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Heroes and Goats

Having been born in St. Lawrence Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, I have to agree with David Sirota that Lansing mayor Virg Bernero got the better part of CNBC’s Rick Santelli (not to mention Fox News’s Gregg Jarrett) in this compare-and-contrast of alpha male rage:



Lansing happens to be represented by a Republican Congressman, MI-08’s Mike Rogers, and if Bernero decides he wants to run for Congress, you have to love his odds. There’s something to the notion that somebody born out of the working class is going to know how to talk to the working class, and Bernero exudes as much authenticity as any politician I’ve seen in a long while.

But as for Sirota … Chicago’s my hometown now, and I’ve got to defend my guys here too:

On one side, you have what Thomas Frank has called “Market Populism” – the portrayal of Wall Street’s agenda as an impassioned mass-based populist movement. Check out this clip from CNBC, where the network’s correspondent, Rick Santelli, is literally on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange surrounded by multimillionaire traders railing on the Obama administration for trying to help struggling homeowners, and berating people who are getting foreclosed on as “losers.” Santelli is praised as a supposed “revolutionary” and the mob of financial elites around him is whooping and hollering, pretending to be a populist mob of regular Joes.

There are a lot of different species of trader. Some of them are doing pretty well for themselves. Some of the guys sitting upstairs are doing really well for themselves. But the guys in the pit wearing the ugly orange vests? It all depends on what you’re trading and who you’re trading it for. A run-of-the-mill block trader in Chicago makes about $45,000, and that’s in exchange for extremely high stress and very little job security. A decent-sized minority of them are without college degrees. Can I think of worse jobs? Absolutely. But they are hardly the “financial elite”, and they’re certainly not “multimillionaires”. Criticize the CNBC culture all you want — there’s much to criticize there. But lay off the guys who are trying to earn a paycheck, trading a lot of somebody else’s money.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.