Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Before you think too kindly of House Republicans...

Let me start with an extended quote from Glenn Greenwald:

Retired New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston, writing at The New Republic yesterday, makes a critical point, in a piece entitled "Celebrating the Bailout Bill's Failure":

Whether you favor the $700 billion bailout or not, the House vote today should make you cheer -- loudly.


Because the majority vote against it shows that Washington is not entirely in the service of the political donor class, by which I mean Wall Street and the corporations who rely on it for their financing. These campaign donors, a narrow slice of America, have lobbied and donated their way into a system that stacks the economic rules in their favor. But faced with as many as 200 telephone calls against the bailout for every one in favor, a lot of House members decided to listen to their constituents today instead of their campaign donors.

Johnston's celebration that "Washington is not entirely in the service of the political donor class" is probably premature given that Congressional leaders are falling all over themselves to assure everyone that this deal will pass in a few days after it is tinkered with in one direction or the other. . . . The corporate donor class and political establishment may lose a battle here and there, but they almost never lose the war, since they own and control the political battlefield.

Still, Johnston's overarching point is absolutely right. For better or worse, yesterday's vote was the rarest event in our political culture: ordinary Americans from all across the political spectrum actually exerting influence over how our Government functions, and trumping the concerted, unified efforts of the entire ruling class to ensure that their desires, as usual, would be ignored.

I like both Greenwald and David Cay Johnston a lot—I have especially appreciated Johnston’s writing on this latest manufactured “crisis”—and I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but I think both of these men are giving “We, the People,” too much credit for making our voices heard, or, if not quite that, giving they, the House Republicans, too much credit for listening to we, the people.

Though Greenwald will correctly point out that whether Republicans are listening out of concern for their constituencies or concern for their jobs is a distinction without a difference, there is another possible—and I think probable—motivation at work. It is not the fear of losing their jobs, but the desire to make political hay, to use this bailout to destroy Democratic prospects (this year, and, even more so, in 2010), that is most likely the unifying force behind the Republican revolt.

Well, that prospect, and a guy named Newt:

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported this morning that conservatives may have been taking their marching orders from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who “was whipping against this up until the last minute” — despite issuing a statement supporting the bill as the vote was taking place:

MITCHELL: I’m told reliably by leading Republicans who are close to him, he was whipping against this up until the last minute when he issued that face-saving statement. Newt Gingrich was telling people in the strongest possible language that this was a terrible deal, not only that it was a terrible deal, that it was a disaster, it was the end of democracy as we know it, it was socialism. And then at the last minute comes out with a statement when the vote is already in place.

Reacting to the news, NBC’s Mike Barnicle said he had been told by congressional conservatives that the move was “the opening salvo of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign four years hence.”

That is not to say that the phone calls by concerned Americans were pointless—not at all—but it is to say that one should never assume there is the possibility of common cause to be struck with the post-Reagan Republican Party. They, like their latest standard-bearer, John McCain, are interested in power for power’s sake, and are the very embodiment of the corporate donor class-backed political establishment that Greenwald and Johnston believe took a body blow on Monday.

It is not so long ago that Gingrich haunted the corridors of power with his nasty brand of us-versus-them politics and sanctimonious hypocrisy. It was never enough that he and his party should win, it was also necessary that Democrats loose.

The man and his caucus are little changed today. If progressive Democrats want to stop the NPLB (No Plutocrats Left Behind) bill and advance a real economic fix, then they are going to have to do it themselves.

. . .

As to that final point—progressives doin’ it for themselves—there is an alternative bill with the less than compelling name “No BAILOUTS” (it’s an acronym—don’t ask) now introduced in the House. It is a mixed bag, but on the whole, much better—and much cheaper—than Paulson-plus. Sirota has a rundown and a plan of action.

The Senate plans to vote on a bill similar to the House version of Paulson with some tax cuts to woo the right and some incentives for alternative energy to then woo back liberal members. It’s still a monumental piece of crap. It will not fix the problem—though it will artificially inflate the markets for a while—in the long run, it could make things much worse. If you feel like picking up the phone today, please ignore my above cynicism and call your Senators—urge a “no” vote on this Paulson-plus plan. Instead, ask your Senators to pass the stimulus package previously approved by the House.

Then, while you’ve got that bakelite in your hands, call your US Representative, tell them of your continued opposition to a $700 billion bailout, and ask him or her to consider something like No BAILOUTS as an alternative.

(cross-posted on Daily Kos and The Seminal)

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