Politics & Policy

Being Gordon Gekko

For Ohio Democrats, hypocrisy never sleeps.

In a statement, the AFL-CIO compared gubernatorial candidate John Kasich and several Ohio Republicans to Gordon Gekko, the fictitious Wall Street villain played by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and its recently released sequel. “These Wall Street cheerleaders — John Kasich, Rob Portman, Steve Chabot, Tom Ganley, Bob Gibbs, Jim Renacci and Steve Stivers — have voting records that would make Gekko drool,” the union bosses huffed. “Whether it’s direct ties to corrupt Wall Street corporations, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from Wall Street firms, or general unethical and greedy business practices, these candidates rightfully earn the title of Gordon Gekkos of Ohio.”

Ironically, just a week before the AFL-CIO attack, Ohio’s incumbent governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, was in Washington seeking special favors to protect a corporation whose actions could come right out of an Oliver Stone fever dream. That company, which Strickland mentioned by name in his testimony, is NewPage, an Ohio paper company. And like the fictitious Teldar Paper of Wall Street — the subject of Gekko’s infamous “Greed Is Good” speech — NewPage is owned by a rapacious hedge fund that is forcing the company to downsize, kill jobs, shut down plants, and bully other companies out of its market — all in the name of higher profits.

The hedge fund in question is none other than Cerberus Capital Management, a firm last seen driving another of its companies — Chrysler — into bankruptcy. Like its management of Chrysler, Cerberus’s ownership of NewPage has been nothing but trouble — but that didn’t stop Ted Strickland from going to Capitol Hill to lobby on its behalf. Following a business model that could be charitably described as “strangle the supply of paper in order to force up prices,” NewPage was a leading liquidator of jobs during the 2008 recession. It shut down six paper-making facilities in 2008 and refused to sell two formerly profitable plants to an eager buyer — thereby reducing the supply of paper in the marketplace.

But NewPage wasn’t content shutting down its own plants. It actually went to the trouble of buying other plants just to shut them down, too. These moves attracted wide condemnation from union leaders, whose pleas went unheeded. NewPage pocketed more than $300 million in federal handouts while still posting losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars — and quarterly losses increased by 60 percent even while its sales increased. This while its CEOs (it has had five of them in the past four years, only one of whom lasted a full year) walked away with multimillion-dollar severance packages. Other high-level executives banked millions of dollars in bonuses.

Which brings us to Strickland’s testimony. Contra his anti-corporate rhetoric in this campaign, Strickland is in fact lobbying for political protection for NewPage in the form of new protective tariffs tailored to ensure its interests. In doing this he risks not only his carefully cultivated image as an anti-corporate crusader but also (and more important) undermines the United States’ credibility as an honest partner in international trade relationships.

In his testimony, Strickland had this to say about the paper companies he was hoping to save:

Strickland made his case in terms of saving Ohio jobs and workers from the ravages of unfair international trade, but what he failed to mention was that he seeks trade sanctions so stiff and severe that both the Chinese and Indonesian governments are guaranteed to dispute them, even before they take effect, at the World Trade Organization. Retaliatory tariffs—which are sure to follow should Strickland get his way—could threaten thousands of American jobs and hurt millions of American consumers, in Ohio and around the country.

NewPage is the very type and model of a self-interested corporation that puts profit above all and isn’t ashamed to take political favors and government handouts in the course of doing business. That Strickland would go to back for such a corporation at all—much less defend it, by name, in federal testimony—while selling himself as the blue-collar champion of the working class is remarkable. That he does so while his allies compare his opponent to Gordon Gekko, who would be right at home in NewPage’s executive suite, suggests that he is either immune to irony or believes Ohio voters to be deaf, dumb, and illiterate. “Money never sleeps,” according to Gordon Gekko. Neither does hypocrisy.

– Mytheos Holt covers Ohio for National Review Online’s Battle’10 blog.

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