Sunday, November 07, 2010

Hustlers and Politics 101

The infallible naivete of the American electorate never fails to disappoint. And, while I'm a longtime fan of columnist Robert Scheer, I can't help but take issue with an article of his published last month, "Obama Hires a Hustler."

Mr. Scheer writes urgently about President Obama's appointment of Tom Donilon to the position of national security advisor. Donilon, as Scheer reports, who has now become one of the president's closest aides, was chief lobbyist for Fannie Mae from 1999 to 2005. And, we all know what happened to Fannie Mae, as well as how laced with corruption the bank, and mortgage industry failings were.

But, to argue that this appointment is, in itself, a red flag is to deny the obvious: some corruption inheres in the political process itself.

Okay, so it might also be naive to suggest that it is just possible Mr. Donilon, who was one of Fannie Mae's biggest lobbyists at the zenith of its contemptible, fraudulent activities might be the best person to protect against that kind of financial upheaval again.

Some might even go so far as to claim that the best way to fight fire is with more fire. Is it likewise ingenuous to think that the maxim "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer" might apply here? It is easier to disarm them that way.

A play by Jean Anouilh comes to mind, "Antigone," in which the French playwright debunks the Sophoclean illusion of purity, and the notion that punishment somehow brings wisdom
Anouilh rejects the kind of sophistic black and white analysis that one finds in the original tragedy. It might not be a bad idea for us to reject that kind of bifurcation, too.

When Mr. Scheer writes that "Behind the wonderfully engaging smile of this president there is the increasingly disturbing suggestion of a cynical power-grabbing politician whose swift rise in power reflects less the earnestness of his message and far more the skills of a traditional political hack," the presumption is that this president is somehow unique in hiding an A plus poker player behind a captivating facade.

It is only the most naive who think, even for an instant, that anyone can win election in this country without being shrewd enough to smile, and count the cards as they're being dealt.

Indeed, those who, during the 2008 presidential campaign, compared Mr. Obama to President Kennedy were off base as are those who mystify him. Remember, it was JFK who said "Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names," and it was Kennedy who surprised everyone by offering the vice presidency to LBJ. Yes, Martha, some might consider that "power grabbing," but others might call it good political sense.

But, Mr. Obama is much closer to Lyndon B. Johnson, and some might also describe LBJ as a "cynical, power-grabbing politician." Does that mean we divest him of credit for getting Kennedy's Civil Rights Act passed? And, to the people of his day, even Abraham Lincoln might be considered both cynical, and opportunistic.
There are few who would deny, as Sheer asserts, that "we are drowning in a bipartisan cesspool of corruption, and the sooner we grasp that fact the better."

After a midterm election that shows record campaign spending, clearly, corruption is not optional with the vehicle. Still, some might prefer to think so.

Just for a moment, let's go along with Mr. Scheer's hypothesis. After all, Tom Donilon isn't the first one whose past connections have been questioned. There is, of course, Tim Geithner whose connections to Wall Street were challenging during his nomination process.

Yet, despite where each of these fellows found themselves five years ago, there is today a a push for greater regulation, bank consolidation, and credit oversight. This is not by way of endorsement of Donilon or Geithner, by any means, but instead to suggest that it was sound judgment that precluded the total collapse of the financial sector, and saved General Motors and the auto industry. Ford even posted a profit this year. As did, of course, the oil companies.

That said, for Mr. Obama to borrow stock market terminology, and call his November catastrophe a "midcourse correction," doesn't bode well for those who'd like to think this president hasn't forgotten where his bread is buttered. Those who went to the polls in droves didn't elect Barack Obama to channel Wall Street, but to reform it.

There's something else to grasp while we're in the business of grasping. This is not the time to look for political purity. The global economy, and our financial sector, are still at grave risk. Our "free market" system is in need of some serious restructuring. The Russians call it "perestroika." We can use some of their glasnost, and some of their perestroika, too.

What the tea partiers like to call "socialism" is nothing more than a worldwide attempt at a hybrid, and interconnected economy. A return to the unregulated, so-called free market system poses an egregious risk not just to our own financial market, but to the entire world.

It also must be recognized that, while the Democrats didn't deliver the kind of universal health care many of us had in mind, those of us who have been denied medical coverage because of a "pre-existing condition" can sleep better knowing that insurers can no longer turn us away at the drop of a hat. Thanks to "Obamacare," which should really be called "Romneycare," being human is no longer a pre-existing condition.

Those who are have preemptively doomed 2012 based on the electoral map of 2010 must go back and take another look at the electoral map of 2008. Remarkable, yes, how things can change in two short years, and yes, they can change back, too.

Those who are committed, both on the left and on the right, to making this a one term presidency, and are already performing post-mortems, had better be prepared to brace for a neo-con renaissance unlike anything we have ever seen before, and a generation of right wing Republicans that make Barry Goldwater look liberal in 2012, and for many years to come.