Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who has announced that he is not seeking re-election, will leave behind a lot of friends when he leaves office: Most notably, he was a “Friend of Angelo” — that’s Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of kamikaze mortgage-lender Countrywide — having secured from him a sweetheart mortgage deal that saved him $75,000 or so, and a friend of Harry Reid, who helped to keep the Senate’s ethics watchdogs, such as they are, off Dodd’s ankle over that dodgy deal. Senator Dodd is a pal of financier Edward R. Downe Jr., who was convicted of insider trading, and of his business partner, William Kessinger, who helped Senator Dodd buy a seaside spread in Ireland.
But Senator Dodd is no mere pet of the plutocracy: In fact, he recently helped direct millions of dollars into the pockets of a favorite union constituency; unhappily, that money came from a program to detect explosives coming into our airports. Good timing is not Senator Dodd’s characteristic virtue.
Or is it? It’s not quite a stampede, but the number of Democrats who are getting out of office suggests that the getting is good: Dodd’s Senate colleague Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, is retiring as well. Colorado’s Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, is hanging up his spurs. Lt. Gov. John Cherry of Michigan, the leading Democratic candidate to replace his disastrous boss, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, is bowing out. Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama has joined the Republicans. Senator Dodd, whose political survival instincts are exquisitely tuned, is more than capable of detecting which way the wind is blowing.
Senator Dodd’s absence is a greater gift to Democrats than his presence: With him out of the race, the Democrats’ chances of retaining his Senate seat are much enhanced. (Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, is expected to slip comfortably into Dodd’s seat.) Connecticut being Connecticut, the Republicans looking to contest the election start with a severe handicap.
Senator Dodd’s career should provide a cautionary tale about the dark side of the seniority system and senatorial longevity. Though he was knee-deep in dubious doings, his influence was at its peak: As chairman of the banking committee, Senator Dodd was a key player in the bailouts and in shaping the major pieces of financial-reform legislation currently working their way through Congress. If Congress ends up reshaping the banking and credit-card industries, it will very likely to do so along lines drawn up by Senator Dodd. He was a key legislative architect of the impotent stimulus bill and an important influence on the Senate health-care legislation. The breadth and depth of his influence has been exceeded only by its destructiveness. No doubt a lucrative post-Senate lobbying career, performing essentially the same misdeeds for better money, awaits Senator Dodd, who embodies much of what is wrong with Washington. We’ll miss him on Election Day, but not a minute afterward.