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Frank Rich on the National Circus: Booker, Bain, and Bipartisan Narcissism

As everyone now knows, Newark Mayor Cory Booker broke rank on Meet the Press last Sunday, saying that the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney's Bain record were a "nauseating" distraction from the real issues. (Booker did not specify what those “real issues” were.) Why'd he do that?
I hope no one is nauseated if I suggest that this was idle self-promotion on Booker’s part. His message was: I am the reasonable, above-the-fray, bipartisan statesman who will deign to serve as the adult in the room while the two presidential campaigns throw dirt at each other like kids in a sandbox. Booker is a smart and capable leader but I fear he may have spent too many mornings drinking the “Why can’t we just all get along?” Kool-Aid (or should I say Starbucks?) at Morning Joe. To my ear, this seemed more about his own narcissism than about Obama, Romney, or the country. It was equally embarrassing, if not exactly nauseating, to watch him back down on his Twitter feed and in a YouTube video that left you wondering if he had the courage of any of his convictions or was ready for prime time on the national stage.

Obama quickly rebuffed Booker, saying that the Bain attacks were very much what the campaign was about. Is he going to keep hammering on this until election day?
I was heartened that Obama didn’t run away from his point, which is not to attack business in general or the private equity business in particular, but to go after Romney’s own record — the main record Romney is running on, which is his career at Bain. Romney has steadily misrepresented that history in his effort to position himself as a Mr. Fix-it for the economy and a brilliant exemplar of job creation in the private sector. Job creation was not Romney’s mission at Bain, as Obama has pointed out. And as if to inadvertently prove Obama’s point, the Romney campaign has from the start given wildly varying and highly suspicious figures of how many jobs he “created” at Bain — it’s been as high as 100,000 and as low as unspecified “thousands.” (Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, which ranked 47th in the country in job creation on his watch, was arguably even worse.) So why shouldn’t Obama go after Romney’s loosey-goosey specifics? The Bain ad that so “nauseated” Booker — in which actual downsized workers, not actors playing them, describe their experience — was directly patterned on those produced by Bob Shrum and Tad Devine for Ted Kennedy in the 1994 senatorial race where he clobbered Romney by 17 percentage points. Romney didn’t know how to answer those ads then and still doesn’t.

Meet the Press host David Gregory very much seconded Booker's discomfort, grinning from ear to ear as he said, "this is the difference between Washington figures and local leaders like yourself who are trying to grow the economy." Revealing window into the Beltway consensus? Or good point?
A non sequitur, really. If the point was that only local leaders understand the positive role of private equity (at its most effective) in growing businesses, that’s ridiculous. Obama — whose 2008 campaign raised $3.5 million from private equity and whose 2012 campaign continues to seek such contributions — agrees with Booker on this. (Booker is also a recipient of private equity contributions, including from Bain hands.) Also in agreement, presumably, are the major public employees unions, whose pension plans have invested $220 billion in private equity as of late last year, according to one recent accounting. A better discussion would be to press both Obama and Romney on what they intend to do about the new and chilling fissures in our financial infrastructure revealed by the gargantuan JPMorgan Chase gambling loss, and the myriad unanswered questions now arising about Morgan Stanley, Goldman, Nasdaq, and other parties to the Facebook IPO.

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Category: General

Democrats’ gay marriage excuse

Are Democratic politicians, like Andrew Cuomo, using social issues to distract from the economic status quo?

By David Sirota

Headlines transmit information in its rawest form — and the best of headlines crystallize indelible truths. Such was the case this week when the New York Daily News blared this simple but iconic headline: “Cuomo: Minimum Wage Harder to Get Than Gay Marriage.”

The story quoted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) claiming that the effort to raise wages for the poorest of his constituents represents a “broader and deeper” divide than the recent successful fight to legalize same-sex matrimony in the Empire State. Though the piece quickly dissolved into the ether, it should have received more attention because it is an important Rosetta Stone — one that translates this era’s inscrutable political rhetoric into a clear admission that money trumps everything else.

Decoding this Rosetta Stone requires just a bit of contextual information from Siena College. According to the school’s surveys, only 58 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing gay marriage, while a whopping 78 percent support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50.

Put Cuomo’s declaration next to those numbers, and the revelation emerges: in a political arena dominated by corporate money, the governor is acknowledging that politicians will champion initiatives that don’t challenge corporate power, but will avoid promoting those that do. Not only that, Cuomo is admitting this is the case regardless of public opinion.

Events in New York illustrate the larger dynamic at work. As the New York Times reported, despite lukewarm public support, Cuomo was able to get the state legislature to legalize gay marriage after Wall Street financiers dumped cash into the campaign for equal rights. Knowing that marriage doesn’t threaten their profits, these moneyed interests opted to help their ally Cuomo notch a strategic win — one that allows the governor to preen as a great liberal champion to the state’s left-leaning voters, all while he simultaneously presses an anti-union, economically conservative agenda that moneyed interests support.

Now, of course, the situation is reversed. With New York’s recession-battered voters supporting a minimum wage hike, the greed-is-good crowd is firmly aligned against the initiative. Why? Because unlike gay marriage, which requires no corporate sacrifice, the modest minimum wage boost may slightly reduce corporate profits — and that’s something the fat cats in the executive suites never permit without a fight.

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Category: General

ALEC attacks shareholders

Documents reveal that the shady group is helping corporations block new efforts to limit their political spending

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Should shareholders have a say in how much money corporations give to candidates, super PACs and dark money groups? The American Legislative Exchange Committee, or ALEC, doesn’t think so.

ALEC is best known for giving moneyed special interests a hand in crafting “model legislation,” including the NRA-backed “stand your ground” laws that have touched off a furor in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. But a trove of internal documents obtained by the advocacy group Common Cause shows that the group’s activities are far more varied than was previously known; it does everything from issuing boilerplate press releases to flagging how lawmakers should vote on given pieces of legislation.

It also lobbies actively to scuttle shareholders’ rights – specifically to limit their ability to weigh in on political giving. Last year, for instance, New York state lawmakers introduced a pair of bills requiring corporations to get shareholder approval before making donations to politicians or outside groups, such as super PACs. Backers argue the measure would provide crucial safeguards for investors. “Giving shareholders a voice ensures that their money isn’t used for political purposes they don’t agree with or that are detrimental to the corporation,” explains Adam Skaggs, a senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school.

Nevertheless, ALEC’s Public  Safety and Elections Task Force — which has since been disbanded amid the outcry over stand your ground — sent out an “issue alert” to its New York members urging them to vote the measure down. Among other things, the document, which was dated Feb. 15, 2011, argued the bill imposed “oppressive and impractical requirements on corporations,” which restricted corporate free speech and thus could “deter and delay these entities from participating in political debate.”

“Not only do these burdensome requirements impede upon First Amendment rights, they are also unnecessary,” the memo continued. “Shareholders always have the option of voting out board members and removing management who engage in independent expenditures contrary to the interests of the company and its owners … Legislation punishing speech stifles uninhibited public debate and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment.” The effort was apparently successful: The New York legislation is currently stalled.

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Category: General

Democrats and Bain

Executives at Romney's old private-equity firm have donated more to the Democratic Party than the GOP. Why?

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We all know that Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s former firm, is the paragon of capitalist evil, destroying the middle class in order to enrich greedy vulture oligarchs. We also all know that the Democratic Party is the defender of the middle class and the bold adversary of corporate pillaging. That’s why these facts generate so much cognitive dissonance:

Democrats have accepted more political donations than Republicans from executives at Bain Capital, complicating the left’s plan to attack Mitt Romney for his record at the private-equity firm.

During the last three election cycles, Bain employees have given Democratic candidates and party committees more than $1.2 million. The vast majority of that sum came from senior executives.

Republican candidates and party committees raised over $480,000 from senior Bain executives during that time period.

While Romney himself has received more contributions from his former firm than Obama has, “President Obama received a sizable share as well.” More generally, “campaign finance records show that Democrats collect more money from Wall Street than does the GOP.”

Why would these cunning Master of the Universe villains want so robustly to fund a party that is so adverse to their interests? The only coherent answer is that the party which they’re funding is anything but adverse to their interests. From today’s Washington Post, comparing White House visitor logs to lobbyist registration records:

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Category: General

When Democrats gave up on guns

The NRA’s attacks on Barack Obama are a reminder of the futility of his party’s 2nd Amendment strategy

The psychology of the National Rifle Association can be funny.

You might think the gun rights group would be deeply suspicious of Mitt Romney, who signed a ban on assault weapons and small handguns as governor of Massachusetts and assured voters there that “I don’t line up with the NRA.” And you might think its members would have at least grudging appreciation for Barack Obama’s presidential record, which includes signing a law to allow loaded guns in national parks and which is devoid of any major push for gun ownership restrictions – even as two gun-related tragedies captured national attention.

But no, it’s Romney who’s getting the warm welcome at the NRA’s St. Louis convention this afternoon, and it’s the prospect of a second Obama term that has the group in a panic.  The president’s passive record on guns, according to Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, is just “a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term.”

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Category: General