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« John Massengale | Main | Evolution and Architecture »

July 30, 2004

A Curse on Our Political Class

Dear Vanessa --

Could our political class have come up with a less appetizing set of Presidential candidates than GWBush and John Kerry? Well, I suppose the answer is yes -- and I suppose we'll see worse someday, too. But still.

In honor of this year's political stinkiness, I hereby vow to forsake party cheerleading and to focus instead on a question that to my mind is much more substantial than which jerk should win. (There'll be plenty of cheerleading. Why add to it?) I'm going to focus instead on how self-interested our political class has become. Bipartisan mockery, baby! To give my entire Evil Agenda away, where this year's presidential election is concerned, my one and only blogpoint is gonna be: "What makes you think either party is interested in the common good?"

To kick off the fun at the end of this Democratic-Convention week ...

  • Did you realize that, of the ten richest Senators, eight are Democrats? Further details here.

  • Here's a terrific David Bernstein article from the Boston Phoenix about how a hundred million dollars of unregulated money is supporting John Kerry. We owe this to slippery organizations known as "527s" -- "independent committees" that, while supposedly forbidden from directly supporting a candidate, are still allowed to buy lots of partisan TV-ad time. One fun consequence: Kerry is able to say that he won't run any attack ads because the 527s will be taking care of the negativity for him. Don't miss Bernstein's breakdown of the sources of much of this 527 money, by the way: everyday folks with last names like Soros, Pritzker, Bing, Getty, and Rockefeller.

  • Michelle Malkin has a good column about who some of the other big Democratic donors are here.

  • Fun bipartisan note: although corporations are hamstrung these days in terms of making direct political donations, they're still allowed to support the national conventions. Bizarrely, the committees that put on the conventions are considered to be charitable organizations -- which means that the donating corporations get to put the parties in their debt, and then write the costs of this blackmail off on their taxes.

My own political p-o-v this year? Completely cynical, but open to happy surprises.



posted by Michael at July 30, 2004


Since I agree with several of his points in this case (usually I don't), I thought some of Andrew Sullivan's points at were interesting:

"Kerry may be the right man - and the conservative choice - for a difficult and perilous time."

"no one can doubt that the Bush administration has been pursuing some highly unconservative policies."

"Bush has done a huge amount to destroy the coherence of a conservative philosophy of American government; and he has been almost criminally reckless in his hubris in the conduct of the war."

Posted by: john massengale on July 30, 2004 3:00 PM

Nice of Sullivan -- a liberal -- to tell me who's the "conservative choice."

Next he'll be telling me how to pick up girls.

Posted by: the conservative on July 30, 2004 3:15 PM

I've been scratching my head wondering what your point is here. On the one hand, you say that the Democrats are "anti-business", and then on the other you deride them for being rich. I thought that you, of all people, would be a subscriber to the "there's nothing wrong with being rich" school of thought -- but it seems you're perfectly happy playing the politics of envy when it's Democrats you're attacking. Where are your attacks on multimillionaires Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc? (Rumsfeld I've seen estimated as being worth north of $250 million.)

Posted by: Felix on July 30, 2004 3:50 PM

This seems to be a dangerous topic. However, to answer your first question---my goodness, YES, I can imagine a less appealing choice! In my opinion we had one four years ago!! Bush and Gore---or as witsters said---"Gush" and Bore".

If you took the net worth of Bush, Cheney, Kerry, Edwards, Gore and Lieberman, wonder how much over %1 billion it totals?? Why do politicians, however humble their roots, manage to take a $200,000 a year job in Washington for a few years, complain about having to maintain two households on their own dime (one in Washington, one in their home state) and always leave government service really rich???

Posted by: annette on July 30, 2004 3:56 PM

John -- I wonder if Sullivan's got a point about Kerry. He certainly does about Bush!

The Conservative -- So you don't buy Sullivan's claim to be a conservative?

Felix -- I'm looking forward to dissing the Repubs too. All tips and leads appreciated, although god knows there isn't any shortage of evidence out there.

Annette -- I actually hadn't run across Gush and Bore before. That's hilarious, thanks. And, hey, that's an idea -- maybe we should just see if we can get the Senate to secede from the union. God knows they'd have one of the biggger GNPs if they did so.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 30, 2004 4:03 PM

Democratic Senators are rich? Great. I always assume a positive correlation between intellience and money and I am glad to see that it true. That reassures me about being a Democrat!

Posted by: David Sucher on July 30, 2004 4:25 PM

your comment wasn't addressed to me, but I think I know the answer to your question.
You can't seat on two chairs (or whatever British version of that proverb is - something about baking your cake and eating it too?)
You can't advocate limiting big businesses in getting richer, taxing mid- and small- businesses to the max in order to get the state to be more and more socialistic and at the same time get millions in inflated lawyer fees and book deals.
It's sort of unprincipled, don't you think?
Kinda like Barb[ie] Streisand, with her income, shedding tears for the small guy.
I guess, if somebody candid enough would ask her to share her millions with the poor "unfortunates" she's so concerned about, the "nothing wrong with being rich" will come out immediately.
Reminds me about Mr. Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Communist Party (Party for the People, I stress), who was one of the richest people in SU - and who knows, may be on Earth?

At least Bush and Co are not hypocrites. IMO.

Posted by: Tatyana on July 30, 2004 4:48 PM

racketeers are very intelligent people, too.

Posted by: Tatyana on July 30, 2004 4:49 PM

two professions make me puzzled about their job descriptions:
- government consultant who's a retiree from gov.
- filantropist.
Met both not long ago and very curious.

Posted by: Tatyana on July 30, 2004 4:59 PM

I'm wondering if there's some variant of Godwin's law which applies to people who compare Barbra Streisand to Leonid Brezhnev... but to Tatyana's points, of course you can be rich and be in favour of higher taxes. That was the whole point of Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC. He knows his inflated book-deal proceeds should be taxed at a higher rate -- and that's why he wants the Democrats to win.

As for hypocrisy, I'd simply point out that Bush & Cheney talk a great deal about free markets and small government, but both made their millions solely because of their political connections.

Posted by: Felix on July 30, 2004 5:35 PM

I wonder what law applies to people siting Clinton as moral authority.
I don't see hypocrisy in openly defending interests of the hand that feeds you.

Posted by: Tatyana on July 30, 2004 5:47 PM

Felix - when one has made one's pile, one usually turns to consolidation and defense. Drawing up the ladders behind, as it were. Why would rich people be pro-business? Business means disruption, competition, change, and that means threat. It's mainly the little guy who benefits from capitalism; those atop the greasy pole hate and fear it, mostly, and seek ways to tame its wrath.

Michael - I'm going to focus instead on how self-interested our political class has become.

Are you familiar with public choice economics?

It is the behaviour of public sector bureaucrats which is at the heart of public choice theory. While they are supposed to work in the public interest, putting into practice the policies of government as efficiently and effectively as possible, public choice theorists see bureaucrats as self-interested utility-maximizers, motivated by such factors as: "salary, perquisites of the office, public reputation, power, patronage...and the ease of managing the bureau."

James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Fred McChesney are the big names. The founding book is this one.

It's the lefty position that baffles me most: the idea that the State has no self-interest of its own, but is merely a trustworthy neutral conduit through which the will of the people flows. I can't understand how anyone could believe that, yet it seems to be the fundamental presupposition of most left-wing views.

Posted by: Brian on July 30, 2004 6:06 PM

Consolidation and defense after making one's pile? How would I do that? Well, I would slash taxes on unearned income -- inheritance taxes, capital gains taxes, dividend taxes -- while letting the total tax burden on wage-earners actually go up. Yep, sounds like the Bush fiscal policy to me, something which has been opposed vehemently by all the rich Democrats cited.

Posted by: Felix on July 30, 2004 6:19 PM

Hmm, I'm getting the feeling that it ain't gonna be easy breaking y'all of your party cheerleading ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 30, 2004 7:55 PM

I really don't think it's "party cheerleading."
There are real differences of perspective and opinion on how to best order society.
It is not just a game.

Posted by: David Sucher on July 30, 2004 8:54 PM

David, you earnest '60s person you!

I don't see anything wrong with "party cheerleading," in any case, I'm just trying to encourage a slightly different conversation here, that's all. There's plenty of space elsewhere for flagwaving, cheerleading, and go-team-go'ing. For serious debate too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 30, 2004 9:00 PM

Never was and am not now affiliated with any organized political party. Nor planning to be.

David, in my comment above I should've added "racketeers and trial lawyers". Sorry for omission.

Posted by: Tatyana on July 30, 2004 9:12 PM

In re selfishness of the political class--it was interesting to hear from both sides that the networks owe it to them to broadcast political conventions even though the networks will take a substantial loss because hardly anyone wants to watch a political convention. The theory seems to be that the networks could somehow make a political convention interesting if only the networks would try hard enough.

Actually, "hardly anyone" applies to the US. I've heard that Al Jazeera offered lots more hours of the Democratic convention than any US network.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on July 31, 2004 7:11 AM

David Sucher,

I love it. Wealthy GOP politicians are greedy plutocrats but the existence of wealthy Dem politicans just proves their intelligence.

So wealth accumulation is a sign of intelligence. Good to know.

Posted by: Jill on July 31, 2004 4:48 PM

My humble little point, FWIW, was just that it's silly to picture the Dems as any more the party of the little guy than the Repubs are. In terms of who really runs the parties, they're both equally-well characterized as being made up of "a buncha rich people and a buncha special interests." Maybe you like or approve of one set of richpeople/specialinterests better than the other, but that's something else ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 31, 2004 7:09 PM

Sorry, Michael. I can be sickeningly earnest at those times when I am not speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

Posted by: David Sucher on August 1, 2004 2:43 PM

Why would a human being enter politics? For the selfless pursuit and embodiment of profound priniciples? Heh. Try, rather: pathological egoism. Under the guise of representing, these quasi-humans are all about self-elevation and controlling those they ostensibly represent. Politics? I say, based on the fluid, reach-the-proper-level dynamics of Artificial Life science -- with its iterations of autonomous agents -- let's try Anarchy!

Posted by: Tim B. on August 1, 2004 4:12 PM

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