Sunday, September 25, 2011

'Machine politics' is alive and well . . .

. . . or at least, that's what two recent articles seem to suggest.

From Philadelphia comes a report of influence-peddling and strong-arm tactics that one hopes will lead to criminal charges; but I'm not holding my breath.

In 1999, when John F. Street first ran for Philadelphia mayor, he said his campaign contributors had "a greater chance of getting business from my administration."

"I think that's the way it works," Street said.

In 2004, insurance magnate William Graham IV explained why he cut politically connected insiders into his government contracts, even if they did little or no work.

"It's just so accepted," Graham said. "If the only way to get to Flourtown is on the bus, you don't say, 'I'm going to take the train.' "

And this year, a new report revealed last week, State Rep. Dwight Evans and School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. relentlessly twisted arms in back rooms to make sure their favored candidate got a lucrative contract to run a high school.

Archie turned out to be phrasemaker, too.

"This is Philadelphia," he reportedly told the candidate he was forcing out. "Things are different here."

As the details revealed in the exhaustive report made plain, there is little point disputing that.

Philadelphia remains a city where official business is routinely done in the dark. Despite indictments, new ethics rules, and scathing reports, it remains a town with an entrenched culture in which the powerful circumvent the rules to get things done and the cloutless find themselves on the curb.

"There is a lot of talk in the development community about how hard it is to do business here," said Harris Steinberg, the planner leading a drive to redevelop Penn's Landing after previous efforts fell prey to corruption.

Insider demands, he said "add costs to the project, and they create uncertainty. It's not a level playing field, and I think it does a disservice to the city as a whole."

There's much more at the link.

Next, John Kass of the Chicago Tribune finds that the Solyndra scandal 'reeks of the Chicago Way'.

Federal investigators want to know what role political fundraising played in the guarantee of the questionable loan. Washington bureaucrats warned the deal was lousy. And White House spokesmen flail desperately, like weakened victims in a cheesy vampire movie.

So forget optics. What about smell? It smells bad, and it's going to smell worse.

Or, did you really believe it when the White House mouthpieces — who are also Chicago City Hall mouthpieces — promised they were bringing a new kind of politics to Washington?

This is not a new kind of politics. It's the old kind. The Chicago kind.

And now the Tribune Washington Bureau has reported that the U.S. Department of Energy employee who helped monitor the Solyndra loan guarantee was one of Obama's top fundraisers.

Fundraising? Contracts? Imagine that.

Steve Spinner was the Obama administration official in charge of handing out billions and billions of tax dollars to "green" energy deals. According to the Tribune story, Spinner the other day invited Obama's national political finance committee to a meeting in Chicago.

The name of the Obama fundraising initiative?

"Technology for Obama."

The idea of the Obama fundraisers getting together, talking "green," and perhaps offering taxpayer loan guarantees to insider businesses in the interest of helping the environment — it all seems rather fresh.

Like a mountain meadow.

Until you realize it's the same old politics, the same kind practiced in Washington and Chicago and anywhere else where appetites are satisfied by politicians. When the government picks winners and losers, who's the loser? Just look in the mirror, hold that thought, and tell me later.

Republicans are hoping to hang this around Obama's political neck, and they're doing a good job of it now because his approval ratings are low and the jobless numbers are abysmal and the Democrats are in full killer-rabbit panic. But there have been Republican national scandals, too, and they're always ridiculously and depressingly similar.

At least in Illinois our scandals are quite ecumenical, with Republicans eager to help Democrats steal whatever they can grab.

. . .

So this is not about Washington optics after all. The Solyndra scandal is about the Washington smell of things.

Those of us from Chicago know exactly what it smells like. And It doesn't smell fresh and green.

Again, more at the link.

Mr. Kass is, of course, absolutely correct. Such scandals aren't exclusively a Democratic or Republican party prerogative. Both parties have been guilty of them in the past (I mentioned one example last Friday), and both will doubtless continue to be guilty of them in the future. I haven't yet heard of such a scandal affecting the Tea Party, but given that its members are human beings and therefore (as far as I know) subject to temptation, I daresay it won't be too long before they're affected as well.

However, it does give me a new data point for future elections. If a candidate - for any office, from POTUS to deputy acting honorary unpaid second assistant dog-catcher - comes from, or is supported by, one of the 'old-style' political machines - either party - that are still prevalent in North-Eastern and Mid-Western cities, they're automatically disqualified from my support. At once, if not sooner.



Old NFO said...

And they wonder why people are leaving those cities in droves... sigh...

trailbee said...

And Mr. Kass is still employed after this article?