Tuesday, February 24, 2009


By now you've probably seen that Barack Obama is polling very, very well in two new surveys and the GOP is polling quite poorly, with large majorities willing to trust the president on the economy, and not supporting the GOP approach. (New York Times/CBS poll story here, results PDF here; Washington Post/ABC poll story here, results PDF here.) Oh, and even the much-mocked congressional Democrats are getting some love -- in the WaPo/ABC poll they've shot up to 50%-44% approval-disapproval, compared with 35%-57% last July. (Congressional Republicans are stuck at 38%-56%.)

But a sentence in the Times poll writeup jumped out at me:

At a moment when some economists are talking openly about the possibility of nationalizing banks, a majority of poll respondents said that so far, the administration's bailout plans for financial institutions would benefit bankers, not all Americans.

Talk of bank nationalization is indeed in the air -- and yet neither of these polls asks about it. And I can't find any poll that has asked about it.

I'm struck by the juxtaposition in the sentence I quoted. On Sunday, Frank Rich called "nationalization" a heretofore "forbidden word." Among the political and media elite, Obama's plans are seen (by supporters and critics alike) as some degree of socialism, and nationalization would be seen as a significantly greater amount of socialism. But I wonder if the public would have a very different -- perhaps completely opposite -- view.

As the Times notes, the public thinks we've just been throwing money at banks and getting very little in return. Is it possible that nationalization would be seen not as more of the same, but rather as the exact opposite -- a necessary law-enforcement act of search and seizure, like a raid on a drug kingpin's den?

I think some of the fear of nationalization is -- as usual -- the chatterers' fear of (or agreement with) throwback right-wing red-baiting. But the public, as these new polls show, isn't responding to throwback right-wing red-baiting. And the public sure doesn't feel sorry for the bankers or feel they should be spared the punishment that nationalization would in some ways represent. I think the public might really find nationalization rather satisfying. So why are pollsters treating it as an outside-the-decent-limits idea?


(Me, I'm persuaded by the notion that, like Japan in its "lost decade," we postpone nationalization at our peril; I say get it started and get it over with.)

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