It's been an exciting past couple of decades for us Gen Yers to grow up in. I mean exciting in the full sense of the word, both positive and negative. One of the components that really fascinates me is the tension between being 'reality-based' or 'evidence-based' and being partisan. We like to claim Democrats take the high road, that we're better than Republicans. And often times that is the case; the GOP of the past generation is its own unique brand of hypocrisy and corporatism. That's why Millennials are more likely to identify as Socialists than Republicans. The alternative to the Democratic Party for most Gen Yers isn't the GOP. Rather, it's apathy, a resignation that all politics is theater, that it doesn't matter who gets elected, and despair, that while it might matter who gets elected, there's nothing anyone can do about it, anyway.
But here's the thing. We Democrats are better except when we're not, in which case, we say that it's 'politically expedient' not to investigate possible shortcomings of (wealthy and powerful) Democrats. We can't pressure Person X on Issue Y because it's an election year/we need more seats/the idea isn't popular/blah blah blah.
Maybe there are people out there that approach appeals to, I don't know. Maybe those who grew up in the post-war period have some experiential connection to a time when that worked. I just don't know or understand, and that intrigues me. From my generation's experience, Republican-Lite is precisely how you lose elections. Americans don't like wussy leaders; we like strong leaders. We don't want to be sheltered from mistakes; we want people to acknowledge them and ask forgiveness.
And I think that's why Hamsher has been able to stir up so much passion among leftistism types. Whether you agree with her or not on a particular topic or tactic, she's getting heard. In other words, she's being successful. She's playing the game that's supposed to be monopolized by the corporate voices of the Democratic Party. Reporters are supposed to stenograph whatever the White House says. We're supposed to accept that Presidential appointments are good by royal decree. We're supposed to accept that large Democratic Congressional majorities are weaker than tiny GOP majorities. We're supposed to express sympathy for certain Dems who experience a little hardball when those same Dems are precisely the ones who play the hardest hardball. Like Rahm Emanuel has never used the fuck word in a derogatory manner. Please.
I go into some meta background here because there's a whole generation of us trying to figure out how we plug in, how best to realize change. You see, we don't just 'believe' in change, that's actually too weak and limited a word. We expect the world to change. We're not going to do stuff just because we're told to do stuff (in fact, that's a good way to make many of us not do what is desired). The status quo is not acceptable; business as usual is not acceptable. And we're not afraid to point out ideas that are different; that's what change is. It's different. Deal with it. That's not a threat or a belief or a feeling. It's a statement, an observation, a reflection of reality. Unsustainable things have a way of stopping, eventually.
Of course, we're not unique in this insight; we didn't invent anything here. Personally, I'd argue we're simply another group of Americans in a long line of Americans who refuse to be divided by the divisions of the past. We don't live in a left/right country. It's not that Fox News isn't Fair and Balanced; there's no such thing as fair and balanced. That's an invention of movement conservatism and corporatism that has infected much of our institutional society. We are a diverse society, with a plurality of opinions, and what binds us together are concepts like the rule of law (equality) and majority tyranny (democracy), not a tribal identity of us and them, the self and the other, Democrat and Republican.
Corporate governance has been a huge problem in our country. It basically boils down to two words, transparency and accountability. Rahm Emanuel was a Member of the Board of Directors of FHLMC (Freddie Mac) during a time period where Freddie Mac engaged in a massive accounting fraud, purposefully misstating earnings smack dab in the middle of the housing bubble (talk about unsustainable things ending). In the past year and a half, enormous taxpayer credit lines (which are basically loan guarantees) have been extended, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight has been moved, and transparency and accountability have been pretty much non-existent across the whole financial realm of the big players, from the GSEs (government sponsored enterprises, bailed out by the taxpayers) to the TBTFs(too big to fails, bailed out by the taxpayers).
I'm not naive, and I'm not stupid. Everybody makes mistakes. Some people fuck people other than their spouse. Some people steal stuff. Some people kill people. Some people procrastinate or are irresponsible. Some people have an addiction, from substance abuse to gambling to name-something-that-can-consume-you. And we're all embarrassed when something goes wrong and would prefer that no one else ever know.
The GOP has chosen their path quite clearly. Their strategy is to prevent transparency and accountability, and it's worked pretty well for them, as even the most hardened GOP criminals and sex deviants largely roam free. So the question for us, is, do we take the same approach? When it's 'one of our guys', do we sweep the issue under the rug? Do we not make a scene? Do we try to kill it quietly?
Or, do we seek transparency and accountability? In short, in the words of the OFHEO report (PDF warning), do we ask Emanuel which of these describes his tenure as a Director?
The Board of Freddie Mac was aware of control weaknesses and other management issues that were root causes of many of the problems that led to the ongoing restatement of the financial reports of the Enterprise. The non-executive Directors either 1) did not recognize those “red flags” and make reasonable inquiries of management or 2) failed to take appropriate actions to address the issues raised by the “red flags”.
Assuming Emanuel wasn't a key instigator of the questionable practices, was he incompetent or negligent?
And more importantly for our political purposes, is that question worth investigating? You see, if Eliot Spitzer can be removed for seeing a prostitute, if John Edwards has his career ended for banging a staffer, if William Jefferson can be sentenced for 13 years for bribery from $90,000 in his freezer, if Don Siegelman can sit in jail when he's the victim, what do we do about questionable practices that
- are actually related to one's capacity to competently manage large numbers of people and resources, and
- involve huge sums of money, many more zeros than a few hundred thousand dollars in bribes
For me, this is where the reality-based community is really put to the test. For the record, I disagree with Hamsher's signing onto a letter that is basically Grover Norquist causing trouble. Norquist is one of the few people I believe we should never compromise with. He's out to get us, to overturn the American experiment and our concept of democracy, in a way that few corporatists on the right are out to accomplish. Lewison captured much of my thoughts along those lines on his front-page post.
But it and other efforts along the same line weren't complete. I wanted to add a 'but' (actually, several buts). They picked the low-hanging fruit, working with Norquist, without really addressing the thornier question, which is, at what point do we sacrifice our principles because 'our guy' was the one doing the misgoverning? And a separate question, specific to Rahm Emanuel, is he 'our guy'?
Nate Silver can talk about conspiracy theories until the cows come home. Conspiracy is an odd word, loved by fringe radicals and boring suits; conspiracy is a common charge in the courtroom. It's so common that it's really pretty comical when people try to blow off or discredit an idea by calling it a conspiracy. Conspiracies are at the heart of many criminal affairs. Telling a prosecutor he can't use conspiracy is like telling a soldier he can't fire his weapon. It doesn't make sense and severely alters whole other methods of conduct.
Also, some people have been concerned about feeding into the right-wing campaign to make the whole economy of the past couple decades the fault of over-lending to poor black people. It's an interesting political argument. When our own leadership pushes hard to avoid transparency and accountability, that certainly creates a vacuum for those kinds of conspiracies (there's that word again). But I would turn that on its head. What allows the narrative to develop is the kernel of truth that Fannie and Freddie are one part of the history of the problem, but we haven't offered a forensic investigation of what went wrong, whose fault it was, and how things will be different next time. It is the absence of truth that allows right-wing memes to germinate, not cooperating with right-wingers on specific forays. Over-lending, over-indebtedness, the replacement of wages with credit, is at the heart of the problem. The part that's not true is only the last bit, blaming that on poor minorities. And most Americans are completely unfooled. Everybody on Main Street knows the problems lie in corporate Board rooms on Wall Street and their enablers in Washington.
We have a very simple way to refute the right-wing talking point that the GSEs are a key part of the problem. Stop bailing them out. Stop taking the side of the financial oligarchs on Wall Street and start taking the side of average citizens on Main Street. Act like we don't believe in supply side economics, in trickle down theory. Act like what we really believe is that wealth trickles up. That is, uh, what we believe, right? We've been ridiculing supply side economics for the whole Reagan-Bush era, right?
One other main critique along the political line that's been made is that it's a distraction for the White House; the last thing they need is another witch hunt (ie, another Starr Report). This assumes a very important fact, namely, that Attorney General Holder would actually take this request seriously. While we've got our realist hats on, while we're playing crass politics, let me share something.
We haven't investigated war criminals from the Bush Administration. I'm talking people who ordered the most illegal, most inhumane, most unconstitutional treatment of other people you can imagine, from extended psychological torture to being raped in the ass. These criminals are still walking around.
Do you think there's the slightest chance that the Attorney General is going to go appoint some special prosecutor to look into corporate criminals? Hamsher isn't going to cause another Starr investigation. In fact, if this movement at FDL was able to force the Attorney General's hand, I would change my mind and support her cooperation with Norquist. That would be the biggest victory of populists over the Establishment since the House of Representatives voted down EESA (TARP) last fall. I would suggest that'd be a sacrifice worth making, in pure, crass, political terms. That would do more for corporate governance everywhere than anything else that's happened since the 'crisis' began two and a half years ago. In short, you can't blame Hamsher for causing a scene unless you're ascribing to her the power to really make a scene. If that's the case, then you get people like me jumping on the bandwagon at the margins saying hey, I don't know what change looks like, the future may be uncertain, but let's take a risk. Every once in a while, it's worth rocking the boat.
I hope this is a useful exercise to go through. I see the politics of giving powerful Democrats a free pass, and I'm not entirely opposed to it; in that sense, I am immensely pragmatic. I'm willing to compromise pretty much any ideal in the furtherance of some other ideal. What I urge is for that to be a conscious decision that can be applied as a universal principle, not a knee-jerk reaction that is applied haphazardly, that considers the important factoid in this particular instance that corporate (mis)governance is one of the foundational challenges we have to address if we ever want to reclaim a healthy and wealthy democracy.
In short, does it matter whether the President's Chief of Staff was a good Director or a bad one?
Crossposted at The Seminal at FDL.