Credit Where Due

Some progressive critics of the Democratic Party are fond of saying there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the Dems and the Republicans, but they might need to recompute in light of the scorecard from the midterm election.

If the health reform bill was a gift to the insurance companies, as has been charged, you couldn’t tell it by the way those corporate interests fought the reforms and then punished the Democrats who voted to interfere with their profiteering. The same goes for financial reforms which progressives felt didn’t go far enough in regulating the Wall Street bankers who wrecked the economy, but those financial overlords certainly seem to think a Republican Congress is the best bet to loosen those regulations. And oil and chemical companies were never shy about throwing their weight around to block Democratic attempts to control their pollution through the ill-fated “cap-and-trade” bill.

The Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors election funding sources, found that Republican candidates got $34 million from the finance, insurance and real estate sector since January, compared to $23 million given to Democrats. Overall, Republican House candidates have outraised Democrats by $30 million through Sept. 30, according to the Public Campaign Action Fund.

But the big skew comes from the supposedly independent political action committees which are largely unaccountable and which, after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last January, can legally use corporate donations to run “issue ads” that can distort the debate. And they have.

An estimated $198 million was spent on US Senate and House ads in the five weeks until Oct. 7, the nonpartisan Wesleyan Media Project found. Democratic candidates outspent Republicans 1.5 to 1 in Federal Election Commission-regulated spending during that period, but among the less-regulated interest groups, which spent $65 million during those five weeks, GOP-leaning organizations outspent Dems by almost 9 to 1.

Conservatives with organized money behind them were determined to take Obama down and they started their work before Obama was sworn in. They were reinforced by right-wing talkers such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, Fox “News” running GOP talking points 24/7 and advocacy groups, starting with the tea party movement, which was organized by GOP operatives and attacked virtually everything Obama and the Democratic Congress did.

The conservatives maintained “message discipline,” insisting that President Obama and the Democrats had failed, despite the facts that Obama managed the Bush administration’s $700 billion bank bailout well enough to avert a meltdown of the financial system, at a much lower cost to taxpayers than expected. Conservatives screamed bloody murder when Obama used $60 billion in bailout funds to save GM and Chrysler from liquidation. The restructuring not only saved those two companies; it also saved the jobs of parts suppliers and auto dealers nationwide.

The $787 billion Recovery Act saved millions of jobs and cut taxes for 95% of working people (though less than 10% of Americans even knew they got a tax cut). The Recovery Act also invested $94 billion in clean energy and $100 billion in education and put $70 billion into the nation’s safety net, including cash payments to the elderly, the disabled and impoverished parents. And Obama actually reduced the deficit from Bush’s last budget.

Many progressives are still not happy that the health care reform lacks a government-sponsored “public option” instead of private insurance, but working with the minimum supermajority needed under Senate rules to move legislation, Obama got a bill passed that will extend health coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, expand Medicaid eligibility for the working poor and subsidize insurance for low- and middle-income citizens. Perhaps more important, it establishes a bill of rights for patients.

The Democratic financial reforms, which Obama signed in July, introduced new consumer protections, checks the power of big banks and regulates deceptive practices by credit card firms, which has raised the ire of Wall Street. Republicans have pledged to repeal the legislation. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who is slated to take over the House Financial Service Committee if Republicans get the House Majority, told 100 financial services lobbyists in September that they should be donating to Republicans — and warned them that he would be watching closely, according to Politico.com. He noted that the Independent Community Bankers of America had given 68% of its contributions to Democrats, a lobbyist who was present told Politico.com.

The implied threat apparently worked. ICBA Executive Vice President Steve Verdier told Politico.com that his group has started giving more heavily to Republicans and will end up giving only 55% of its money to Democrats.

In the weeks before the election, the Obama White House already has been talking about how the president would try to work with Republican leaders on deficit reduction, education and energy initiatives. Obama has proposed $50 billion in infrastructure spending and $200 billion in business tax breaks for investments in new equipment. But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was not offering any illusion of the prospects for a grand bargain. After Republicans succeeded in slowing the economic recovery during the first two years of Obama’s term, McConnell signaled no major change in strategy. “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” McConnell told the National Journal.

That’s the quality of congressional leadership we can expect of the Republicans. They offer gridlock. A bipartisan White House debt-reduction commission is expected to make its report in December. With Republicans almost unanimously opposed to any form of tax increase, and military spending reportedly “off the table,” the most likely target for spending cuts will be domestic programs, Social Security and Medicare. If the GOP captures the House or Senate, progressives might welcome gridlock.

Bad Judgment

It’s hard to figure what Virginia Thomas was thinking when she recently left a message on Anita Hill’s office phone at Brandeis University asking the law professor to apologize for her accusation 19 years ago that Thomas’ husband, Clarence Thomas, had sexually harassed her. Clarence Thomas denied the accusation at his confirmation hearing and he made it onto the court. Apparently anger has smoldered ever since.

Now it is revealed that Clarence Thomas participated in the Citizens United decision to relax restrictions on corporate political activity this past January despite the fact that in 2009 his wife founded Liberty Central, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, which allows her to solicit donations without disclosing the contributors, Jackie Calmes reported in the New York Times.

A federal law requires justices to recuse themselves when conflicts of interest could arise, including cases where their spouses could have a financial interest, Calmes noted. “But the decision to step aside is up to each justice; there is no appeal from the nation’s highest court.”

“It’s shocking that you would have a Supreme Court justice sitting on a case that might implicate in a very fundamental way the interests of someone who might have contributed to his wife’s organization,” Deborah L. Rhode, a law professor and director of the Stanford University Center on the Legal Profession, told Calmes.

The whole setup stinks. Mrs. Thomas could solicit donations from persons or corporations with business before the court. Justice Thomas apparently lacks the ethical judgment to recognize the inherent conflict of interest in the Citizens United decision. At the very least, one or the other Thomas should step down to resolve future conflicts of interest. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2010


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