Why is there none for Democrats?
By Jonah Goldberg
October 01, 2008, 7:20 a.m.
You know the old joke about Winston Churchill seated next to a woman at a posh dinner party?
Churchill says “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?” The socialite responds: My goodness, Mr. Churchill. . . . Well, I suppose I would.” Adjusted for inflation were talking tens of millions of dollars after all. Then Churchill replies, “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”
Lady: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!”
Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”
It’s a joke worth keeping in mind when looking at the two political parties, particularly for those who think there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them.
The House GOP has come under a lot of criticism for its failure to deliver on its end of the bipartisan bailout deal, including from yours truly. Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership has come in for some moderate pro forma criticism for failing to do what was necessary to see the legislation passed.
It is a funny — though not ha-ha funny — double standard: When the GOP ran the show, it was always held responsible for every “bad” outcome. Now that the GOP is in the minority, it’s still held responsible for every “bad” outcome. I suppose it’s a similar standard that somehow allows the Democrats in charge of overseeing the financial sector to whine that there hasn’t been enough oversight without even the slightest sting of embarrassment.
On that point, you know what I haven’t seen in all of the coverage of the bailout-blow-up? I haven’t seen a single interview with a Democrat who voted against this deal. I’ve seen interviews of Republicans who’ve voted for it. I’ve seen interviews of Republicans who voted against it. And, of course, I’ve seen interviews with the Democratic leadership in which they blamed the Republicans who voted against it but not the 94 Dems who voted against it.
Now I certainly haven’t watched every bit of news coverage nor have I read every story about the failed bailout vote, so I’m sure I’m missing some counter-examples. But I think the discrepancy of coverage is real. The press is eager to hear from these free market zealots, these Herbert Hoover* mini-mes, who would put their bizarre ideological concerns ahead of the country’s interests. Never mind that these alleged zealots actually believe what they are doing is in fact in the long term interests of the country. The press always knows that when conservatives refuse to compromise it’s because they are dogmatic ideologues, brainwashed acolytes in the cult of Milton Friedman and Adam Smith.
But why didn’t those Democrats vote for the bailout that their own leadership contends is vital for the financial health of the country?
That’s a question that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.
Part of the explanation stems from the combined incompetence and partisanship of Nancy Pelosi who let many of her closest allies in the Congress — including five committee chairs who owe their positions to Pelosi — vote no. (Karl Rove’s lecture on this point is extremely instructive.). Pelosi let 16 Democrats in tight races vote against the bill in order to save their seats. If that standard is good for the majority party, I would like to hear Nancy Pelosi explain why it’s unacceptable for the minority party. As Jim Geraghty says, “She’s the speaker, she controls the chamber. You can’t say, ‘vote for this bill, it is necessary’ and ‘we will target any Republican who votes for this bill’ at the same moment. Of course, you can actually say it, because that’s what the Democrats have been saying. You just can’t say it with any integrity.
But I’m interested in the Democratic equivalent of the Republican ideologues. A majority of the hyper-leftwing Congressional Black Caucus — the self-anointed “conscience of the Congress” — voted against the bailout, even though they come from some of the safest districts in America. A majority of the Hispanic caucus voted no, too. Half of the Congressional Progressive Caucus voted against the bailout.
Have you heard anyone denounce these people as “left-wing ideologues”? I haven’t.
What would have brought these people around? Renowned intellectual Jesse Jackson Jr. says that he voted against the bill in effect because it didn’t cost enough. If it was more of Christmas tree of left-wing New Deal policies he’d be in favor of a bailout. Indeed, you can be sure that most of these Democrats would have voted for the legislation if the old 20-percent-off-the-top for La Raza and ACORN provisions were still in there. Read the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s letter to Nancy Pelosi. The short version: We’ll vote for it — if it nationalizes America’s financial system.
Now, the interesting thing here is how different the motives are here, and how they run counter to the liberal conventional wisdom and the prevailing media narrative. The Mike Pence “ideologues” opposed this bill on principle even though we’re always told by the Thomas Frank crowd that those laissez-faire Republicans are merely the willing pawns of America’s financial ruling class. Their principles are mere window dressing for grasping, evil capitalists. But the financial ruling class supports this bill. They’re begging for it in fact. These right-wing ideologues believe there must be a cheaper and better way to protect the American taxpayer that preserves economic liberty.
Now look at the ideologues of the Democratic party. This crowd voted against the bailout because the government simply didn’t meet their price. If the bailout proposal came with a $100 million no-strings-attached earmark for every congressional district, does anyone doubt that Jesse Jackson Jr. would hail this “heroic” legislation? Does anyone doubt that Mike Pence would still have voted against it?
In short, we’ve already established what kind of party the Democrats are, now we’re just haggling about their price.
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning and editor-at-large of National Review Online.
* Just for the record. Herbert Hoover’s response to the stock-market crash was not laissez-faire (though he certainly had sympathies in that direction) and no serious historian of the Great Depression still claims as much. Hoover has become a literary device, a useful myth for liberals who claim that FDR’s activism ended the Depression. The truth is that FDR’s efforts prolonged the Depression in no small part because FDR carried Hoover’s interventionism to its logical extreme.