The dark side of the Democratic Party
Long thoughts on the Cory Booker situation below the fold.
A funny thing happened on the campaign trail this week: the Election Year Feud of the Week actually exposed something about the state of American politics.
For those unaware: Sunday on Meet the Press, Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark and a surrogate for the Obama campaign, harshly criticized (5:30-8:38) an ad that attacked Mitt Romney for his time at the private equity firm, Bain Capital.
The liberal blogosphere then went after Booker aggressively. Think Progress noted that he raised a significant amount of money from Wall Street related industries, including Bain, during his first mayoral campaign. Joan Walsh wrote that “Booker has not gotten nearly enough grief for his multilayered betrayal of Obama.” And Glenn Greenwald chipped in with another column that made me feel guilty for being a self-righteous Democrat, pointing out that Bain Capital executives have given more to Democrats than Republicans, and that Obama himself received far more Wall Street money than John McCain in 2008.
The bigger issue is not that Booker complicated the Obama campaign’s message for a week more than five months before Election Day. It’s the fact Democrats have increasingly relied heavily on Wall Street and corporate money in general to finance their campaigns. By pure coincidence, my AP Government class watched Inside Job this week. I had seen it before, but it was still painful to be reminded of the role that the Clinton administration played in the deregulation of Wall Street that led to the financial crisis and economic recession. And in Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Rahm Emanuel, and others, Obama appointed many of the same people responsible for the mess.
There is ample evidence that suggests that the effect of campaign contributions is more subtle than “money buys votes”. But when politicians spend such a high portion of their time around rich donors and rely on lobbyists for information on key public policy issues, it makes a difference. Greenwald included this relevant passage from The Audacity of Hope in which Obama himself explains this:
Increasingly I found myself spending time with people of means – law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists. … As a rule, they were smart, interesting people, knowledgeable about public policy, liberal in their politics, expecting nothing more than a hearing of their opinions in exchange for their checks. But they reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate. … They had no patience with protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by the movements of global capital. … I know that as a consequence of my fundraising I became more like the wealthy donors I met.
So, for those of us would rather Democratic politicians not enact policies that favor wealthy donors, the Booker incident was troubling. After all, at least before Sunday, the Newark Mayor was one of the few rising stars in the party. And looking ahead to 2016, electing a more liberal, less corporate-friendly Democratic president will be challenging. Early leading contenders like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Virginia Senator Mark Warner both talk about how “pro-business” they are, as if that is anything but a euphemism. Emanuel, the former Chief of Staff and current Mayor of Chicago, worked at an investment bank for several years.
The Democratic Party likes to talk about how it represents regular people. Creating jobs, enacting a fairer tax code, and properly regulating the market are key tenants of the platform. It would be nice if Democrats could more than just fight for tepid progress in those areas and progressives could vote for them for reasons other than merely being better than the GOP.