July 18, 2007


Democrats Kiss Up to K Street (David Sirota, July 18, 2007, In These Times)

[I]n a certain sense, Republican corruption is the purest form of honest graft. The Republican Party does not pretend to be anything other than the party of Big Money. Take the famous K Street Project: designed by Republican congressmen to use the promise of access --and the threat of no access --to force corporate lobbying organizations in Washington to fire Democrats and hire Republicans, so that those new Republican lobbyists could siphon as much corporate campaign contributions as possible to Republican political candidates.

Had this operation performed its work in secret, one might be able to say Republicans at least tried to pretend they were something they were not. But the K Street Project actually had its own public website, bragging to the world about its pay-to-play scheme.

This is "honest" graft -- that is, being open and honest about what the American Heritage Dictionary defines as the "unscrupulous use of one's position to derive profit or advantages." The Republican Congress didn't make any serious effort to pretend to be anything else. [...]

Democrats rode their populist, anti-corruption platform to victory in 2006. But as we are now beginning to see, what we may have with the Democrats is merely a transfer from honest graft to dishonest graft --that is, corrupt behavior that pretends to be done in the people's name and that flies in the face of what the people were promised.

On May 10, a handful of Democratic congressional leaders held a press conference to trumpet a so-called "deal" with the Bush administration to push forward a package of lobbyist-written trade deals -- the very same kinds of trade deals 100 of their candidates in 2006 said they would work to stop if elected to Congress. Though Democrats said they had secured basic labor and environmental protections in these deals, Thomas J. Donohue, the Bush-connected head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters that he had been given "assurances that the labor provisions [in the deal] cannot be read to require compliance."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) provides a good example of dishonest graft. In 1993, Emanuel was the Clinton administration aide charged with ramming NAFTA through Congress "over the dead bodies" of labor and environmental groups, as American Express's CEO cheered at the time. Emanuel orchestrated weekly meetings with K Street lobbyists to strategize about how to pressure Democratic lawmakers. Emanuel went on to cash in as an investment banker, raking in roughly $16 million over a two-year period. From his Wall Street perch in 2000, he published a scathing Wall Street Journal op-ed demanding Congress pass the China free trade deal --another K Street-backed goodie that has helped keep American wages stagnating in the face of skyrocketing corporate profits, and is now projected to destroy at least 1 million American jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Just two years after grossly outspending an opponent to buy an Illinois congressional seat, Emanuel was appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee, the panel that oversees trade policy and that helped corporate lobbyists ram NAFTA through back in 1993. Emanuel also was appointed head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which ran millions of dollars worth of ads trumpeting Democrats anti-corruption platform, and which supported the scores of Democrats running against the very lobbyist-written trade policies Emanuel has based his political career on.

Now, with Emanuel as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, we see dishonest graft kick into high gear. The same day as the press conference, a group of House Democrats wrote a formal letter to Emanuel demanding he hold a Democratic Caucus meeting to discuss the secret trade negotiations going on between a handful of Democrats and the White House. That letter, according to The Hill, was "rebuffed" even though, again, it was Emanuel's DCCC that aggressively supported Democrats 2006 fair trade candidates. No meeting occurred, and instead Democratic leaders held their press conference, announcing a secret trade deal that, like NAFTA, is strongly backed by K Street lobbyists, but opposed by organized labor, environmental groups, health care groups and grassroots Democrats. Meanwhile, when Emanuel was asked by the Politico's Jeff Patch for details about why Democrats were now backing off their promises to reform lobbying laws so as to prevent Abramoff-style abuse, he did his best Dick Cheney impression, telling the reporter, "Why don't you go [****] yourself."

If they're so Bright and we're so Stupid why is it they (among whom we may include the libertarians who went all pork-bustery) who expect clean government?

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 18, 2007 9:27 AM

The most appropriate commentary was done in 1905 by Senator Plunkitt of Tammany Hall.

EVERYBODY is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin' rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft - blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. - and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.
There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."


Posted by: Brandon at July 18, 2007 10:56 AM

The "Bright" left doesn't care one bit about "clean government." Their base turned out based on "Surrender Now!" The Pork-Busters nonsense was a Dem ploy to get the center-right to abandon the GOP. And it worked. The Stupid Party, indeed. As for the libertarians, there aren't enough of them to matter. In the off-line ("real") world, I mean...

Posted by: b at July 18, 2007 2:48 PM

I think it was Heinlein who noted that the difference between machine politicians and reformers is that the machine politicians had integrity: once bought, they stayed bought. The reformers, on the other hand, are easily distracted by the next shiny issue on the shelf.

Posted by: Ibid at July 18, 2007 7:45 PM