Last week, in response to an awful article in Roll Call newspaper, I posted an open letter to Nancy Pelosi asking her to tell her fellow House Democrats to stop running to reporters bragging about how they are shaking down Big Money interests for cash and helping intensify the hostile takeover of our government. As I said in the letter, such behavior insults the intelligence of voters, since it is happening at the very same time Democrats are hammering the GOP for its "culture of corruption." Two Republican Congressmen have been sent to jail on corruption charges, a U.S. Senator running in a tight race for reelection is under federal investigation, Democrats are correctly making the "clean up Washington" message part of their pitch - yet some self-important, its-all-about-me lawmakers nonetheless are only too eager to tell any Beltway reporter they can corner about how they are vacuuming in cash from special interests.
Sadly, if you read Newsweek this week, you'll see that my letter was ignored. In a giant piece, the magazine transcribes Rep. Rahm Emanuel's diarrhea of the mouth, where be gushes about how great he's been at using the prospect of a Democratic majority and him as a chief lawmaker on a powerful committee to rake in cash from special interests. Here's just one of the key excerpts:
"As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Emanuel teamed with Senate campaign chair Chuck Schumer to tap uncharted donor fields in the financial industry. 'We're working outside of traditional banks,' he says proudly, 'into the private-equity world, the hedge-fund world, the distressed-debt world.' These 'worlds' know they are talking to a guy who not only runs the campaign committee, but who could be in the majority of the key financial committee--and maybe even majority leader."
Not surprisingly, Newsweek drinks up the Rahm-is-such-a-tough-guy act, never bothering to question whether his self-aggrandizing poses any dangers to Democratic candidates across the country who are trying to make corruption and the GOP's pay-to-play behavior a key election issue. But the question remains: why are there Democrats in key campaign positions who are willing to jeopardize their party's message by bragging to reporters about Democratic Party corruption? Why are there no consequences for Democrats like Emanuel when he runs to his good buddy Howard Fineman and screams at the top of his lungs about how great a corporate shakedown artist he is?
Maybe all of this is cultural - maybe the congressional Democratic Party has been so hollowed out over the years by the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council that all it really is anymore is just a bunch of cults of personality with no actual ideological underpinnings. But having worked on Capitol Hill, I don't think that's entirely true - there are terrific Democratic lawmakers fighting the good fight everyday, and they are actively undermined by people like Emanuel.
The truth is, the problem is more likely just the selfish, self-serving behavior of a few primadonnas. Either way, it is a huge problem. Whether Democrats win in 2006 or not, the acceptance of behavior like Emanuel's by other Democrats in Congress foreshadows real trouble for a party seeking to define itself for the long-term.