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Liberal illiberalism: Olbermann on Banks and News Outlets

Keith Olbermann, regularly angry about many things, is angry about the bank bonuses. (I blogged some about this here.) His answer?

Break up the banks. Regulate the financial industries, to within an inch of their existences. Roll back corporate legal protections. Make liable the officers of corporations, for their debts, and for their deeds. Resurrect the rallying cry of a hundred years past: bust the trusts! (from MSNBC)

It amazes me how quick people on either side of the political spectrum are to throw law, reason, and caution to the winds when they’re angry about something. If the Bush administration, for example, had gone after businesses in such a manner because of some security issue, doubtless Olbermann would have been shocked at their perfidy–rightly so. There are right and wrong ways to go about these things.

But more importantly, the reason the banks are behaving badly with the money they were given is that:

a) they behaved badly
b) they got in trouble
c) the government bailed them out without asking them to change their behavior

In other words, our government has been rewarding just this behavior. We’re asking when who knew what. But my question is this: What reason did anyone have to expect anything different? The obvious result of a set of actions takes place, and people are shocked.

But Olbermann, who is quite capable of recognizing something unconstitutional or illegal (or sometimes even stupid) when done by his opponents is unable to see it when he himself proposes it. What he suggests in that paragraph involves punishing the guilty with the innocent, destroying the very foundation of corporate law, and would certainly tromp right on across constitutional boundaries.

But Olbermann is not finished. Because the media didn’t get out the information, we need to get the government to make sure that the media is fair and that good information get out. Remember, this is the same government that failed to provide any reason why these people should not behave in this manner. People who can’t even write a decent contract for a loan are then asked to make sure that the American people get accurate information.

Never mind that he is now jumping all over the first amendment. He’s on a roll. If people don’t choose good information sources, make sure that they have to do so.

Like this:

Make sure both sides are heard. Re-regulate the radio and television industries to limit station ownership and demand diversity of management and product. Re-instate the old rules that denied one man all the voices in a public square. End all waivers of multiple ownership of television stations and networks and newspapers in the same market. (from MSNBC)

He continues by calling for similar regulation for the cable industry.

This is rampant stupidity. Olbermann wants to limit ownership to produce diversity. I think that was wrong even when there were limited broadcast outlets, but in the modern world, it is close to insane. People are not that limited as to what they can hear, but even more, there’s no reason to expect that having the government decide what is “in the public interest” and what the people need to hear is going to somehow improve the flow of information.

Besides some folks in the corporate world, who is close to the information here? The government. And who is falling flat and lying to cover it up? Those very government agencies charged with the task of keeping it from happening!

So let’s see. In order to improve the regulation, let’s give the people who failed more power, to “[r]egulate the financial industries, to within an inch of their existences.” Of course we have been told all along that these institutions must somehow be protected. But when the veneer is stripped off, we get down to the real idea–let’s destroy them.

Having admitted that goal, Olbermann proposes similar treatment for media outlets. Can one doubt that destruction of even the value that there remains in our media would be the ultimate result?

I am often called liberal, and I don’t argue. I am certainly libertarian. When it’s time to deal with issues such as the rights of the accused at trial, a willingness to provide every opportunity for exoneration if there is evidence, providing safety nets to the weakest folks in our society, or taming rampant militarism in foreign policy, I am rightfully called liberal. I don’t reject the label, even though I prefer “passionate moderate.”

But there are plenty of liberals running around who don’t deserve the title. When “liberal” spells handing all the power to government, and none to the people, then it isn’t “liberal.” With the same passion that I want to make sure that someone accused of a crime receives due process and eventually receives justice, I also want to make sure that a trader on Wall Street who has broken no law should not be deprived of his lawful earnings. If they are undeserved (and these bonuses are) there are proper ways of dealing with it.

The Republicans have been accused of having contempt for people who are from cities, or are part of the intellectual elites, or various other folks who are’t from the “real America.” The Democrats have been accused of despising small town America, gun owners, church-goers and so forth.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that both accusations are absolutely right. To some on the liberal side of the spectrum the guy who does his ordinary job for an ordinary work week, and spends the weekend in a hunting blind with his rifle or his shotgun, then heads off to church on Sunday moring just isn’t real. To some of the folks on the right–and now on the left as well, if you work in investment instead of digging a ditch or being a university professor, you aren’t quite real and your rights don’t matter.

It may be stupid for a company to give bonuses to those who produced catastrophe, but there is a proper forum for action on such things, and that is the shareholders’ meeting. What about the public money? If we didn’t want it used in that way, we should have specified that in the law, just as a lender might when making a loan.

Now we have representatives and senators who presumably meant it when they swore to uphold the constitution, voting for a special law to tax certain people’s specific earnings. It’s ridiculous. They know better. They’re using the legislative process to make people believe they’re truly outraged, but in doing so they’re expressing contempt for the constitution they chose to uphold. (To those who are going to say “What did you expect of Keith Olbermann?” I will call attention to the actual lawmakers who seem to be singing from the same hymnal.)

After my criticisms of Republicans over the years there have been some who wondered why I will not in turn register as a Democrat. Well, you can see it in action right now. My problem, a problem I intend to keep, is that I care about the rights of rich people and poor, ditch diggers and Wall Street investors, college professors, builders, waitresses–everyone who tries to produce at all.

I believe they should have the opportunity to carry out their business under a rational set of laws. If the law isn’t rational, you need to blame the people who wrote it and pretended it was something different, not the people who did their best to work under it.

But even more importantly, I believe that people must have the opportunity to seek their own sources of information, even if they choose Fox News, or newspapers of which Keith Olbermann doesn’t approve. You do not diversity the flow of information by limiting it.

I try to accept it when I’m called a liberal, because it’s usually the result of beliefs I hold very dear. I think the fear of the label is silly. But when you call for regulating banks “to within an inch of their existences” or when you want the government to make sure the media is “fair” then either you’re not a liberal or I’m not.

I won’t fight over the label. I’ll just call the ideas stupid and destructive.

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