Dylan Ratigan: Good Intentions and Bad Consequences

In August of 2010, Dylan Ratigan made this memorable rant on MSNBC. Among other things, he said:

"Your Congress is bought.  Your Congress is incapable of making legislation on healthcare, trade, banking or taxes because if they do they will lose their political funding."

Ratigan'stranspartisan rant was something that could be equally appreciated by activists on the Left and the Tea Party Right, though Ratigan chose to assume that President Obama could somehow rise above the system; it should be abundantly clear by now that he is a creature of that system.

Ratigan's passionately held views on the corruption of the American political system motivated him to depart from his very successful role as a financial analyst on CNBC and move to CNBC's political sister-network, MSNBC, where Ratigan believed he could do more good for his country.

But here is where Ratigan became a living illustration of the forces that make reform so difficult.  MSNBC is a for-profit enterprise with a business model that defines it as the liberal counterpart to Fox News.   Just as campaign contributions make it impossible for members of Congress to be objective, so too Ratigan may have felt compelled to bash the Tea Party unfairly, even though the Tea Party is in many ways a natural ally in the cause he holds most dear. 

In this segment from his show, Ratigan bullies his Tea Party guest to the point of absurdity.  It was not his finest hour.  Notably, Ratigan asked the Tea Party leader to denounce alleged racists within the movement.

Now Ratigan has his own movement, "Occupy Wall Street."  Tea Party activists are not participating, probably for a number of reasons, but surely one of them is because of the way Ratigan repeatedly characterized them as racists on his television show.  If you are not a racist, it makes you very angry to be called one.

And now, ironically, Ratigan finds himself in the same fix as the Tea Party.  Occupy Wall Street is clearly a left-wing movement with political reform lost in a long agenda of socialist-sounding demands.  Ratigan, who is no extreme left-winger himself, has lost control of the message.  What is he supposed to do with the many rabid extremists in his own movement?  Denounce them? 

Harvard Professor and progressive reformer Larry Lessig also joined the protesters in Manhattan, but unlike Ratigan, Lessig has relentlessly courted the Tea Party movement and even publicly praised its reformist tendencies - praise that has cost him politically on the Left.  Lessig firmly believes that the only way we are going to repair our broken republic is together - as progressives, centrists and conservatives.  The shrill partisanship he found in the occupation of Wall Street discouraged him and so, in the Huffington Post, Lessig published this intelligent response.

Dylan Ratigan, like all of us, has made mistakes.  He has driven away potential allies on his television show and probably now through his leadership of “Occupy Wall Street," an event that is highlighting our differences rather than our common concerns.  But like the vast majority in the Tea Party movement, and the many progressives who have long called for clean election laws, Ratigan is a patriot.  He understands the problem. As Larry Lessig so eloquently suggests, we ordinary citizens are all in this together.  Please, no more occupations.  How about some thoughtful bridge building instead?

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