David Sirota Needs A Drink

Admitting a bias against populism in general, I still have to address a certain strain of nonsense coming from David Sirota on the latest TARP vote. I’m sort of hesitant to do this, because I doubt it will really do much, but if no one else says it then Sirota’s view will tae hold for lack of a challenge. So consider this another installment of “Know Your Congress.”

Sirota’s problem this time is the handful of new Democratic Senators who voted to release the 2nd $350 billion in TARP money despite opposing the bailout money originally, which he views as some sort of proof that everyone wants to fake populism until they get to Washington until they jump on the “Let’s Screw David Sirota” bandwagon. Or something like that. Here’s Sirota in his own words:

The Senate today voted to give Wall Street another $350 billion today. The vote tells us a lot about the new Senate (you can see the full tally here – and remember, on this vote, a “yes” vote was a vote against releasing the $350 billion bailout tranche).

For instance, both Tom and Mark Udall (D-CO), who voted against the bailout in the House when running for the Senate, switched their votes to support the bailout. You may recall that Mark Udall said he was against the bailout not because he didn’t trust George Bush, but specifically because he was against voting for a bill that had no oversight measures. And yet now he’s voting for the same bailout that includes no new oversight measures. This suggests that the Udalls (like lots of political aristocracy) have absolutely no principles – that, in fact, they are the worst stereotype of politicians: The kind of people who go populist when facing election, and then goes corporatist when he’s comfortably insulated in Washington.

Now there’s not all that much here other than the framing of the outrage-du-jour, but it’s sort of interesting that Sirota chooses to lead off the column with a broad, unprovable, claim that “aristocracies” have no principle. I sure hope I don’t see Sirota approving of ay healthcare plans that look like anything Ted Kennedy or John Dingell have been pushing for the better part of half a century or anything. But the real meat of this comes when Sirota gets around to Jeff Merkley, whom Sirota was a particularly big backer off in the election:

Same thing for Jeff Merkley – he issued a very strong statement against the bailout as a candidate for Senate (again, not because he didn’t trust Bush, but because he said he was conceptually against giving away money to Wall Street), and then voted for the bailout today. Again, this suggests Merkley – who I was previously convinced was a principled working-class populist – is starting his Senate career epitomizing the worst kinds of images people have of politicians – those who sound like they’re for “the folks” at election time, and then who sell out “the folks” once in Washington.

So what we’ve learned is that lots of our new senators – even those who campaigned as populists – are already under the spell of “the most exclusive club in the world.” And frankly, I don’t care what their public explanations are. These are people who made airtight declarations against the bailout on a conceptual level – and then walked away from those declarations when it came time to vote. We’ve learned (once again) that if there’s not constant pressure on lawmakers to respect the most basic campaign declarations they made, they will sell us out.

Actually what we’ve “learned” (really we already knew it), is that David Sirota doesn’t understand parliamentary procedures whatsoever, nor does he understand deal making or leveraging. Apparently he thinks that you jst show up and cast a vote, majority wins. Or “Washington” wins, whatever the hell that means. But the more interesting development comes later, after Sirota talks to Merkely:

Merkley explained that because the bailout was legislatively engineered to let the president – sans a two-thirds veto override vote in Congress – effectively veto his way to whatever he wants,* he decided to back the bill and simultaneously exact a commitment out of the administration. Merkley said he’s been in constant contact with top administration officials and that they have committed to him – both verbally and in writing – that they will devote a substantial portion of the new bailout money to helping homeowners.

I don’t agree with Merkley’s rationale – I believe he told voters he was against the bailout, and then proceeded to vote for that very same bailout, and I think in doing that, he does what I said in my original post: he starts his Senate career looking like he “epitomizes the worst kinds of images people have of politicians – those who sound like they’re for “the folks” at election time, and then who sell out “the folks” once in Washington.” He also officially goes on record supporting very bad economic policy.

Catch that? Merkley outlined a very logical rationale for his vote, that Obama would (and has promised to) veto a bill blocking the money, at which point he would…get the money. But that would be more politically costly than just getting the money, so Merkley, seeing an opening, opposed the effort to block the money in exchange for a promise on foreclosure relief, a good policy in its own right, which he then went public with. That’s just good politics anyway you cut it. And while I actually agree that a bill would be preferrable regarding foreclosures, what Merkley did is better than nothing, which is what Sirota is arguing for. Because let’s face it, by any observable measure what Sirota is demanding Democrats do amounts to nothing. They vote for the bill, the bill gets vetoed, and Obama gets the TARP money, while Congressional liberals get nothing back from Obama. It just doesn’t make sense, but I suppose it makes David Sirota happy. But making David Sirota happy doesn’t help being losing their homes, now does it?

This, in a nutshell, is why the progressive movement isn’t taken more seriously.

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