Never - and I mean never - underestimate the willingness of Beltway journalists to fabricate power-worshipping, politician-glorifying storylines out of thin air. I say that after reading the Wall Street Journal's piece today that describes a top U.S. Senator as "A plain-spoken populist [who] is a frequent critic of powerful entities, including big companies, that he views as putting regular people at a disadvantage." Is it a profile of Jim Webb or Bernie Sanders or Sherrod Brown or Russ Feingold? Why, of course not - it's an article about Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who over his career has served as one of Corporate America's most steadfast allies in beating back almost every major piece of legislation that proposed to challenge the economic status quo.
Yes, the Charles Grassley who, as chairman of the Finance Committee, wrote the Medicare prescription drug bill that gave away billions of dollars to his pharmaceutical industry donors, the Charles Grassley who has championed every free trade bill that has ever come down the congressional pike and still issues press releases trumpeting NAFTA, the Charles Grassley who championed the Bush tax cuts and who has tried to use the veneer of closing corporate tax loopholes as a vehicle to open more corporate tax loopholes, the Charles Grassley who the very same Wall Street Journal article notes gets sky high ratings from the major corporate front groups in Washington - yes, this Charles Grassley is now suddenly "A plain-spoken populist [who] is a frequent critic of powerful entities, including big companies, that he views as putting regular people at a disadvantage" all because he owns a farm the size of a small town and because he came to the supposedly courageous conclusion that a certain set of ultrawealthy corporations should have to pay roughly the same tax rate as every other ultrawealthy corporation that have underwritten his political career.
What's so truly amazing about this article, is that after praising Grassley as the second coming of Cesar Chavez, the Journal inadvertently admits that Grassley's major motivation comes not out of any sense of principled populism, fairness or interest in challenging entrenched power, but out of a desire to preserve the overall disparity between income made on capital gains (aka. stock transactions, inheritances, etc.) and wages (aka. the income made actually doing real work) - the disparity that, for instance, allows Warren Buffet to pay a lower tax rate than the janitors who clean his office. "Mr. Grassley led efforts to reduce the rate on capital gains to 15% in 2003, and then to extend the lower rate," the Journal notes. "He says that it should remain in place, but that if [the private equity loophole continues and] very wealthy people are seen as unfairly benefiting, Democrats will have a stronger argument for a higher rate."
Grassley then goes on to actually attack the entire concept of populism. "What I'm doing is an effort to ward off the demagogues on Capitol Hill that can say this is just a way for the rich to get richer, and the middle class to be stung," he said. "I would ask my Republican colleagues to look at it from that standpoint, that we want to make sure we aren't feeding the demagoguery of class warfare."
This is the Washington bubble right here for all to see - a place where devising a devious legislative strategy to keep stock profits taxed at a lower rate than ordinary workers wages can get a Senator a glowing profile as "a plain-spoken populist [who] is a frequent critic of powerful entities, including big companies, that he views as putting regular people at a disadvantage." Really - I am just at the edge of my seat waiting for the profile on Duke Cunningham when he gets released from prison. I'm sure we'll all be told he is the second coming of Sen. William Proxmire - an icon who courageously fought corporate special interests, a shining example of ethical conduct, and a beacon of honesty who has made cleaning up Washington his life's passion.
...and Beltway reporters still have the nerve to wonder why the public thinks journalism has become such a complete joke.