Boondoggle

One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

I live on Elm Street — can I benefit from a bailout, too?

Speaking of “Main Street,” politicians from across the gamut gave their best populist heave in juxtaposing the struggles faced by the honest folk on this bucolic American avenue with the runaway wealth of the nefarious “Wall Street.”  The latter, of course, is synonymous with the financial services companies and investment banks whose shoddy practices steepened the slope along which the economy is tumbling — and who, lawmakers rightly deride, are too often guilty of jumping through escape hatches with “golden parachutes.”  The metonymy of “Main Street,” however, is less concrete, less established (as far as I know) — and far more annoying.

Not only, like I argued before, were everyday folks on “Main Street” not likely to see their fortunes and livelihoods disappear the day after Congress tripped over a bailout package, but the image this term conveys is completely out of whack with the reality of American society.  I want to cite Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz’s debunking in TNR of “small-town triumphalism” — the politically (and nostalgically) appealing notion that America is comprised of small towns, and that denizens of these towns constitute the most relevant and legitimate slice of the American electorate — but that too is only part of the story.

If Representatives are going to claim that people on “Main Street” are the ones to bare the brunt of the financial turmoil, then they are obligated to listen to these constituents (of their apparently one-street districts).  But, of course, one of the reasons that the bailout bill fell a few crucial votes short is that many constituents were absolutely livid about the idea of the federal government spending $700 billion to save the asses of the rich bastards who got us into this mess in the first place.  Yet the “Main Street” meme was used — as I heard it at least — not to criticize the bailout so much as to clamor for its necessity.  Therein lies the hollowness of this cute rhetorical tool, protecting those who invoked it far more than those it purportedly spoke for.  “Main Street,” then, seems not to run through small-town America, but in a nice defensive ring around these newly populist politicians on Capitol Hill.

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September 30, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

3 Comments »

  1. […] really…enough with the canned cliches!  Yglesias agrees, but unfortunately, the person who gets to give the big speech after this […]

    Pingback by “Main Street” has residents now, too « Boondoggle | October 3, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] there is no “Main Street,” then it should quickly become clear that, as Applebaum straightforwardly concludes, that this […]

    Pingback by Washington is a fine city — even if it was built on a stinking swamp « Boondoggle | October 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] Vindicated.  The LA Times editorial board concurs that invocation of this non-existent intersection was a (sub)prime example of the “most hackneyed rhetoric” of 2008. From Wall Street to Main Street. With fists pounding on podiums, many a candidate last year used this phrase to demand that Washington shift its ministrations from fat cats in the financial industry to struggling small-business owners and their employees. The populist line hit the right note as markets seized up and the abstraction of banking distress became a reality for millions of Americans. But by the time the phrase was peppering President-elect Obama’s comments about his economic team and the next stimulus package, we were desperate to visit new metaphorical neighborhoods. […]

    Pingback by Don’t meet me at the corner of Wall and Main… « Boondoggle | January 4, 2009 | Reply


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