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It’s All Connected (and That’s the Problem)

Eric Alterman examines the moral bankruptcy of conservatives, which is wrapped inside the impossibly intertwined nature of big money and politics.

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Jon Stewart recently blasted ex-senator/governor/ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine (above) on "The Daily Show" Tuesday, describing him as “the living, breathing avatar of "the corporate-industrial-government complex." (AP/Mel Evans)
Jon Stewart recently blasted ex-senator/governor/ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine (above) on "The Daily Show" Tuesday, describing him as “the living, breathing avatar of "the corporate-industrial-government complex." (AP/Mel Evans)

Jon Stewart went to town on fellow New Jersey-born-and-bred, ex-senator/governor/ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine on “The Daily Show” Tuesday night, describing him as “the living, breathing avatar of "the corporate-industrial-government complex." He had a point. Corzine famously argued on behalf of tough financial regulations in office, only to return to the world of finance as the exact kind of high-flying gambler (with other people’s money) who needed to be regulated but preferred not to be.

And because rich financiers tend to get what they want from this government, the now-former head of MF Global got what he wanted and proceeded to prove why he had been right in the first place—not that it matters.

Stewart summed up the situation thusly: "Politician Jon Corzine saw Lehman Brothers as a cautionary tale; financial firm honcho Corzine saw it as a dare."

The Corzine tale demonstrates the impossibly intertwined nature of big money and politics. It can hardly be considered a coincidence that the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs would become not only a senator and a governor but also the head of the party’s senatorial campaign committee, in charge of raising cash.

But the complications go much deeper than just money and politics. The problem is not simply that moneyed interests can buy what they want and make the connections with one another necessary to see that their interests are properly overseen. What makes the impossible tangle of money and politics even more difficult to unravel is the fact that the various interests who hire lobbyists to ensure legislation serves private, rather than public interests, work together to ensure if one lobbyist wins, every lobbyist wins. And if a legislator is indebted to one of them for campaign cash, or access to a private plane, he is indebted to all of them.

A pioneer of this tactic, unsurprisingly, is the conservative activist Grover Norquist. The man Politico aptly terms “America’s No. 1 anti-tax activist” has built a “sprawling lobbying empire that leverages his iconic status to influence politicians on issues completely unrelated to those about which he professes to care.”

What, for instance, does the State Department’s decision regarding the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline have to do with taxes? Why does Norquist lobby on Pentagon spending, get involved in postal issues, or care about payments to the people of Guam for injuries suffered during World War II? Why do lawmakers, according to Politico, “from both parties contend Norquist is the chief obstacle to a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction deal?” That sure is a great deal of back-scratching, and none of it is good for the smooth legislative operations of a representative democracy. Norquist is particularly powerful with conservatives. But the syndrome is evident everywhere in Washington.

Take a look at the so-called pro-Israel lobby, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. Allegedly concerned exclusively with issues related to Israel, AIPAC’s lobbying reaches far and wide. During the 1980s it would punish liberal legislators who did not support Ronald Reagan’s wars in Central America because those nations’ U.S.-supported dictators would, as a favor, vote with Israel in the United Nations. (They would also invite Israeli mlitary advisers to train their forces in counterinsurgency.)

AIPAC lobbied lately to get the United States to, in the words of one former AIPAC staffer, “stick it to Turkey.” AIPAC, it will surprise no one, also appears to be behind the demand that the United States punish itself and its interests by withdrawing from the U.N. Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as a piece of misguided retaliation for the organization’s admittance of Palestine into its membership role.

Of course the big prize for AIPAC would be an attack on Iran. Take a look at this language if you doubt it. (The same former AIPAC staffer, M.J. Rosenberg, notes that this is the lobby’s “#1 priority: pushing for war with Iran.”)

AIPAC works behind the scenes but we can see the outlines of their argument in the words of Emergency Committee for Israel co-founder William Kristol, as summarized by The Daily Beast’s Leslie Gelb: “Bill Kristol is leading the charge, calling the recent alleged Iranian assassination plot ‘an engraved invitation’ to use force.”

He continued: “We can strike at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and weaken them. And we can hit the regime’s nuclear weapons program, and set it back.”

Were these mere musings? No! He goes on to say that if the White House doesn’t use force, Congress should authorize force against a variety of Iranian targets and against its “nuclear weapons program.”

Israel may or may not be threatened by what may or may not be a genuine nuclear threat from Iran. But the United States sure isn’t. We are only beginning the process of recovery from the last catastrophic, unnecessary war led by these folks, and one of its primary consequences was that it only strengthened Iran, whom they are now insisting we must also attack. But don’t expect many legislators to say that out loud. (And don’t forget, Kristol’s argument did not even mention Israel, though apparently everything he does is in the service of what he sees to be that country’s “emergency.”)

Speaking of Kristol’s committee, along with the interconnectedness of all things conservative, it was in the news again recently when one of its founders, Rachel Abrams, following the release of former Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit by Hamas, called for rounding up his captors:

… the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women—those who aren’t strapping bombs to their own devils’ spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others—and their offspring—those who haven’t already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god—as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons, where they can bide until they’re traded by the thousands for another child of Israel, but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.

Abrams is the wife of disgraced neoconservative politico Elliott Abrams—convicted of lying to Congress during the Reagan administration but hired by the Bush administration to run its Middle East foreign policy and then hired by the Council on Foreign Relations to be its primary voice on the topic—daughter of neoconservative antigay activist Midge Decter, and stepdaughter of Decter’s husband, former Commentary editor and right-wing warrior, Norman Podhoretz, and as it happens, sister-in-law of current Commentary editor who is (surprise, surprise) Norman’s son, John Podhoretz.

Abrams’s incitement to racist violence so impressed Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin that she retweeted it.

Until recently Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton had been an energetic defender of Rubin’s racist-inflected, journalistic incompetence, discussed here, here, and here.

But he wrote that “Rubin should not have retweeted Abrams’s tweet.” Naturally, Rubin says she is the victim of an “orchestrated campaign to get The Washington Post to fire a pro-Israel blogger.”

Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt was queried by Politico‘s Ben Smith about Rubin’s endorsement of Abrams’s genocidal rant.

Hiatt replied:

I think Jennifer is an excellent journalist and a relentless reporter. … I think because she has strong views, and because she is as willing to take on her home team, as it were, as the visitors, she comes under more scrutiny than many and is often the target of unjustified criticism. I think she brings enormous value to the Post.

In fact, as Max Blumenthal points out, Rubin is no journalist. Before getting hired to be the Post’s conservative blogger, following the firing of a plagiarist and someone who expressed his honest opinions on a private email list, she “was a former lawyer who churned out opinion pieces and blog posts expressing stock neoconservative views for movement outlets like the Weekly Standard and Commentary.”

As such, she is emblematic both of the moral bankruptcy of so many of those who have appropriated the honorable title of “conservative” in America today and, no less significantly, of the journalistically suicidal undertaking of once-great news organizations who seek to pander to these people at the expense of everything for which they profess to stand.

The Washington Post’s ombudsman has seen the damage done to his organization by his refusal to own up to this fact. Its editorial page editor continues to deny it, and thereby invites Rubin to disgrace its good name.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a columnist for The Nation, The Forward, and The Daily Beast. His newest book is Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama. This column won the 2011 Mirror Award for Best Digital Commentary.

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Eric Alterman

Senior Fellow

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