The role of big money in politics: Last Thursday, Nicholas Kristof discussed the role of big money in our politics.
His column made much more sense than Ruth Marcus’ recent nervous breakdown on the same general subject. That said, we were struck by the places where Kristof was hard, and by the places where he seemed soft.
In accord with Hard Pundit Law, Kristof began his discussion of big money with You Know Who and her husband. Here’s how the column started:
KRISTOF (5/28/15): I’ve admired the Clintons’ foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I’ve moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking?We were struck by the delicacy of the gentleman’s conscience. He loves the work the Clinton foundation performs in the world. But he recoils from “each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system. Look around:
Earth to Kristof: Foundations can’t perform “fine work on AIDS and global poverty” without the speaking fees and contributions which actually pay for that work. If Kristof admires the work so much, you’d think he’d try to be careful and fair in his remarks about “failed disclosure” and “the appearance of conflict.”
To what “revelation of failed disclosure” does this giant refer? We don’t know, since he never says. But Marcus’ breakdown was triggered by a “failed disclosure” which was actually an ever-so-slightly delayed disclosure—a voluntary disclosure at that, one which occurred some seventeen months before the election it has apparently undermined in the minds of delicate observers.
(Only seventeen months to go to! At such a late date, will voters have a chance to consider this recent “failed disclosure?”)
Could that be one of the “failed disclosures” which have Kristof upset? We have no idea, since he doesn’t cite any specific failure. Concerning the appearance of conflict of interest, you’d think a man who admires the foundation’s work would be disturbed by slippery allegations or insinuations of same.
But how strange! When Kristof’s own newspaper engaged in virtual journalistic fraud in the form of a 4400-word “bombshell report” about a scary uranium deal, the great man had nothing to say about the slippery behavior! Could it be that moral giants like Marcus and Kristof persistently accede to the world’s most obvious “conflict of interest”—the one which keeps them from noting or criticizing the fraudulent work of their colleagues, their friends and their guild?
(Kristof has “moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative?” In the wake of the turmoil concerning George Stephanopoulos, this statement has the tiniest feel of “delayed disclosure” itself!)
Bowing to strictures of Hard Pundit Law, Kristof began with the Clintons. To his credit, he went on from there to discuss the role of big money all through our politics. But not before he offered this left-handed acquittal:
“But the problem is not precisely the Clintons.”
The problem is not precisely the Clintons! Our great moral arbiter spoke!
The problem is not precisely the Clintons! Really, that language is rich. As he continues, Kristof cites allegedly shaky behavior by three Republican candidates. For our money, his statement concerning Candidate Rubio sounds shakier than anything his tribe has managed to pin on You Know Who, the never-ending focus of their guild’s heartfelt concern:
“Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has received financial assistance from a billionaire, Norman Braman, and has channeled public money to Braman’s causes.”
Rubio has “channeled money” to a billionaire donor’s “causes?” To our ear, that sounds a bit worse than anything that has been pinned on You Know Who and her unthinking husband. In fairness:
Reading Kristof, we have no idea what that actually means. Neither does anyone else. Is Rubio’s conduct precisely the problem? We have no idea.
In accordance with pundit law, Kristof began with the Clintons. He failed to note that they can’t perform all that good work without the fees and contributions which have him so upset. He fails to cite specific misconduct. He dismisses their case with a comic left-handed acquittal.
Especially given his admiration for the actual work the Clintons are doing, we thought his treatment of the pair was pretty tough. Compare it with the soft soap with which he seemed to cleanse big business interests.
In the passage shown below, Kristof discusses the way big corporate interests loot the American people. But his formulations strike us as soft. Suddenly, our ferocious watchdog has given away several teeth:
KRISTOF: Money doesn’t always succeed, of course, and billionaires often end up wasting money on campaigns. According to The San Jose Mercury News, Meg Whitman spent $43 per vote in her failed campaign for governor of California in 2010, mostly from her own pocket. But Michael Bloomberg won his 2009 re-election campaign for mayor of New York City after, according to the New York Daily News, spending $185 of his own money per vote.Is it just our imagination? Or is Kristof kinder to the corporate interests which loot the public than to the people who do “fine work on global poverty?”
The real bargain is lobbying—and that’s why corporations spend 13 times as much lobbying as they do contributing to campaigns, by the calculations of Lee Drutman, author of a recent book on lobbying.
The health care industry hires about five times as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress. That’s a shrewd investment. Drug company lobbyists have prevented Medicare from getting bulk discounts, amounting to perhaps $50 billion a year in extra profits for the sector.
Likewise, lobbying has carved out the egregious carried interest tax loophole, allowing many financiers to pay vastly reduced tax rates. In that respect, money in politics both reflects inequality and amplifies it.
Lobbyists exert influence because they bring a potent combination of expertise and money to the game. They gain access, offer a well-informed take on obscure issues—and, for a member of Congress, you think twice before biting the hand that feeds you.
Kristof does cite “the egregious carried interest tax loophole.” But when he does, he attributes the misconduct to generic “lobbyists.” He doesn’t name a specific industry. He doesn’t name a specific politician who produced this “egregious” policy.
Kristof goes all generic when egregious conduct occurs. When he specifically cites “the health care industry,” we’d say his teeth fall out.
In Kristof Speak, this industry isn’t looting the public when it swarms the Congress. In Kristof Speak, the industry is simply making “a shrewd investment.” It’s seeking out a “real bargain.”
The industry has carved out “extra profits,” he says, though he doesn’t say at whose expense those profits are gained, or to what extent those people get looted. And, having said even that much, our moral giant seems to feel that he must say something nice:
According to Kristof, these lobbyists almost seem to play a helpful role in our governance! According to Kristof, they offer their “expertise” to the Congress. They’re willing to “offer a well-informed take” on various “obscure issues.”
Without their well-informed expertise, how would poor Congress know what to do? If you end up paying three times as much for health care, you may be getting a very good deal!
Marcus wrote a lunatic’s column, her fifth in a series. Nicholas Kristof didn’t. But we’d say his column was strangely hard and soft, in ways which are so ubiquitous that very few people will notice.
Marcus is “a fan of Hillary Clinton.” Kristof admires the Clintons’ fine work.
But how strange! The Clintons aren’t precisely the problem, Kristof says. Marcus just keeps saying things which are many times worse.