Republicans put a full court press on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice that ultimately squashed plans to appoint her as Secretary of State. They have also waged an unprecedented campaign against Chuck Hagel's nomination as Defense Secretary, based on perceptions of whether or not he'll be hawkish enough in the Middle East. But if they want to find fault in nominations to key positions which are likely to gain real traction with average Americans, there are much better battles to be fought.
The Susan Rice debacle was bad theater and even though far-right pundits might continue to back-slap each other when they see the head of a young, dynamic and highly-capable foreign policy expert on their mantle, unless the GOP picks up the Massachusetts Senate Seat that John Kerry's appointment vacated – their real target from the start – it will be remembered more as a sleazy comment on the inner workings of beltway politics than some sort of victory.
Republicans now have their sights trained on derailing Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator who mulled a Presidential run in 2008, before eventually jumping ranks to support President Obama over former Senate ally John McCain, largely over disillusionment with the Bush Doctrine and McCain's fervor for expanding U.S. intervention in the Middle East. Through thinly-veiled PAC's, the party is waging an unprecedented campaign, including TV, newspaper, radio and internet ads that depict Hagel as soft on Iran and weak-willed toward Israel.
The real problem with Hagel is that he's long been one of the few conservatives to acknowledge the contradiction in cutting spending and growing defense. Like the President, he believes that the United States cannot afford the fiscal burden of the military adventurism and neo-colonialism that have come to define Republican foreign policy since 2000, when people like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld began to hold sway. As the hearings over sequestration proved, Republican legislators are far from ready to cease suckling at the breast of the defense industry, so having one of their own speaking out against growing defense expenditures at a time of historic lows in revenue, and in the face of an aging population, clearly will not do.
But if Republicans are so keen on keeping their overlords in the military-industrial complex happy, they would be well-served to direct attention on the sugar daddies of their Democratic opponents – Wall Street. President Obama thundered over the idea that Wall Street would be getting a new top cop who was going to get tough with the banksters. Mary Jo White was sold as the brash former prosecutor who took on Mafia Don John Gotti, as well as the terrorists behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. “You don’t want to mess with Mary Jo,” said the President, when he announced her as his pick to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Little was said of the fact that White has spent the last decade getting rich defending the same Wall Street firms she would now supposedly be getting tough with. White defended JPMorgan Chase in cases brought against it relating to the financial implosion, and was Ken Lewis' lawyer when the Bank of America CEO was accused of defrauding investors by not disclosing the losses at Merrill Lynch before Bank of America bought it. White was right there, protecting Lewis by arguing in his favor by way of gray areas in the law, just as she did for other clients involved in the biggest banking disaster in U.S. history.
White was so renowned that even Republican Senator Bill Frist lawyered up with her when the S.E.C. and the Justice Department started investigating whether he was involved in insider trading in shares of HCA, Governor Rick Scott's former hospital chain. White was able to get them to shut down the investigation and also helped German company Siemens when it pleaded guilty to charges of bribery, paying a record $1.6 billion penalty.
Once you look at the fact that both White and her husband are long-time Wall Street lawyers who have made tens of millions of dollars defending the questionable practices of financial titans, while developing deep ties with the biggest and most powerful firms in the industry, you stop seeing a tough-talking prosecutor and start seeing an industry insider now in charge of policing the very people she got rich defending. Democrats who cried foul when President Bush stacked regulatory agencies with lobbyists are noticeably quiet as President Obama does the same, merely trading their preferred special interest – financial services – for Bush's penchant toward energy and agriculture.
White's not the only new name with ties to Wall Street. Treasury Secretary nominee Jack Lew made millions working for Citigroup as it began to meltdown, threatening the entire financial system. Lew, who currently serves as the President's Chief of Staff, came on board long after Citi's problems began, managing the bank’s alternative investments group beginning in January of 2008, but still got rich while the company took a dive.
Later that same year, Citigroup turned to Washington for a massive bailout, receiving $476 billion in cash and guarantees (more taxpayer money than any other company), but not before paying Lew a bonus of just under a million dollars. Again, Democrats who railed over President Bush's fondness of Goldman Sachs alum should be equally concerned about Lew's allegiances to an industry (and a company) that made him a very rich man.
When looking at Hagel, it should also be noted that there's plenty to dig into aside from old quotes about the “Israel lobby.” Hagel's service in Vietnam is aggressively touted by the President, but his hearings this week shed very little light on what he might have learned from that experience and how it has shaped his view of foreign policy.
As an excellent piece in Mother Jones magazine recently pointed out, no one has asked about incidents like when a drunken sergeant from his unit climbed up on an armored personnel carrier and opened fire on an orphanage with a fifty-caliber machine gun, or other unarmed civilians who were executed by members of the unit where both Hagel and his brother served.
Then again, Democrats had already given a pass to another former Nebraska Senator, Bob Kerrey, when it was revealed that while a young officer in that war, he led a raid in which a dozen or so unarmed women, children and even infants were ruthlessly slaughtered in a peasant village. Kerrey originally reported that 21 Viet Cong were killed and even accepted a bronze star for the mission, later running for President before the massacre was made public and even serving on the 9/11 Commission after. So I suppose there's not exactly a lot of room for them to hold Hagel accountable if he did in fact merely sit idle in the face of such horrific travesties.
More surprisingly, there has been almost no discussion of the very valid suspicion of voting fraud involved in Hagel's rise from conservative Nebraska talk radio host to U.S. Senator. Hagel's company, American Information Systems, was a pioneer in electronic voting equipment – the same equipment that was used in his Senate races. In 1996, Hagel won stunning upsets in both his primary and general election races, the latter against popular incumbent Democratic Governor Ben Nelson, who'd been elected in a landslide two years before (and was ironically later elected to the Senate upon Bob Kerrey's retirement in 2000, where he still serves).
Hagel not only became the first Republican-elected Senator in Nebraska in 24 years, but he won in a landslide, despite polls that showed it a dead heat. Hagel won virtually every demographic group, including many minority communities which no Republican had previously won – ever. No one could explain how a previously unknown millionaire could suddenly become such a populist success across party lines, especially since there was no evidence of such support prior to the race – or after it. Nonetheless, Hagel was reelected with 83 percent of the vote in 2002 in what Hagel's Senate web page touted as “the biggest political victory in the history of Nebraska."
Hagel had stepped down as CEO of the company just two weeks before announcing his candidacy, but failed to disclose that he still maintained millions of dollars worth of stock interest in the company that would count the vast majority of votes on machines it designed, through a program which it had written. In fact, the parent-company's founder even served as Hagel's campaign treasurer. None of that seems to matter to Democrats of course, who are spellbound by the idea of a Republican who will call the defense budget “bloated” or call the Iraq War a mistake. Never mind that he's been stamped as Council on Foreign Relations-approved, sits on the board of Exxon and wears just about every other stripe they'd normally gripe about.
None of any of these things are being discussed or used in positive or negative campaigns for or against any of the candidates either. The truth is, tampering with elections is the last thing that Republicans want to draw attention to, while Democrats would prefer that their financial dependance on keeping Wall Street free from as much oversight as possible is also not brought into the open.
None of this should surprise the American taxpayer who continues to watch special interests have their run of the capital regardless of what side controls the White House or the Congress. Our bought and paid for government simply isn't designed to function with their best interests at heart. The people who bring us the future will be the same people who brought us the present, all because we refuse to learn from their past.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook. Sign up for a free email subscription and get The Bradenton Times' Thursday Weekly Recap and Sunday Edition delivered to your email box each week at no cost.