David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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Lieberman Escapes Dems' Wrath--and That May Be Good

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 2:43 PM EST

Revenge is for those who don't care about results.

That's the mature message of Howard Dean. Moments after the Democratic Caucus in the Senate decided to keep Senator Joe Lieberman, who had campaigned for John McCain's presidential bid, as head of the Homeland Security Committee, Dean, the outgoing head of the Democratic National Committee told the Huffington Post that the Senate Dems had done the right thing:

You know, the desire of revenge is great, of course. But the truth is public policy doesn't run on revenge very well. And when you see the trouble this country has gotten into in terms of foreign policy, where Bush basically ran a foreign policy based on petulance because he was mad at, for example, Mexico, for abstaining on the Security Council when the Iraq War came up, if you have to actually run the country, it is best not to do it based on feeling of anger towards your enemies....
My point of view is that Barack won. He can afford to be magnanimous. And if we happen to win both recounts and Georgia, Joe is the 60th vote. And the truth is -- and I certainly don't have to defend Joe Lieberman because, you know, we have an interesting history -- but the fact is, he does vote 90 percent of the time with the Democrats. And no, he shouldn't have said all those things. But why not clean the state? Why not start all over again? Why not allow him to vote with us on the 90 percent of the stuff? He will be a good vote on climate change -- and this matters. He may be a good vote on election reform, which I hope we will get to. So, you know, he may end up - though it is a little against the odds -- he may end up being the vote that allows us to conduct business when Mitch McConnell decides we shouldn't.

Dean has a point. Netroots Democrats got whipped up into a frenzy over the Lieberman matter. For many Democrats, excommunicating Lieberman--who is an independent now but who caucuses with the Democrats--would have felt great. They wanted to see the Senate Dems flash some political muscle. But getting personal is not always the way to get ahead. When Obama takes the high road, he can gain political capital. When congressional Democrats help him do that, they will be helping themselves. Lieberman is a sideshow--a sanctimonious, irritating sideshow. But the president-elect and the Democrats in Congress have much bigger fish to fry. They could afford to toss this one back into the pond.

By the way, Kevin disagrees.

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Why Rescue Automakers and Other Corporations that Have Been Bad Neighbors?

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 10:46 AM EST

As Congress ponders whether to bail out the auto industry--and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson opposes using the Big Finance rescue package to aid the Big Three automakers--a press release put out by a Democratic congressman from Wisconsin, Steve Kagen, illustrates the dilemmas at hand when it comes to assisting multinational corporations that have made their own now-falling-apart beds. Kagen asks why the taxpayers should help out Chrysler when the owner of Chrysler has screwed his constituents by shutting down paper mills in his district and refusing to sell those facilities to others.

Kagen explains:

Congressman Steve Kagen, M.D. says no taxpayer money should be given to Chrysler until after Wisconsin papermakers go back to work. Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., one of the largest private equity investment firms in the United States, owns many corporations including automaker Chrysler and NewPage Corporation, which recently closed two paper mills in Northeast Wisconsin putting over 750 people out of work.
"If Cerberus needs to raise cash to bailout Chrysler, then they should sell our idle paper mills in Kimberly and Niagara," said Kagen. "Local community leaders have given them opportunities to sell - they have turned them down - and now hard working families in Wisconsin are being asked to help the very people who have taken away their jobs. Outrageous. I am strongly against any taxpayer funds being given to Chrysler until their parent company gives us our jobs back. Cerberus already has millions of dollars of assets in these mills which they can sell tomorrow, putting my friends and neighbors back to work, and generating the capital necessary to keep Chrysler afloat."
Kagen spoke this weekend at the dedication of Camp Kimberly, an area set up across the street from the quiet NewPage paper mill. Former mill workers are holding daily vigils to urge NewPage executives to run the mill, or sell it.
....The closure of the mill in Kimberly caused the loss of over 450 papermaking jobs and the Niagara mill closing put over 300 people out of work. Both closures were due to unfair competition from foreign-made paper.

Whether Kagen is right or not about what Cerberus has done--or not done--regarding the paper mills in his district, this situation shows a fundamental problem. Troubled corporations deemed too big to fail are running to the government for handouts, and it may be best of bad options to use taxpayer dollars to prevent their collapse. But these same corporations have often showed disregard for their workers, their consumers, and the communities in which they have thrived. That is, they haven't made decisions to advance the greater good--after all, that's not been their mission. (Their top job has been to make money for the shareholders and owners.) Yet once they hit trouble, they plead that it serves the greater good to keep them afloat. It's a basic asymmetry. To compensate, taxpayers and legislators ought to apply public interest standards for any bailouts that do proceed.

Comparing Obama to Hitler on Right-Wing Radio

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 12:06 PM EST

Anomalos Publishing, a company that puts out conservative and Christian works and describes itself as "created for authors who...have a talent for writing but have not found a publisher," has announced that one of its authors will appear on right winger Michael Savage's nationally syndicated radio show to compare Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. From the press release:

Nationally-syndicated talk show host Michael Savage is set to interview former German member of the Hitler Youth, Hilmar von Campe this Tuesday, November 18.
The program will focus on similarities, which von Campe sees between the rise of totalitarianism under Hitler and the current social and political trends inside the United States.
"Every day brings this nation closer to a Nazi-style totalitarian abyss," writes von Campe, now a U.S. citizen, and author of "Defeating the Totalitarian Lie: A Former Hitler Youth Warns America."
"Today in America we are witnessing a repeat performance of the tragedy of 1933 when an entire nation let itself be led like a lamb to the Socialist slaughterhouse. This time, the end of freedom is inevitable unless America rises to her mission and destiny."
Hilmar points to events surrounding the election of Barack Hussein Obama as reminiscent of the way the Nazi regime came to power.

Von Campe was one of a bevy of conservative authors who in the weeks before the election whipped up the fear that Obama was the modern-day version of the Nazi dictator. In an October 28 WorldNetDaily column, he wrote, "Socialist Hitler destroyed free society in a few months. Socialist Obama is close to his steppingstone. The following is an attempt to clarify the issue."

Savage, of course, is an over-the-top purveyor of extreme rhetoric. He recently questioned whether welfare recipients should be permitted to vote. Weeks before the election, he proclaimed, "I fear that Obama will stir up a race war...in order to seize absolute power." In July, he created a fuss when he claimed that autism is a "fraud, a racket. ... I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out."

The Newest GOP Myth: We've Drifted from Our Principles

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 1:49 PM EST

This was first posted at www.davidcorn.com....

In the aftermath of a decisive defeat, Republicans and conservatives are nursing their wounds and wondering what went wrong. Many have come up with an easy answer: the GOP has drifted from its core principles; consequently, the voters have handed it the pink slip.

But is the drift more to blame than the principles?

Let's look at one example of this argument. Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor and an unsuccessful candidate for Senate in 2006, is running to become the new head of the Republican Party. In a statement he released on Thursday, he said,

The Republican Party must present a vision for the future of America that relies on our conservative values and core principles. It is wrong to believe the voters have suddenly become liberal. They have just lost any sense of confidence that the Republican Party holds the answers to their problems. We must face the fact that our party has failed in recent years to live up to our own principles -- we have failed to be 'solutions oriented' in addressing the concerns of all Americans.

Does Steele have it right? Has his party failed to present "solutions" in recent years? Not really. The Republicans have presented plenty of "solutions," but the voters have not cared for them.

What are the two core principles of the Republican Party? Cutting taxes (to ensure a smaller government) and swinging a big stick when it comes to national security. There's also the social issues, such as opposing abortion rights and gay rights. But those lifestyle issues have often been a second-tier matter for many Republican leaders.

Now look at the George W. Bush presidency and the John McCain campaign. The core issues were tended to by both. Bush pushed tax cuts and started two wars (one of them elective!). How loyal to the core was that? He didn't crusade against abortion rights and gay marriage, but he said the right things (from a social conservative perspective). Sure, government spending did go up on his watch--as did the deficit and the national debt (due to his tax cuts)--but much of that was attributed to increased military spending (another conservative idea) and expanding Medicare benefits. Does Steele and his fellow GOP handwringers believe they can get back to the White House by downsizing the Pentagon and undoing that Medicare expansion?

Bush has ended up an unpopular president because he was both conservative and incompetent. He launched an unnecessary war in Iraq and then mismanaged it. He lost an American city. On economic policies, he was a market-oriented fellow who snorted at regulation. For most of his presidency, his economic policy was essentially tax cuts, tax, cuts, tax cuts--and let the market sort out the rest. That conservative approach didn't work. Now he's a corporate socialist, throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at corporations that screwed up. But he had turned off the public long before making that lurch.

As for John McCain, he, too, ran on core conservative principles. He called for an across-the-board freeze on federal spending. He supported supply-side tax cuts (that he had once opposed). He called for a robust national security posture. And he did what many conservatives do: he accused the Democrats of being tax-and-spend liberals ("socialists," his running mate called them) and claimed the Ds were dangerously weak on national security. On health care, he proposed market-oriented tax credits. He and Sarah Palin opposed abortion rights.

So what was there for a voter seeking Republicans loyal to core conservative principles not to like? McCain was offering lots of solutions. He had his (erratically-derived) proposals for addressing the economic meltdown and housing crisis. He said he had a plan for nabbing Osama bin Laden.

It seems that voters just aren't keen on conservative solutions now. They do not appear to be yearning for a smaller government that does less. Many actually are hoping that the government will take steps to help them and their fellow citizens in these tough (and getting tougher) times. If conservatives are going to claim, as Palin explicitly did, that government is the problem and an obstacle to freedom, they can be credited for sticking to their ideological guns, but they're not likely to put together a governing coalition at this moment.

There certainly have been periods when the conservatives' siren song of lower taxes and less government appealed to many Americans. But it's easier for conservatives to sell those core notions either (a) during not-so-hard times or (b) after a left-of-center administration has messed up. (For the latter, think Jimmy Carter.) In a vacuum, American voters don't crave conservative solutions. For many Americans, ideology is relative. That is, what they want depends on what is happening around them.

So Steele and his comrades are stuck--with a lousy brand (thank you, President Bush) and with core principles that are not in sync with the current market demand. This is not to say that the party is dead. There are no permanent majorities in the United States. If the Democrats botch the job in the next two years, that ol' pendulum could swing back and knock them on their backsides. But for the time being, the Republicans must move beyond this return-to-core-principles line--unless they are content to tread water in a pool of self-delusion.

If Steele truly believes his back-to-the-future rhetoric, Democrats ought to be rooting for him.

Was Obama Economic Envoy Part of the Problem?

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 12:17 PM EST

The Obama transition office announced on Wednesday that the president-elect will send two representatives to meet with delegates attending the G-20 economic summit being held this weekend: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Democrat, and former Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican. The pair, according to a press release, will hold "unofficial meetings to seek input from visiting delegations on behalf of the President-elect and Vice President-elect." Afterward, Albright and Leach will brief Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Leach is both a curious and obvious choice. First, the obvious: he's a Republican who led the Republicans for Obama effort during the presidential campaign. By calling on Leach, who had a long career in the House as a liberal GOPer, Obama can show he does believe in bipartisanship. Now the curious: during part of his stint in Congress, Leach chaired the House banking committee and shared responsibility for passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley legislation, which broke down the wall between commercial banks and investment banking.

Since the current Wall Street collapse began, policy wonks have debated whether this 1999 law led to the present troubles. But let's look at an Obama campaign statement released last March (when he gave a speech on financial regulation) that referred to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act:

Instead of finding the right level of government oversight in a vibrant free market, we've let the special interests set the agenda. Changes in the financial landscape, driven by technology and globalization, made the 1930's era Glass-Steagall Act--the New Deal era law that required that investment banking be kept separate from commercial banking--increasingly inefficient. While reform was desirable, the banking, insurance and securities industries spent over $300 million lobbying Congress to shape that reform to meet their own interests. In the two years before Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, financial service industries gave $58 million to congressional campaigns; $87 million to political parties; and spent $163 million lobbying Washington. But though the regulatory structure was outdated, the need for oversight was not. Unfortunately, in the rush to repeal the law to create immediate opportunities for certain Wall Street firms, little effort went into modernizing the government's supervision of the financial industry--to guard against the potential for conflicts of interest, to insist on transparency, or to ensure proper oversight of new and complex financial products or the dramatic rise of investment banks and non-bank financial institutions, like hedge funds and Structured Investment Vehicles. Nearly a decade later, our financial markets--and everyday Americans--are paying the price.

Paying the price--for a bill that Leach helped to usher through Congress. That's a tough critique.

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