by: Robert Cruickshank
Wed Oct 21, 2009Jerry Brown's appearance on CNBC yesterday to explain the state's lawsuit against State Street Bank turned into a battle between Brown, playing the role of a latter-day William Jennings Bryan in taking on the "Eastern financial elite," and the CNBC anchors who were very clearly playing their role as defenders of the Wall Street orthodoxy. Brown's combativeness earned him some favorable press.
Now Brown seems set to milk this for all it's worth, as he steps up his attack on CNBC at the Huffington Post:
If street thugs were to hold up a convenience store and drive off with $1 million, it would be national news. But when a venerable Boston bank rips off California's two largest pension funds for $56 million, it's business-as-usual -- at least to the anchors of CNBC....
But, in a commentary post today, CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera sneered at California's effort to recover $200 million in damages and penalties, using a made-up quote from Elliot Spitzer to call it "quaint."
This follows an interview Tuesday that was straight out of the Daily Show. CNBC invited me on to talk about the case, and then Caruso-Cabrera asked why I would come on the air to talk about it.
Her co-anchors seemed to have no problem with the rip-off ("as long as they quoted you a dollar and you paid the dollar, what do you care what they got it for") and questioned the integrity of the whistle-blowers ("that whistle-blower -- is that a private law firm that you guys have hired to do this for you?") Unbelievable. And for the record, the whistle-blowers are industry insiders who have yet to be named.
The tone and substance of the interview are symptomatic of the Eastern financial elite, who think that $200 million is small potatoes, and big business should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Jerry Brown has a knack for understanding which way the political winds blow, and ensuring he blows with them. Public anger at the Wall Street elite, which as Calitics alum David Dayen noted are now having British Lords explain that we all must "tolerate the inequality", is rising fast. It's smart politics to join the populist attack on Wall Street, and there's no fatter target than their apologists on CNBC, which is the Fox News of the financial world and has about as corrosive an effect on our discourse and politics as does Fox Noise.
It also helps Brown solidify the belief - mistaken, in my view - that he is an inherently progressive person. Today's Sacramento Bee carries an article looking back at Brown's days as a host for KPFA, Berkeley's legendary left-wing radio station, in the 1990s. Brown uttered some fairly progressive things at the time, including an attack on prisons.
Garry South seems to think these excerpts would hurt Brown, but I think they'll only help him. Brown's KPFA comments help reinforce the widespread notion among many Democrats that Brown is somehow a deeply progressive person - that the Jerry Brown of 1975 and of 1995 will be the Governor Brown of 2010.
Of course, as we know, the Jerry Brown of 2009 is not a supporter of prison reform (he strongly opposed Prop 5 last year and has joined Arnold Schwarzenegger in trying to remove federal oversight of state prison health care). He refuses to countenance tax increases, and has even called for new tax cuts.
Anything that distracts attention from those decidedly anti-progressive positions helps Brown maintain the support of progressive Dems who see him as someone who shares their values.
It certainly helps that Brown still is as media-savvy as anyone. So it makes perfect sense for Brown to continue to play the populist against the banks. It is very much the right thing to do from a policy perspective, and is only going to help his cause in the Democratic primary.