Politics & Policy

It Takes Two to Tango

Fat-cat truths.

Republicans have been caught playing to their stereotype of late. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has been indicted by a Texas grand jury for a criminal conspiracy to circumvent campaign-finance laws, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under investigation by the SEC and the Department of Justice on allegations of insider trading.

If I had to bet, the indictment against Tom DeLay won’t stick–not because DeLay is any sort of angel but because the indictment is flimsy on its face. But we’ll see. Similarly, I doubt that Bill Frist is in any serious legal trouble for his alleged insider trading. Political trouble is another matter entirely for the tin-eared heart surgeon seeking the Oval Office.

Combine this with the years-long campaign to vilify Dick Cheney and George Bush as shady oilmen, Halliburton as the World Headquarters of Evil, and the GOP-controlled Congress as an ATM machine for oleaginous K Street flimflammers like Jack Abramoff, and one could argue without much fear of contradiction that the Republicans have the makings of an image problem. Except for the case against Abramoff–who really appears to be a brigand who swims with a knife in his teeth–I think most of these charges are lacking in seriousness. But that doesn’t change the political reality.

Democrats will tell you that Republicans are merely living up to their principles. This is simply who Republicans are. If you don’t want Congress to be run by lickspittles to corporate paymasters, don’t vote Republican. Democrats don’t roll over for corporations, they bring them to heel.

While I’d hardly like to be in the position of defending every pork-besotted appropriator and machine-hack in the GOP, I really don’t think it’s that simple.

There’s an ancient cliché in Washington that the real crime isn’t what’s illegal but what’s legal. Campaign-finance “reform” is usually the most fertile soil for this cliché. Politicians complain that focusing on enforcement of existing laws misses the “big picture.” The whole “system” is corrupt.

And they are largely correct. Not just on campaign finance, but in terms of corporate involvement in politics across the board. The problem is that liberals and others wearing the “reformer” label consistently offer the wrong remedy for the right diagnosis. They want more regulation, more oversight, more government. This has it backwards.

If you think someone is hugging you too hard, what do you do? You push him away. You don’t hug him back. And yet, it is considered the height of enlightened policymaking to say that, in answer to corporate America’s bear hug, Washington should hug back twice as hard.

If you want to know why business takes such an interest in Washington, the answer can be found in your low-flow toilet, in the warning labels adorning your cars, in your 8 zillion page tax returns. It can be found while you wait on hold trying to get a human to answer your questions about your health insurance. And the answer is most certainly somewhere in your box of cereal, made with grains subsidized by Uncle Sam and coated in sugar that has no business being grown in the United States of America. Corporations meddle in Washington because Washington meddles with them.

It is simply naive to believe that a businessman will have no interest in politics when politicians have taken a great interest in him. And it is grotesquely unfair to assume that businesspeople are corrupt simply because they want to support politicians less inclined to hurt them.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates used to brag that he barely spent a dime on lobbying–”I live in the other Washington,” he liked to say. But the very moment that government–federal and state–tried to tear apart his company, Gates abandoned his view that the New Economy could ignore the Old Politics. Now D.C. is awash in Microsoft lobbyists. Wal-Mart is only now learning the same lesson. If you don’t get in the game, you might be regulated out of it.

Of course, not all businesses that support politicians of either party are doing it out of self-protection. Some are merely rent-seeking opportunists. Some are both. Sugar growers, for example, have ripped off taxpayers and consumers to the tune of billions. If government stopped protecting the industry from competition, it would mostly disappear and stop gouging us at the same time.

Liberals think Republicans are living up to their principles when they get cozy with fat cats. The reality is that Republicans betray their principles when they give fat cats a reason to come to Washington to begin with.

(c) 2005 Tribune Media Services

Most Popular

Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
Books

Jordan Peterson v. the Publishing Mob

Staff at Penguin Random House Canada have “confronted management” about the decision to publish Jordan Peterson’s book in an “emotional town hall,” Vice reports. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life will be released in March 2021. Apparently, one “junior employee who is a member of the ... Read More
Elections

To ‘Steal’ an Election

Dan has a good article on the homepage, the main point of which is that the system worked, since Trump’s efforts to reverse the election failed. Certainly I agree with him about that. But he also finds charges that Trump tried to “steal” the election “overheated.” Since I made such a claim myself, I ... Read More
Elections

To ‘Steal’ an Election

Dan has a good article on the homepage, the main point of which is that the system worked, since Trump’s efforts to reverse the election failed. Certainly I agree with him about that. But he also finds charges that Trump tried to “steal” the election “overheated.” Since I made such a claim myself, I ... Read More
Elections

It’s Only ‘Free and Fair’ When We Win

Indeed, this is astonishing: https://twitter.com/felixsalmon/status/1331295033325219840 In 2018, after two years of media spinning tales about shady Russian infiltrators in our government, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Putin’s gremlins had bored into our voting machines and altered the outcome ... Read More
Elections

It’s Only ‘Free and Fair’ When We Win

Indeed, this is astonishing: https://twitter.com/felixsalmon/status/1331295033325219840 In 2018, after two years of media spinning tales about shady Russian infiltrators in our government, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Putin’s gremlins had bored into our voting machines and altered the outcome ... Read More
Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More
Film & TV

Hillbilly Elegy: Ron Howard’s Inverted Mayberry

Hollywood knows two registers when it comes to the white working class (WWC): sentimentalizing and condescending. WWCs are either cute, neighborly, and folksy, or they constitute a tawdry, alien life form. There are 130 million WWCs in our country, and yet nobody in Hollywood has the slightest grasp of them. With ... Read More

The Coup That Wasn’t

Donald Trump is not done challenging the results of the 2020 election in court, and he is by no means done complaining. But there will be no “coup.” Any prospect of Trump remaining in office without a legal process that declares him the recipient of more legal votes in the decisive states has now evaporated. ... Read More

The Coup That Wasn’t

Donald Trump is not done challenging the results of the 2020 election in court, and he is by no means done complaining. But there will be no “coup.” Any prospect of Trump remaining in office without a legal process that declares him the recipient of more legal votes in the decisive states has now evaporated. ... Read More
Elections

About That ‘Broken Algorithm’

Of all the loopy assertions made at the press conference President Trump’s legal team conducted last Thursday, the one that has been most roundly derided is the since-ousted Sidney Powell’s claim that the national popular vote was such a landslide for President Trump “that it broke the algorithm that had ... Read More
Elections

About That ‘Broken Algorithm’

Of all the loopy assertions made at the press conference President Trump’s legal team conducted last Thursday, the one that has been most roundly derided is the since-ousted Sidney Powell’s claim that the national popular vote was such a landslide for President Trump “that it broke the algorithm that had ... Read More