Dylan Ratigan’s clueless rant

David Cohen Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of the Interior
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MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan is mad as hell and he doesn’t care who knows it. Actually, he does care and he hopes that everyone knows it; Ratigan’s on-air meltdown this week on America’s financial mess has gone viral, and he has heartily embraced the enthusiastic response he has received for “telling it like it is.” Ratigan’s “mad as hell” moment, which he now modestly refers to as “America’s mad as hell moment,” has earned the business reporter newfound fame.

Unfortunately, Ratigan’s rant was misguided and incoherent. I guess that’s why they called it a “rant.”

Ratigan erupted while presiding over a panel discussion on “political panic” after the U.S. credit rating downgrade. Democratic consultant Karen Finney was discussing President Obama’s supposed $4 trillion debt reduction package when Ratigan jumped in: “What are you talking about, $4 trillion? We owe $70 trillion! We don’t need to walk out a $4 trillion solution which is basically just a way for the Democrats to avoid dealing with this until 2017. I’m not talking about plans to deal with this ’til 2017. I’m saying we’ve got a real problem and I’m tired of Republicans and Democrats — Republicans who want to burn the place to the ground, and Democrats, with all due respect, who want to offer a plan that gets it through the second term of their presidency, and then screws me and my kids when it’s over.”

It’s tempting to give Ratigan credit for blaming Democrats as well as Republicans. But Ratigan’s is a false bipartisanship that relies upon the pat assertion that Republicans want to “burn the place to the ground.” The large majority of Republicans — and indeed the large majority of Tea Party Republicans — voted last week for a bipartisan compromise that aims to reduce the growth of our debt by less than $2.5 trillion over 10 years. Out of one side of his mouth, Ratigan implied that Republicans were dangerously radical on the debt; out of the other side of his mouth, he complained that the compromise debt deal they supported wasn’t nearly radical enough.

As Ratigan continued railing, I have to admit that at one point I got totally lost. Perhaps I became distracted when I started to notice how Ratigan, as he screamed and gesticulated, bore a striking physical resemblance to Mel Gibson. Ratigan at one point yelled: “The United States of America is being extracted!” I wasn’t sure what he meant, and could only wonder: “Oh, yeah, from whose mouth?”

Ratigan really got rolling after panelist Finney asked him what he would like President Obama to do about all of this. The following is the heart of Ratigan’s rant, but reading it doesn’t do it justice; you should view the video to experience it as it played on television, without interruption for commercials, punctuation or breathing:

“I would like him to go to the people of the United States of America and say: People of the United States of America, your Congress is bought. Your Congress is incapable of making legislation on health care, banking, trade or taxes because if they do it they will lose their political funding and they won’t do it. But I’m the president of the United States and I won’t have a country that is run by a bought Congress, so I’m not going to work with a bought Congress and try to be ‘Mr. Big Guy I’m Working with a Bought Congress.’ I’m going to abandon the bought Congress like Teddy Roosevelt did and I’m going to go to the people of the United States and I’m going to say, ‘You’ve got a bought Congress and until we get rid of the bought Congress — which is [liberal lobbyist] Jimmy Williams’ constant point, which is get the money out of politics — and until the president says that’s the problem and says he’s going to fix it, there is no policy that I can possibly see no matter how brilliant your idea may be or your idea or my idea or her idea or your idea at home is, that idea will not happen as long as there’s a capacity to basically fire a politician who disagrees with me by taking funding away from him. Is that a fair assessment?”

Well no, that’s not a fair assessment (although the concern about the corrupting influence of money in politics is legitimate). For one thing, I’m not sure what Ratigan meant about Congress being “incapable of making legislation” on health care and banking given that they recently passed Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. Perhaps he meant that Congress was incapable of making good legislation. More likely, he was limiting his criticism to this Congress — the one swept to power in the Tea Party revolution of 2010 — rather than the Democrat-controlled Congress that Obama (or, as some know him, “Mr. Big Guy I’m Working with a Bought Congress”) enjoyed for the first half of his term. That would make no sense, though, because the influx of Tea Party freshmen has made Congress much less “bought” than it used to be. Say what you want about the Tea Partiers, but they’re much less prone than other politicians to do the bidding of the big corporate or union special interest groups. The fact that they’re conviction politicians, in stark contrast to the “flexible” (read: morally flexible) politicians that we’re used to, is what caused many on the left to become so infuriated by their supposed unwillingness to compromise.

Apparently Ratigan sees no irony in having Obama, who was Wall Street’s chosen candidate in the last presidential election, lecture America about how the Tea Party-infused Congress is “bought.”

Things really got amusing when Finney again pressed Ratigan on what specifically he would advise Obama to do. Emphasizing each word as if it were its own sentence, Ratigan shouted: “You — go — and — give — a — speech!”

Then, channeling President Obama, Ratigan explained how The Speech would solve everything: “Once I explain to the people the problem, once I explain to you that you have cancer, once you understand how screwed up your trade, tax and banking policies are, believe me, you will have no issue when I incorporate an infrastructure bank that I fund with repatriated offshore money that I bring in and then use to create 2% direct lending to every business in America, because when you realize that the banking system is fully corrupt and is defrauding us and I come out and say that, which is what I want my president to do, then at that exact moment I say you know we got a screwed-up situation here, people, you all know it and now I’m gonna admit it and as a result not only have I admitted it but we’re gonna begin the process of solving it like grownups. They did it in World War II, they did it after the Civil War, they did it in Latin America with the Brady Bonds. We are not seeing it happen now.”

What a novel idea. Obama needs to try the one thing he hasn’t yet tried: make a speech and blame others. When he finally does that, we’ll all see the light and fall lockstep behind our wise and courageous leader, ignoring our “bought Congress” (and presumably the Constitution and rule of law). We will then solve our problems like grownups — you know, like they solved World War II.

In addition to Ratigan, liberal professor Drew Westen and Joe Klein have recently struck a chord on the left by asserting that what America really needs is for Obama to speak out and tell us who is to blame for all our problems. They seem to be living in a collective movie fantasy where Obama will save the day by making a great, incriminating speech like Jimmy Stewart did in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Or perhaps they hunger for Obama to be a fascist father figure who will comfort us by telling us bedtime stories, complete with heroes and villains. It boggles the mind how colossally stupid, childish and gullible these people must think we are.

Of course, most beings with the unfair advantage of being sentient realize that Obama has been doing nothing but making speeches and blaming others. Obama has been speaking and finger-pointing so much that people have tuned him out. Even his supporters have tuned him out — how else to explain how blissfully unaware they are that Obama has been constantly speaking and finger-pointing?

As for Ratigan, he seems intent on turning his rage into a cottage industry. The day after his rant, he posted a blog with the inviting title, “I’m Mad as Hell. How About You?” Of course, Ratigan’s rant failed to offer a coherent, logical explanation of why he’s mad as hell and what should be done about it. (I’m sorry, but giving 2% loans to “every business in America” doesn’t count as a logical proposal.) Rage untempered by logic can be a destructive force. Witness the burning streets of London.

*This article was updated after publication.

David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He hosts the debate show “Beer Summit” for PBS Guam.