Tilting at Windmills

November/December 2012 Woodward’s folly … Romney’s hardship … Finishing what Clinton started

By Charles Peters

The Second Coming of Ralph Reed
Ralph Reed is back. If you thought he had been effectively disgraced by his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal, Jo Becker of the New York Times says think again. She reports that Reed is now playing a prominent role in the Romney campaign, identifying evangelical voters and arranging for them to get to the polls. “At the Republican convention in Tampa,” Becker writes, “he was sought after by party luminaries and accorded the ultimate status accommodation, a room in the same hotel as Mitt Romney.” In case you have forgotten, Reed, painting himself as a pious evangelical and acting as head of the Christian Coalition, sold his services to the infamous Jack Abramoff, agreeing to con his followers into helping Abramoff ‘s Indian gambling clients thwart the efforts of other tribes to build rival casinos. If you want to see Reed’s smarmy persona effectively captured, be sure to see the movie, Casino Jack, in which Kevin Spacey plays Abramoff.

Why the first debate didn’t go so well
Here’s another explanation for Obama ‘s passivity in the first debate. During the day of the debate, cable networks were running a video supplied by the Daily Caller of a 2007 speech at which Obama had come across as close to the angry black man as he ever did. It really wasn’t all that close, but several commentators on Fox News tried to make it appear so. One of Obama’s principle fears has been appearing to be that angry black man—anyone who understands white America knows there’s good reason for that fear. So my guess is that he went into the debate resolved above all not to appear aggressive.

Mischief on Wall Street
The election will be in our rearview mirror two weeks or so after this new issue reaches you. Whichever candidate wins, and of course I pray it’s Barack Obama, we need to renew our vigilance on Wall Street. While the rest of us have been focused on the presidential race, the financial industry and its lobbyists have been busy trying to sabotage effective regulation. They have already succeeded in blocking an effort by SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro to regulate money-market funds. And if you even glance at the business section of the newspapers you will see warnings of more mischief, such as these two from the New York Times: “As U.S. Discusses Limits on High-Speed Trading, Other Nations Act” and “Behind Scenes, Some Lawmakers Push to Change the Volcker Rule.”

The Bain of my existence
The single tax return available to the public shows that Mitt Romney and his partners at Bain Capital claimed their management fees as capital gains, rather than earned income. This saved the partners more than $200 million in income tax and $20 million in Medicare tax. Victor Fleisher, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, is quoted in a story you may have missed because it was buried on page 14 of the New York Times: “If challenged in court, Bain would lose,” he said. “The Bain partners, in my opinion, misreported their income.”

What the 1 percent think they deserve
The self-pitying and irresponsible entitled come not from Romney’s 47 percent, but from the 1 percent at the top, contends the Washington Post ‘s Steven Pearlstein. He captures their mind-set in a recent column entitled “I Am a Job Creator: A Manifesto for the Entitled”:

I am a corporate chief executive … I am the misunderstood superhero of American capitalism, single-handedly creating wealth and prosperity despite all of the obstacles put in my way by employees, government and the media … I am entitled to a healthy and well-educated workforce, a modern and efficient transportation system and protection for my person and property, just as I am entitled to demonize government workers who provide them. I am entitled to complain bitterly about taxes that are always too high, even when they are at record lows. I am entitled to a judicial system that enforces contracts and legal obligations on customers, suppliers and employees but does not afford them the same right in return.

There’s a lot more to the column, all in a similar vein and all equally pointed. Read it.

The persecuted elite
The perfect companion to Pearlstein ‘s manifesto comes from Chrystia Freeland in the October 8 issue of the New Yorker. In her article, “Super-Rich Irony,” she explains why billionaires feel victimized by Obama. One, Anthony Scaramucci, told her, “The president has a philosophy of distain toward wealth creation.” It reminds me of how Franklin Roosevelt was treated by the very capitalists he was rescuing from the catastrophe of the Great Depression. In fact, Obama has expressed the deepest respect for entrepreneurs who create wealth by starting businesses that create useful products and other jobs that pay decent wages. Does Scaramucci expect Obama to express equal regard for those who make money merely for the sake of making money?

Leon Cooperman, who has come to be known as the pope of Wall Street’s anti-Obama crusade, says that what outraged him was a speech by Obama in which he said the wealthy are paying low taxes now and they’re going to have to pay a little bit more, only about as much as they paid under Bill Clinton, when they all did very well indeed. What’s outrageous about that?

The nightmare of every politician
If you have ever been a politician, as I was once, you will be haunted by Freeland’s description of another reason for Cooperman’s disenchantment with Obama. At a White House reception, Cooperman handed Obama a book of poetry written by his fourteen-year-old granddaughter, saying it was for Sasha and Malia. He was, of course, hoping that this gift would prompt a thank-you letter from the first daughters or the president himself. But no letter came. Finally, he complained to a mutual friend and the desired letter arrived from Michelle Obama, but it was too late. The nightmare of every politician is that the one door he didn’t knock on, the one phone call he didn’t make, or the one letter he didn’t write, will cost him the one vote that would have elected him.

Ink-stained wretches?
One of the reasons behind the greed that has become such a depressing feature of American culture since the 1980s is that people have come to want so many different things that cost a lot of money. Students now need a truck or at least a large SUV to take what they think they need to college. The New York Times recently recommended some Bordeaux wines on the basis that they were a bargain at less than $50 a bottle. And the number of electronic devices that practically everyone seems to require these days appears almost limitless, not to mention the number of rooms people insist upon having in their houses.

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.


  • Roger Keeling on November 04, 2012 5:34 PM:

    Mr. Peters, you're in fine form this month. Your point about the proliferation of government contractors during the Bush Administration is particularly important, I think. The GOP has claimed this as a way to "privatize" government functions -- that is, gain the economies and competitive benefits of the marketplace for public tasks. But the reality is that it has been nothing more than a backdoor means of reinstating the 19th century spoils system. The public is so sadly ignorant of history that most folks have no idea what a vital reform the establishment of the professional civil service was, and hence no idea how perverse it is for a major political party to try to destroy it.

    And I am so glad the magazine has returned to a format where we can read your column AS a column, rather than as an annoying series of links. I believe quite a few folks (including me) had complained about that, so thank you for listening.

  • berttheclock on November 07, 2012 9:46 AM:

    Hmmm, "Reigning in Wall Street". Yes, many on WS do believe they reign. Perhaps, with the election of Senator Warren, more real "reins" will be put in place to stop many of those rulers of wealth.

  • zandru on November 07, 2012 1:34 PM:

    I second Mr. Clock: it's "reining in". Although in a few years, it WILL be "reigning", and future etymologists will have no clue as to the origin of the phrase.

  • buddy66 on November 09, 2012 7:48 PM:

    I watched Allen G. one day at lunch in the San Francisco State cafeteria, after a speaking/reading/chanting session at that school, surrounded by hangers-on and autograph-seeking students clamoring for his attention. He had more time for helping Peter Orlovsky's severely retarded brother maneuver the intricacies of unwrapping a packet of crackers that came with his chicken soup. Allen's concerned patience was obvious, his kindliness manifest in the moment.

  • Steve on January 13, 2013 12:47 PM:

    I'm not sure why Mr Peters is so gung ho about military service.

    Why would anyone serve in an organization whose sole purpose seems to be to engage in illegal and immoral activities?

    Vietnam was an illegal and unjustified war.

    Afghanistan was largely unjustified.

    Iraq? Don't make me laugh.

    Rather than more serving in the military, I'd rather see fewer.

    As in zero.


  • Ed Pritchett on April 18, 2013 9:31 AM:

    I would respectfully disagree. If this country adopted universal service for all after high school for even just two years, and it would have to be for Everybody, no exceptions for class or wealth. Then perhaps we could temper our national blood lust bulleted above a bit since at any moment such decisions would involve the sons and daughters of the decision makers as well. It reserve war making as the last option of policy instead of casually being one of the first.