream.” Sounds too good to be true. Because it is. And we believed it. Hence our mess.

It is cathartic to rant. To bellow, “Throw the bastards in the clink and lose the key!” But honest reflection reveals a sad truth. The real blame lies with you. And me. We allowed Washington and Wall Street to run amok. We abdicated our responsibilities as voters.

We were lazy with your trust.

Which means there is one other group to blame.

Ourselves.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write john@jrpinc.com.

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