Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Personal Asides: Straight from The Untouchables Good News on Obama Spending.
Its like a rerun of The Untouchables, the 1959-63 TV series based on the 1930s Chicago crooks and for-rent pols with Robert Stack playing the incorruptible Elliot Ness. The sequel last week featured Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the role of the for-rent pol and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald starring as the super-straight, un-bought and un-bossed prosecuting attorney. Unfortunately the old series narrator, Walter Winchell, has been dead since 1972 but his staccato voice rings subliminally in my ears.
Even screen-writers David Mamet and Brian DePalma, who wrote two earlier Untouchable film versions, couldnt conjure up a plot this grotesque. It is staged in this storied city of cesspool corruption the hometown of a Sidney Poitier-figure, a rangy charismatic figure (played by Barack Obama) who has just been elected president midway in his first Senate term to bring decency, cleanliness, candor and transparency to the countrys 219-year-old opaque national political system. And the script goes like this:
Milorad (Rod) R. Blagojevichknown to all as Rod, to many as Blago and to a few as Hot Rod but now whom everybody calls Lightning Rod-- is a tall, Ken Doll-like Democratic ex-prosecutor (Serbian-Orthodox) who has been elected governor twice as successor to George Ryan, a fat, bulbous-nosed old Republican crook who is doing time in prison. But Blago is a smoother variant of liberal, telegenic crook. He decides that while he will appear to be a matinee idol curly black-haired young man on the rise, behind the scenes he will become a hideously venal government official on the make. He demands campaign donations in huge amounts for those who apply for highway contracts and the like. He sends his beauteous wife, Patti (daughter of an old-time ward boss with whom Blago has broken) out to work in real estate and with many a wink and nod indicates she should receive favored treatment so she can rake in big commissions for which the benefactors will be compensated handsomely at the public till. His campaign fund is overflowing with dough resulting from the benefactions of hopeful contractees who want to do business with the state. Result: He has won two terms. And his hunt for ever-more money goes on.
Now enters lean, Kennedyesque young federal prosecutor (an Irish Catholic), humble-appearing like Jimmy Stewart (played flawlessly by Patrick Fitzgerald). He has been suspicious of Blago for a long time and plants bugs in Blagos home and office. Rather than tone down his crime spree, Blagobelieving himself beyond the lawintensifies his bad ways. He does unthinkably craven things---delaying a sorely needed $8 million in state money the legislature gave to expand a sick kids hospital in order to get its advocates to pony up to his campaign fund.
Now get this: The Sidney Poitier-like president-elect Obama has also emerged from the Chicago cesspool but thus far, with one largely unstressed stain by the adulatory media (his man-boy relationship with now convicted felon Tony Rezko), managed to keep his skirts relatively clean. Poitier-Obama had to vacate his U. S. Senate seat to become president and state law requires that the evil young Blago appoint a successor to serve until the next general election. Blago sees this as a great opportunity to enrich himself politically or flood his campaign coffers with cash.
So, like a poker shark, he flourishes a mitt-full of cards showing faces of possible replacements, shopping around for sponsors to either pump cash into his swag, get him a cabinet post or high paying job in private life with a foundation or labor union. Poitier-Obama favors the appointment of Valerie Jarrett, black, his wifes mentor who got the soon-to-become First Lady a $300,000 job at University of Chicago hospital (in return for which Poitier-Obama in the legislature rewarded the U of C with a hefty state grant). Is a deal possibly in the works?
Blago is on the feds tape saying that maybe he could get the Health and Human Services cabinet post from Poitier-Obama if Blago named Jarrett to the Senate but evidently no deal--after which Blago curses and uses the f word. It is publicly denied that Blago ever talked to Poitier-Obama about Jarrett but earlier, before the storm broke, David Axelrod, Poitier-Obamas media guru, said they did: . I know hes talked to the governor amd there are a whole range of names many of which [sic] have surfaced and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them. Now a spokesman for the president-elect says Axelrod misspoke.
Weeks go on and no senatorial appointment as Blago is still shopping around. Disappointed, Blago hints broadly that he personally favors his old mentor, a gravel-voiced black lawmaker (played unsubtly by Emil Jones) who came up from the sewer literally a sewer inspector in the city patronage system to get elected by the machine to the state legislature. From sewer to legislature is this state is a lateral move, not a promotion. Emil Jones used his Daley machine connections to get elected state senate president. There he befriended the young Poitier-like Obama.
Assuredly, Poitier-Obama owes his rise to Jones but now doesnt want to see the old man in the Senate because he reminds Poitier-Obama of his sullied machine past. Besides, Jones doesnt talk like a U. S. senator: he talks like a sewer inspector which was okay when Poitier-Obama needed him but not now. Besides, Jones is known for stashing his wife and his family in cushy jobs through Chicago contacts which smellswell, like the sewer.
At this point, Blago turns to other recourses for bribes. The financially struggling Tribune Company which owns the Chicago Tribune is run by a real estate billionaire who paid far too much for it, assuming far too much debt. He wants to sell the teams Wrigley Field to the Illinois Sports Authority, a taxpayer-supported organization which is headed by an ex-Republican governor with the tastes of Suleiman the Magnificent who unsuccessfully defended Ryan, James (Big Jimbo) Thompson (whose blue-chip firm was retained to advise get this!...Blago on his personal ethics). Aha! Blago sends word that he can be supportive if the Tribune fires the editorial board which has been critical of him and has supported a recall vote against him. No soap.
All the while the feds are listening to these scatological conversations between Blago and others. When Blago starts trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, Fitzgerald becomes alarmed. Then he is notified indirectly via Rahm Emanuel from the president-elects office that yes indeed Blago is trying to shop the appointment. Deciding to nab Blago before he names a senator and makes money on the deal, Fitzgerald sends FBI agents to Blagos Chicago house at 6 a.m. Dec. 9, taking the governor into custodyat the same time arresting his top aide putting both in handcuffs and taking them to the federal building for indictment. Shocked shocked!...Emil Jones and his compatriot call the legislature into special session to strip Blagos right to name anyone to the Senate and to substitute for this patronage a special election.
All day long the national media covered this but a remarkable thing happened with the coverage. Very-very few outlets remarked that Blago is a Democratin contradistinction to the fact that when his predecessor was indicted and convicted everyone .I mean everyone heard repeatedly that George Ryan is a Republican.
Conservatives and 1st amendment supporters should cheer the news reported last week that Barack Obama outspent John McCain in the campaignby raising twice as much as the defeated Republican hitting $745 million total, the largest acquisition of funds for a presidential candidate in U.S. history and all by private means, with no help from federal subsidies which he disdained.
Whats good about it? Simply that its almost a dead-certainty that no future presidential candidate of either party will ever accept federal subsidies to their campaigns. Federal matching funds are contained in the provisions of McCain-Feingold, the misnamed reform legislation that tries to short-circuit private contributions to politics, a 1st amendment right. The only candidate to reject McCain-Feingold was Obama who ended up wallowing in dough raised solely by private means. Indeed his campaign shows a $30 million surplus after having spent the moon to win in 2008.
The McCain-Feingold law of 2002 says you can accept its provisions on limiting your private funding and receive a wad of federal dough for use after the conventionsor you can choose to go it alone and rely on private resources and get no federal subsidy. As a reform candidate, Obama first pledged that he would accept the restrictions applied by McCain-Feingold. But when his fund-raising boomed he took a second look at his phenomenal success and decided, rightly, to break his pledge and go with the straight free-market money-collecting as it used to be in the old days with no federal subsidy. To cover himself with the voters, his team spun the story that his private money-raising was edifyingrelying on small donations and creative use of the Internet, many under $200 apiece and thus was a shining beacon of reform itself.
In contrast, as co-author of his mislabeled reform act, McCain felt he had no other choice but to chastely accept its limitations that required him to cease all private fundraising after the GOP convention and receive a federal stipend ($84 million) instead. Bad decision. McCain could have easily raised far more than the $84 million. It is a law McCain should never, ever have had anything to do with and which George W. Bush shouldnt ever, ever, have signed. Why did the law happen? The answer tells much about political machinations and the original McCain-Bush feud that began when both ran against each other in 2000.
Bush beat McCain for the nomination in 2000 in one of the bitterest campaigns in all U.S. history. He not only out-raised McCain in the money department but enraged the old Vietnam warrior by allegedly, in McCains view, using dirty politics to do it. Vitriol and dirty tricks were used on both sides by means of push-polls where a pretend pollster calls you and conveys a poisonous bit of gossip i.e. if you knew that so-and-so was a homosexual, would you still vote for him?
McCains anonymous push-pollsters suggested Bush was a slacker in the Vietnam war. But the most graphic thumb-in-the-eye tactics were used against McCain whether sponsored frontally by Bush has never been proven. They came after McCain won the New Hampshire primary over Bush in an upset on Feb. 1 of that year. The next round would come in South Carolina on the 19th of the montha heavily pro-military state where McCain was thought to have a decided edge.
Then a series of anonymous push-polls, emails, flyers and faxes began that alleged that McCain could well be a Manchurian candidate, along the lines of the 1962 film starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey. It suggested that McCain may have become so brain-washed by his five years of torture in Vietnam captivity that he was unbalanced and would be actually a potential pro-Communist threat if he ever got to the White House. The film had Harvey, an ex-POW psychologically triggered to erupt as a Communist assassin whenever someone showed him a Queen of Diamonds playing card. The push-pollsters asked: Could it be that McCain is so wired by his North Vietnam captors? This push-poll flopped. But another actually took hold in culturally conservative South Carolina.
It was that McCain conceived a black child whom he and his second wife, Cindy, subsequently adopted. The rumor mill in South Carolina reacted with a jolt. Truth: After having three kids of their own, Cindy McCain, a multi-millionaire heiress, visited a Bangladeshi orphanage run by Mother Teresa. She became captivated by an abandoned 3-month-old girl who needed medical treatment. Cindy brought the baby back to the U. S. and told McCain that they must adopt her. They did (giving her the name Bridget).
The black baby rumor may well have killed off McCains chances in South Carolina where, on Feb. 19, Bush beat McCain 53% to 42%. McCain has indeed a famous blowtorch temper and an impulsiveness that often is his worst enemy. He became convinced the rumor was generated by a rumor mill tied to Bush. When some key evangelical Protestant ministers endorsed Bush, McCain lashed out at them which caused major complications for his future political life. And he vowed to get even with Bush. Using his fathers rolodex, Bush had raised far more money than had McCain. Also, Bushs loss of the popularity vote to Al Gore in 2000 put his future reelection in serious jeopardy. So McCain decided to put Bush in a trick-box for four years hence.
In 2002 with Bush in the White House, McCain introduced with Wisconsin liberal Democrat Russ Feingold the reform bill that continued the old dictum of giving presidential candidates the option to limit their own fund-raising by accepting a federal stipend hoping Bush would veto it. And the bill went much farther than that. In order to get greater liberal support, McCain had to concede much more than he wantedbut he swallowed hard and rammed it through anyhow.
But his bill was overkill. In order to satisfy the radical Feingold, the bill snuffed out issue ads that named a federal candidate by banning any ad by a corporation or non-profit within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. With it, McCain became the darling of the anti-Bush left and captured the hearts of the Bush-hating mainstream media including The New York Times. The Times saw the bill as acting in its own direct interest. It saw that the bill would ban ads from some reactionary corporations and some right-wing groups like right-to-life which the newspaper believed would pollute the political process.
Some conservative groups like right-to-life along with some left-of-center groups were also activated, including the ACLU and some labor unions, which saw it as a threat to their advocacy. All jumped into the fray and were mobilized shrewdly by one of the most cunning strategists in the Senate, Republican Mitch McConnell who failing to defeat the bill in the Senate drafted a protest to the U. S. Supreme Court.
After McCain-Feingold passed the Congress, Bush who hated the law, dilly-dallied over whether to sign it or not. McCain sat in the Senate, grinning and folded his arms waiting, believing that Bush would veto it and thereby incur the wrath of the liberal reform group which he headed. He bet Bush would veto itwhich would bring him great trouble in 2004.
In the White House, Bush knew what McCain was thinking and on the advice of Karl Rove decided to out-fox his old adversary. So he signed the bill he hated, while holding his nose, declaring that while it had some good points, the speech limitation provision could well be unconstitutional. He booted the issue over to the Supreme Court which he prayed would find it unconstitutional. The Supremes didnt touch it at first but in December, 2006 the high court, in FEC v. Wisconsin Right-to-Life ruled the limitation on issue advertising was, in fact, unconstitutional. But it only invalidated that specific portion, leaving the remainder of the laws intact including federal subsidies for candidates eschewing private post-convention fundraising. All leading (by poll ratings) candidates for president in 2008 in both parties accepted it including Obamaat first. Initially he made a showpiece of agreeing to accept McCain-Feingold provisions along with John McCain.
However by mid- 2008 Obama had tapped a vein and saw a money spurting money all over the place like the Lucas gusher at Spindletop, Beaumont, Texas in 1901. Obama decided to take the chance, which was the right political decision. In June, he announced he wasnt going to accept federal subsidies and would continue going full throttle on private fund-raising and topped McCain by a huge avalanche of cash. McCain raged, called this change of heart a scandal, begged his onetime liberal pals in the press to take his side. Guess what? They didnt. They had found a new liberal hero, the Messiah from Chicago. Since then, McCain has raged in public, in private and in vain. Now its exceedingly likely, given Obamas success at private funding, that every future presidential candidate will try to imitate him and McCain-Feingold will wither from disusean excellent occurrence.
Its important to stress: Obama didnt win because he outspent McCain. Never in U.S. history going back to 1789 has a party survived being in charge during both unpopular war and recession. Despite Obamas substantial money edge, McCain was on an average of 5 points ahead until the economic crisis hit. After the mid-September economic meltdown, Obama zoomed ahead of McCain by 5 points and kept the lead all the way.
But the idea that it is purer to accept money limitations and qualify for federal subsidy is ludicrous. As Republicans learned too late.