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Planet Populism vs. Planet Elite

David Callahan

Some progressives might be skeptical of the argument -- which I have made often -- that today's Republican Party is less and less trusted by Wall Street. After all, congressional Republicans slavishly service the financial industry on Capitol Hill, most recently by trying to gut the Dodd-Frank law and stop the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from ever operating. 

But if you want see the degree to which the GOP and financial elites inhabit different planets, consider remarks that Governor Rick Perry made recently in Iowa about Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke:

If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa. I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous – or treasonous, in my opinion.

This is not Sarah Palin talking here. This is the longest serving governor in the United States and a man who has instantly become a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination.

While there are plenty of problems with the Fed's policies, as well as with the TARP, the conventional wisdom on Wall Street is that Ben Bernanke -- a scholar of monetary policy -- helped avert another Great Depression through his ambitious use of federal powers. Many might also say that the Fed's continued activism has been the only thing staving off a double-dip recession. (Others point out, it should be noted, that the Fed could be doing much more.)

Yet to Perry, Bernanke is just some near-treasonous "guy" who is "printing money." In saying Bernanke is "playing politics," Perry also seems to forget that the Fed chief was appointed by Bush. (Another misstatement is that Bernanke would be treatly poorly in Texas. Just last year he gave a speech to the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce that was sold out, with 1,500 people in the audience.)

Now, of course, Rick Perry is not entirely the hick he's making himself out to be and, in fact, he largely supported the TARP in 2008. But the fact that he believes he needs to come out swinging as a populist -- Perry also recently trumpeted the fact that he graduated Texas A&M, not Yale -- tells you something about today's Republican Party.

Even the Bush crew looks pretty moderate compared to the Tea Party types now calling the shots. For instance, Bush's former top White House economist, Greg Mankiw, said last month about Bernanke that "he has worked tirelessly to shepherd the economy through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and yet, for all his efforts, seems vastly underappreciated."

Try that view out on Planet Populism.

Perry is obviously seeking to distinguish himself from Romney, who made his fortune on Planet Elite. That strategy is likely to pay dividends during the primaries. But let's say that Perry wins the nomination, who is Planet Elite going to vote for: a candidate who is openly contemptuous of the kind of expert knowledge that Bernanke epitomizes, along with Ivy League credentials, and who won the nomination by taking down one of their own from the right? Or Barack Obama, with degrees from Columbia and Harvard and a centrist tendancy to bend over backwards to hear out Planet Elite?

My guess is that among the financial types voting for Obama over Perry would be some of the Texans who were sitting in the audience when Bernanke spoke in Dallas.