Cool the Populist Rhetoric

The amount of populist rhetoric coming from both sides of the political aisle in the U.S. has been escalating over the past several weeks. Sarah Palin has been out on the talk show circuit promoting her book, Going Rogue, and has certainly continued her approach of appealing to her base’s populist sentiment. Meanwhile, President Obama has once again renewed his attack on our banks and bankers in reaction to Senator-elect Scott Brown’s surprising victory in Massachusetts.

This populist approach to challenging problems reminds me of earlier times in our country’s history. A perennial Democratic presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president in 1896, 1900 and 1908, was also a strong orator and a “critic of banks and railroads.” (Wikipedia: William Jennings Bryan) Bryan never became president, but he did serve for a time as President Wilson’s Secretary of State. If you look back on this time from around the turn of the century and study the impact the populist rhetoric had leading up to the Great Depression, I believe you would agree with me that it is time for both parties to allow Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, together with Congress, to move forward with the necessary reforms and safeguards that need to be put in place, without all of the noise that distracts us from constructive solutions.

In a step in the right direction, President Obama reached out across the aisle on Friday when he accepted an invitation from House Republicans and traveled to a Baltimore hotel to engage in a give and take on the issues. At one point he remarked that he was not an “ideologue and that his health care plan was not a Bolshevik plot.” (NY Times 1/30/2010) He was introduced by Congressman John Boehner, the minority leader, who handed him a publication titled “Better Solutions.” The reporters for the New York Times article remarked that the event seemed much closer to the British tradition of the opposition party questioning the prime minister. I must admit that several times I have sat in a London hotel room during the Blair years and enjoyed watching this live example of parliamentary democracy.

As we move toward the midterm elections both parties would be better served by focusing on innovative programs to create jobs. All of the recent polls show this to be the #1 concern of the American people facing an unemployment rate that remains stubbornly above 10%. We know that in the recovery cycles from all the past recessions since World War II that small businesses are the first to hire as they move to meet renewed demand. The President’s proposal of tax credits for small businesses that create new jobs is one that should be supported by Congress.

In closing, I have been reading The Prince of Silicon Valley: Frank Quattrone and the Dot-Com Bubble, by Randall Smith, a Wall Street Journal reporter. As I read it, I come away with the distinct feeling that the author and I have a very different view of Silicon Valley and the tech industry, where Frank Quattrone remains highly regarded and his new firm, Qatalyst Partners, is actively advising many of the Valley’s top firms.