In a Florida beach community, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, the man had completed his shopping at the local supermarket and chose the shortest of three check-out lines. A regular customer, he knew the staff, by name or face, and they knew him.
The customers in line that day were a mix of year-round residents and tourists, most of retirement age and comfortably fixed. The man’s turn came, and his groceries moved along the counter to the cashier, a personable fellow working to support his retirement. He and the man often discussed current events.
On this day, the cashier asked, in a calm but louder than usual voice, “What are you going to do about the boards of directors?” He was referring, of course to the bailout of Wall Street.
“What about the taxpayers giving millions to losers — where’s the justice?” The questions caught the man off guard, and he asked, “What?” The cashier repeated only louder, “Board of directors! The government and Wall Street giveaway artists! You’re a government lawyer.”
With that, other voices joined in from behind the man as well as from each side. The other customers obviously were listening to the cashier’s questions, and the man was suddenly the focus of their attention. Grasping the situation, he replied, “Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are quasi-governmental. Yes, the directors of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae failed, as I understand it, and Raines and the others should not have received golden parachutes and pensions when they failed. Wall Street is another matter. Those are private companies, but still they have responsibilities.”
His comments only energized the check-out lines, whose inhabitants heretofore had minded their own business and rarely communicated with more than a nod. Now the volume of their voices rose in a cacophony of complaints.
A male voice rose above the others, “What about the Fannie Mae guy getting $90 million of my tax money?” This was met by a chorus of queries. A woman calmly asked, “Tell us why we are paying for greed. Why is Congress doing nothing?”
The man, watching his purchases being bagged, replied, “I am like you — I can’t answer the question, except that the FBI, the Justice Department, and the U.S. attorneys in New York and Washington, D.C. should be investigating.”
A customer standing at the Service Counter, across from the checkout lines, pitched in, “There is six-year statute of limitations for investigations, but Senators Dodd and Obama — they will claim immunity for the money they got from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.”
That did it. Customers from all three checkout lines began talking at once. “Throw the crooks out!” was heard above the din. An elderly woman, slamming down her celery stalks on the counter, declared, “We have had enough. What is happening to this country? Greed, greed, and more greed. Yes, Mr. Government, what are you doing about it?”
The man looked about in bewilderment. These usually mild-mannered, reserved people were venting their spleen, releasing their pent-up anger in an anti-establishment rant. A fiftysomething woman in a tennis outfit, observed, “At least Palin isn’t one of them.” Her comments were drowned out by a chorus of cheers, “Washington needs a washing!” “When will the crooks ever leave?” “Never! There is a feeding frenzy of greed.” Their spontaneous demonstration continued unabated. A young mother with a toddler opined, “Palin is my choice, and I am pro-choice.” The rest of her comments were lost amid loud angry voices. All of the customers, strangers to one another, were speaking with one voice of increasing volume, aiming their frustration at the government representative in their midst. Not quite a mob but as a group, they were joined by frustration and seeking catharsis, to use a Hillary Clinton term.
The man continued to be bombarded with complaints as he paid for his groceries. The cashier was listening as intently as he, and smiling and nodding to each comment. Three lines of customers had suddenly joined in one voice in reply to the cashier’s questions about the boards of directors and the taxpayers.
The man had his groceries and was ready to take leave of the verbal mayhem. The cashier handed him his change, and the man said, “I’m out of here.” He started to leave, only to notice that he had five bags of groceries, instead of the two he had purchased. The teenage bagger sheepishly explained, “I was listening to all the talk and just put the other guy’s stuff in your cart.”
The other guy, in a University of Florida T-shirt and baseball cap, jocularly said, “You government people just want everything. You best be out of here — government people aren’t too popular in America right now.”
Driving home, the man was taken aback by the outburst in the store. He had witnessed, in one small corner of the country, authentic bailout rage, a snapshot in time, a pent-up anger that promises to decide the upcoming election.
It is often said that the people get the picture before the politicians do. From what the man just experienced, the people are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. They have had it with corporate and political greed, excesses, and corruption that reward incompetence, political cronyism, and managerial failures. The natives are restless and ready to vote.
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