Populism and its Discontents

Part 1

As referenced in an earlier post, CNBC trading floor reporter, Rick Santelli, caused quite a stir a couple of weeks ago with his tirade on the floor of the Chicago Merc.

What has not been so widely reported is the ribbing he has received regularly from his on-air colleagues ever since.  Watching Santelli, it seems that initially he got a boost from his newfound notoriety, but it soon diminished as word of his exploits traveled further and further.  It’s hard to tell how much was Santelli, and how much was CNBC management, but the Cowboy thinks they both reacted similarly: Santelli (and CNBC) reveled in his populism for a few days, then began to retreat as it dawned on them that his notoriety might be a liability.

Santelli’s outburst was on a morning show called Squawk Box where several hosts, and guest hosts, discuss the markets and the day’s business news before the opening bell.

The term “squawk box”, by the way, refers to a specialized speakerphone that sits on the trading desk and provides a live link to other trading desks within the firm (i.e. NY Debt Capital Markets Syndicate Desk with London Syndicate Desk).  It has been a few years since the Cowboy worked on a trading floor, so who knows if they still exist.

Back to Santelli.  His outburst against the “losers” who could not pay their mortgages sparked a firestorm with combatants on either side.  First, it unleashed an outpouring of support from those wanting to blame someone for our economic problems.  CNBC was inundated with letters in support of Santelli, and teabag parties were organized around the country.  Then came the inevitable backlash, with detractors lining up to decry Mr. Santelli.  More about that in Part 2.

Well, the Cowboy enjoys Squawk Box and CNBC because they are different from most television.  As one might expect there is a “bullish” bias that the Cowboy prefers to think of as optimistic.  However, coverage is not dominated by the left/right culture wars, nor is it plagued by the false equivalency or outright vapidity that affects much reporting on the teevee.  More on false equivalency here.  Generally the tone is one of thoughtful debate and mutual respect.  These are qualities the Cowboy relishes.

The interesting thing that happened last week vis-à-vis Santelli is that his on-air colleague, Steve Liesman, launched into a debate with Santelli that left the latter man looking like an ill-informed, bellicose populist.  Liesman, by contrast, came across as thoughtful, knowledgeable and inquisitive.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Cowboy has agreed and disagreed with both men in the past, but thoughtful analysis beats hollow populist rhetoric any day of the week.  As our dear Freud might have said, society must control such primitive instincts.  In difficult times it is tempting to allow ourselves to be ruled by our id, collectively and as individuals, but the ego and superego are critical to a well-balanced individual (and society).  Whether navigating through a storm, riding a horse, or just trying to get through life, balance is where it’s at.

(to be continued)

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Published in: on March 6, 2009 at 11:34  Comments Off on Populism and its Discontents  
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