Let me tell you a story. Let me frame a narrative. Let me stand at yon blackboard and connect dots. Let's get real. Let's go to the movies! Let's blog, tweet, Facebook, comment, punditize, blather, expostulate, harangue, spin, skywrite, send notes in old glass bottles. Get it out! Let's run for office! Let's take back the night, or at least the late afternoon. Reality needs to be roped like a heifer with mad cow and explanations are required. Island nations like Iceland have volcanoes that fill the air with dust. A half-an-island nation like Haiti crumples under an earthquake. BP blows a hole in the Gulf of Mexico and creates an oil slick as big as the Icelandic smoke cloud, which then -- poof! -- dissolves. Economies, ancient and modern, cough and sputter. If this were those long-cycling Mayans in Cancún, we'd have sacrifices lined up. Instead, we had midterm elections and climate conferences. Explain. Rationalize. Critique. Prophesy. Leak. These are messages, my friend, warnings from above, mutterings from below where the vox populi roams. In lieu of a cosmic connection, we've got the Tea Party. Real folks. Momma Grizzly! You know, Alice, the Mad Hatter, the dozy dormouse. Real American heroes, unlike the BlackBerrying cosmopolites of Washington and Wall Street, with their incomprehensible gibberish and mosques.
What? You're saying that it's not Alice's Tea Party? You say it's the Boston Tea Party? No Johnny Depp? The one with working-class guys smeared with paint and feathers as if they were at a Bruins game? But Boston's in a blue state, except for Scott Brown, a red man. And tea? Don't Europeans sip tea with their pinkies hanging out like a hitchhiker's thumb? OK, so the real tea party was a tax protest against an oppressive government; Brits weren't even foreigners yet. That we get. But what does tossing tea into the slapping waters of Boston Harbor have to do with the Constitution, guns, bailouts, deficits, immigration, abortion, arguments about the intent of the Founders and workings of divine providence, except that taxes are the beginning and end, the alpha and omega, of what PBS calls the "American Experience" and NPR insists, in a funny voice, is "This American Life." It's all about freedom, see. Free to be you and me. Don't tread on me or my Medicare.
What was 2010? It was a year in which a great mass of Americans set out to discover their authentic historical selves. It was like the '60s, with older folks. The major reason seemed to be a general dissatisfaction with their former selves, which suffered foreclosures, firings and the sense that whatever life had been like -- lucrative, sunny, stable, carbonated and carbon-intensive -- was gone, dead, stolen. Where did China come from? Who took all the factories? Who moved my retirement? And the big question, with its bewildering variety of answers: What the %$#@! happened here? For most of 2009 Washington managed to pin blame on the banks, an effort that continues. But even the tribunes of progressivism -- Matt Taibbi, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Arianna ("hug a small bank today") Huffington -- flagged a bit even as the Securities and Exchange Commission climbed onto the Goldman-as-the-heart-of-darkness bandwagon and charged it with fraud. "Griftopia," Taibbi's book, lacked the venomous hook of "vampire squid." Hell, having to look up "grifter" to get the joke is like clicking through pop-ups to get the news: too much trouble.
And there were so many books. Piles of books full of words. Everybody had a book with words, even Hank Paulson, explaining, justifying, recounting. Exhausting. To make matters worse, big banks started making big bucks again, aided by the Federal Reserve and perhaps God. Bailout alert. TARP loans got repaid; the deal economy shuddered to life; even General Motors went public. In private equity, leveraged markets revived, eroding the fabled wall of debt. Realizations were realized. Initial public offerings commenced. All this seemed unfair to left and right -- no, more than unfair, dangerous, threatening, a return to corrupt ways: Who stole our apocalypse? But success in capitalism provides its own justification. Even the appearance of a sequel to "Wall Street" stirred up bling envy, rather than a creepster critique -- for those who cared. The little bank campaign faded as little banks failed. Business schools were packed. "Mad Men" wasn't a hit for nothing. And despite Goldman's woes, antipathy to Wall Street submerged in a sea of envy, its little eyes peering above the wavelets. Waiting.
Instead, the political class got spanked. The economy struggled; unemployment hung on a hook and real estate sagged like the tummy of an aging pol. Republicans said no no no so often they threatened to revive the No-Nuthin' Party. Democrats squabbled. The Obama administration waged epic battles with Congress -- cap and trade, healthcare, financial reform -- that reminded decent folks that legislation resembles a cross between a slaughterhouse and a bordello. Incumbents fell. Voters sensed that Wall Street wasn't in this alone; bailouts hung around Congress like a cowbell. Were most of the critiques, from birthers to death panels to neocolonialist impulses to supply-side economics, half-baked, simplistic tissues of ignorance and lunacy? Sure, Mr. Pishpot, like economics. But having won the White House, and assumed responsibility for a global financial meltdown, the president absorbed the Zeitgeistian recoil. He must have known. He is, after all, a sharp guy, if from a possibly made-up state lost in the Pacific Ocean. And he had Larry Summers at his elbow. And the brilliant if wayward Larry knows everything but the future, which may be why he's heading back to that other reality factory, Harvard. Probably he'll write a book with lots of words.