Doug Henwood in Conversation with Christian Parenti

Henwood1-webIn the Brooklyn Rail:

Rail: Why do you think the bankers won?

Henwood: There are two parts to that. The longer term structural issue is that Wall Street, the financial system, is basically a mechanism for the creation and exercise of ruling class power. It is the heart of the capitalist economic and social system. So taking on Wall Street is very, very complicated.

But, there is also the sense in which these guys represent a social interest that has done very, very badly and they could have had their toes stepped on a bit—and they haven’t. If you go back and compare when Roosevelt gave that speech to the Democratic Convention in October 1936, he said: “Never have the rich and powerful been so lined up in their hatred of a political candidate and I welcome their hatred.”

You cannot imagine Obama saying anything remotely similar. That’s partly because the bust has been less dramatic than it was in the 1930s, but also because Roosevelt came from the aristocracy and thus had more personal confidence in stepping on their toes. Obama is a guy who has been created by the meritocracy and it has treated him very well. He’s kind of in awe of wealth and power and much less willing, for personal reasons, to challenge such interests.

The political environment is also totally different now. Going into the 1930s—there was a whole radical tradition: the populist tradition, the progressive tradition—there were people who had different ways of looking at an economy.