Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy
By FRANK RICH
The previous transient scapegoat was the Democrats. They were punished in yet another “wave” election — our third in a row — where voters threw
The larger explanations for this dysfunction are well-worn by now, from the impotence of the filibuster-bound United States Senate to the intractable polarization of an electorate divided more or less 50-50 since Bush v. Gore. Such is the bipartisanship of the funk that Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck each succeeded in bringing off well attended rallies in
For Stewart, the hyperpartisanship of the modern news media remains the nation’s curse. “The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems,” he told the throngs at his rally to “restore sanity,” but it “makes solving them that much harder.” At Beck’s rally to “restore honor,” the message seemed to be that
Stewart’s point is indisputable as far as it goes. Beck’s, not so much
The Great Depression ended the last comparable Gilded Age, of the 1920s, and brought about major reforms in American government and business. Not so the Great Recession. Last week, as the Fed’s new growth projections downsized hope for significant decline in the unemployment rate, the Commerce Department reported that corporate profits hit a record high. Those profits aren’t trickling down into new jobs or into higher salaries for those not in the executive suites. And the prospect of serious regulation of those at the top of the top — the financial sector — is even more of a fantasy in the new Congress than it was in its predecessor.
Wall Street is already celebrating the approach of bonus season by partying like it’s 2007. In The Times’s account of this return to conspicuous consumption, we learned of a Morgan Stanley trader, since fired for unspecified reasons, who went to costly ends to try to hire a dwarf for a
As John Cassidy underscored in a definitive article titled “Who Needs Wall Street?” in The New Yorker last week, the financial sector has paid little for bringing the world to near-collapse or for receiving the taxpayers’ bailout that was denied to most small-enough-to-fail Americans. The sector still rakes in more than a fourth of American business profits, up from a seventh 25 years ago. And what is its contribution to
It’s an industry that can buy politicians as easily as it does dwarfs, which is why government has tilted the playing field ever more in its direction for three decades. Now corporations of all kinds can buy more of
There are plenty of Americans who don’t endorse Stewart’s indictment of cable news; there’s even a reasonably large group that doesn’t buy Beck’s perceived shortfall in American religiosity. But seemingly everyone is aggrieved about the hijacking of the political system by anonymous special interests. The most recent Times-CBS News poll found that an extraordinary 92 percent of Americans want full disclosure of campaign contributors — far many more than, say, believe in evolution. But they will not get their wish anytime soon. “I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle,” said David Axelrod as the Democrats prepared to play catch-up to the G.O.P.’s 2010 mastery of outside groups and clandestine corporate corporations.
The story of recent corporate political donations — which we may never learn in its entirety — is just beginning to be told. Bloomberg News reported after Election Day that the United States Chamber of Commerce’s anti-Democratic war chest included a mind-boggling $86 million contribution from the insurance lobby to fight the health care bill. The Times has identified other big chamber donors as Prudential Financial, Goldman Sachs and Chevron. These are hardly the small businesses that the chamber’s G.O.P. allies claim to be championing.
Since the election, the Obama White House has sent signals that it will make nice to these interests. While the president returns to photo ops at factories, Timothy Geithner has already met with the chamber’s board out of camera range. In a reportorial coup before Election Day, the investigative news organization ProPublica wrote of the similarly behind-closed-doors activities of the New Democrat Coalition — “a group of 69 lawmakers whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists” makes them “one of the most successful political money machines” since DeLay’s K Street Project collapsed in 2007. During the Congressional battle over financial-services reform last May, coalition members repaired to a retreat on
Such is the ethos in his own party that Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, complained this month that he “couldn’t even get a vote” for his proposal for a one-time windfall profits tax on Wall Street bonuses. Republicans “obviously weren’t going to vote for it,” he told Real Clear Politics, but Democrats also demurred, “saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fund-raising.”
Roughly two-thirds of the New Democrat Coalition’s House contingent won re-election on Nov. 2. Now they’ll have more Republican allies in both houses of Congress. Tea Party populists — already being betrayed by one Senate leader, Jon Kyl, on the supposed pledge against earmarks — may soon be as disillusioned as those Democrats who had hoped Barack Obama’s economic team wouldn’t look like Wall Street.
For all the McConnell-Boehner rhetorical pandering to Tea Partiers, the health care law will not be repealed by Congress — and certainly not any provisions that benefit the G.O.P. establishment’s friends in the health care industry. Over at FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s Tea-Party-organizing group, there’s much belligerent talk of retribution against corporations seen as too friendly to Obama policies — most notably General Electric. It’s all hot air
America needs a rally — or, better still, a leader or two or three — to restore not just honor or sanity to its citizens but governance that’s not auctioned off to the highest bidder. When it was reported just days before our election that
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs