Tilting at Windmills

March/ April 2013 McCruzyism … Too big to jail … Wake up, Democrats

By Charles Peters

Wake up, Democrats
It’s time for Democrats to wake up to the need to get out their voters in nonpresidential election years. This is where Republicans have been winning races for state legislature, governor, attorney general, and the U.S. Congress. The state legislatures, with their governors’ consent, determine how redistricting is done for both their own seats and for members of Congress. They and the attorneys general determine state voting laws, and how those laws are enforced.

Allowing Republicans to win so many of these elections has landed us in the mess we’re in today, with the House Republican majority and the Senate Republicans’ abuse of the filibuster combining to produce a paralyzed government.

Remember 2010, when liberal intellectuals devoted most of their time to criticizing Obama for not being perfect, and allowing Republicans to win far too many state and congressional races. Similar sitting-on-hands in nonpresidential election years has been a curse for the Democratic Party for as long as I can remember—but there have been exceptions that prove what can be accomplished. In 1934 and 1974 there were Democratic landslides that took seats that had seemed permanently Republican. So it can be done, and now’s the time to do it. There are gains to be made in this year’s legislative and gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.

She’s back!
In our last issue, I lamented the disappearance from the news of Paula Broadwell and the Kelley sisters. I am thus happy to report that Jill Kelley has stepped forward to fill the vacuum by granting interviews to Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic and Howard Kurtz of the Daily Beast.

Kelley told Rosen that she was speaking to him in pursuit of her new cause of protecting the individual’s right to privacy. According to Rosen, Kelley “compared herself to Erin Brockovich. She promised that briefs would be written and bills passed about her case. She said: ‘I have the resources that I can make a change in the world, whether it was diplomatically, which was my last life, or now it would be constitutionally. It’s all part of democracy and freedom.’ ”

God, how I love that woman. By the way, have you considered the possibility that General Allen corresponds with her because he has a sense of humor?

Who’s not intimidated?
The Washington Post captured what seems to have been the general reaction to Chuck Hagel’s testimony at his confirmation hearing in this excerpt: “Hagel struggled when Lindsay Graham asked him to expound on his past assertion that the Israeli lobby ‘intimidates a lot of people’ and challenged him to point to a single senator who had been intimidated. ‘Now, name one, name one,’ Graham said, eliciting a meek response from Hagel who said, ‘I do not know.’ ”

What could Hagel have said in response? Should he have singled out one senator when it was true of the majority? Most members of Congress, definitely including Lindsay Graham, and indeed most presidents in my memory, have been keenly aware of the power of groups like AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

As long ago as 1980, in the first edition of How Washington Really Works, I told of the reaction to Senator Charles Percy’s modest criticism of Israel, as described in a memo to him by a member of his staff a week later: “We have received 2,200 telegrams and 4,000 letters in response to your Mideast statement. They are 95 percent against. As you might expect, the majority comes from the Jewish communities in Chicago. They threatened to withhold their support in the future.”

It is not that AIPAC or its allies represent the majority of the Jewish community, but they certainly do represent a very vocal and well-heeled segment of it. And it seems to me that when Hagel’s testimony is discussed, the reality of that segment’s influence should be acknowledged. Not only the Post but very few other media outlets rose to that challenge.

Too big to jail
Were you as alarmed as I was about the state of our big banks by recent articles by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, and by Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger in the Atlantic? If not, consider a report from this winter’s World Economic Forum by Rana Foroohar of Time: “one of the world’s richest hedge funders,” Elliot Management’s Paul Singer, said that “even his team of skilled analysts couldn’t make heads or tails of the trading positions of major global banks.”

Or how about the report by Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg, which addresses the question “How did JPMorgan’s chief investment office, which manages deposits that the bank hasn’t lent, go from being a conservatively run risk manager to a profit center speculating on higher-yielding assets such as credit derivatives?” It was a transformation that recently caused the bank to lose $6 billion. The man who “pushed” for it? None other than Morgan’s CEO himself, Jamie Dimon.

Another criminal escapes?
Timothy Cannon, that Federal Emergency Management Agency official who we reported in the last issue was charged with helping the Gallup Organization secure a $6 million FEMA contract as he was being offered a job with Gallup, has pleaded guilty. What we hadn’t known was that the job he was offered paid $175,000 a year.

Ironically, after Cannon had done the deed and Gallup had been awarded the contract, Gallup decided that it might get into trouble for hiring him and withdrew the job offer. Cannon, who is sixty-three, faces up to five years in jail. But maddeningly, Gallup and its employees, who appear to have engaged in bribery, have escaped punishment entirely.

Yeah, that Sentelle
On Friday, January 25, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit handed down a decision declaring unconstitutional three recess appointments made by Barack Obama. The media described the decision as a “blow” to the administration and as a “victory for Republicans.” The Washington Post told of the decision in its lead story on the front page, giving it a total of twenty-eight paragraphs with a four-column headline on the continued page. But with all that, it never managed to mention the fact that each of the three judges on the panel, including its chief, David B. Sentelle, was appointed by a Republican president.

The most revealing indication that Sentelle is not a friend of Democratic presidents: it was Sentelle who, after consulting with the Republican senators, Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, from his home state of North Carolina, led the judicial panel that named Kenneth Starr to be the independent counsel investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the Whitewater real estate deal and the death of White House Counsel Vince Foster.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.