Life in the United Scapegoats of America

Oh, good. At last, the feds are going to crack down on those evil bankers and their greedy bonuses. Or is it greedy bankers and evil bonuses? Auto da fe next Tuesday.

Now we can get back to the important work of scapegoating insurance companies and the US Chamber of Commerce, the monsters standing in the way of health care reform that will let you keep your existing health insurance and will not add a dime to the deficit. Or is it doctors and Fox News on the White House griddle this week?

Look, I'm all in favor of scapegoating. It's a necessary part of any social system. When something goes wrong, the community needs to load all the troubles and the shame on the head of a guilty scapegoat and push it away into outer darkness.

But suppose we sacrifice the wrong scapegoat?

Take a look at the seven corporate beneficiaries of TARP affected by the pay limits published by the federal Pay Czar this week. As enumerated by The Wall Street Journal, they are Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp, American International Group (AIG), General Motors Co., GMAC Inc., Chrysler Group LLC, and Chrysler Financial. 

Except for AIG, whose business was insuring banking risks, these corporations are all the weary beneficiaries of detailed, long-term government supervision and intervention. Did the government want affordable housing for all? No problem, Mr. President, you got it. Did the political elites want lifetime employment and pensions for auto workers? They got it...right up until the moment the music stopped.

Five years ago, the government was ordering the bankers to load up on risky sub-prime loans. Now the Federal Reserve is putting together a plan to curb dangerous risk-taking at the banks by regulating  performance-based pay plans.

Comments the Journal:

The pay curbs are intended to feed the official political narrative that the bankers caused the entire crisis, and that cutting their future pay will prevent the next one. Only a politician could really believe this, or at least pretend to.

Of course, not all politicians believe this, or even pretend to. Hockey mom Sarah Palin on Facebook:

There were good intentions behind the drive to increase home ownership for lower-income Americans, but forcing financial institutions to give loans to people who couldn't afford them had terrible unintended consequences. We all felt those consequences during the financial collapse last year.

If you believe Sarah Palin, then it's pretty obvious that the Obama Adminstration is sacrificing the wrong scapegoats in the aftermath of the credit crisis. It's not the bankers that are the problem. It is the politicians that think they can game the credit system to finance affordable housing for all without wrecking the entire economy.

In the old days, it was the king or his first-born son who had to be the scapegoat. But our modern leaders have found that sacrificing themselves is not God's will. They have found that it is usually sufficient to deflect blame for their mistakes onto others, like bankers, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, insurance companies, and fast food restaurants.

It is up to us to see through their tissue of lies. It's not the fault of the bankers; they are just middlemen in the government-regulated credit system.  It's not the fault of the insurance companies; they are just middlemen in the government-regulated health care system.

But the governing philosophy of President Obama seems to require the identification and humiliation of scapegoats. Perhaps it lives in the very marrow of the left-wing bone.

Perhaps, even worse, scapegoating is the very marrow of all politics, as money is its mother's milk. After all, conservatives have dined out for a generation on accusing liberals of being soft on defense. Is there no other way of social cooperation?

Fortunately, human civilization has developed ways of softening the cruelty of unforgiving politics. First of all, there is Christianity, built upon the remarkable idea that about two thousand years ago, God sacrificed his Son as a scapegoat for our sins once and for all time.  There would be no need for real human sacrifice or real banishment of scapegoats ever again. Then there is capitalism, in which people who mishandle economic resources just lose their investment and have to start over. Perhaps a worker screws up and loses his job at Company A. What does he do? He goes down the street to apply for a job at Company B.

Let's not forget the idea of limited government. Perhaps its real wisdom is in dialng down the ability of witch-hunting politicians to sacrifice more scapegoats to propitiate the gods.

Our liberal friends are deeply suspicious of Christianity. They are scornful of capitalism's cavalier, "back to the drawing board" attitude towards failure. They advocate a living constitution. When it comes to scapegoating, they prefer real sacrifice and real scapegoats.

There is something deeply atavistic about President Obama's United Scapegoats of America.

Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his and usgovernmentspending.comHis Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.