Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Gray Lady Got Mugged

"A conservative is a liberal who got mugged." -- Ex Philadelphia mayor and police chief Frank Rizzo.

The New York Times, a bastion of the liberal establishment, is feeling like someone took its wallet. In a somewhat stunning article, the gray lady is feeling let down by Barack Obama, and uncharacteristically calling him to task for his quick abandonment of integrity in government:

WASHINGTON — During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a “new era of responsibility.” What he did not talk much about were the asterisks.
The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.
(Emphasis added.)

The article documents how Tim Geither failed to pay his taxes, even after being warned, and still got to be Treasury Secretary. Tom Daschle dodged an even bigger tax liability and is still on track to become Secretary of Health and Human Services. And, former Raytheon lobbyist William J Lynn III was appointed deputy Defense Secretary, to name a few.

This comes not only after Obama imposed allegedly sweeping ethics reform. It also follows campaign promises repeated ad nauseum about change and a new era of accountability in Washington.

One question the New York Times does not attempt to answer is "how do we hold a politician accountable after such an obvious bait and switch?" I think that unless he starts changing his stripes, the paper should seriously consider publishing an apology for endorsing Obama -- much as they issued an apology for swallowing George W Bush's case for war in Iraq hook line and sinker.

Until we as a people start to punish politicians for breaking their promises, these problems will haunt us. As Alexis DeTocqueville said: "The people get the government they deserve."

We all know and lament how dishonesty and double-talk have run amok in Washington. We all know it has cost the country dearly for years, and now has left us rudderless when we most need solid leadership. I almost thought the New York Times was starting to get it, until I read this paragraph near the end:

Bill Clinton promised “the most ethical administration in history” and then endured the most independent counsel investigations in history. Mr. Bush vowed a new era of responsibility only to be accused of selling out to energy and military industries.

Nowhere do they mention the fact that Clinton was not only impeached, but also had his law license suspended and voluntarily gave up the right to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001. During the entirety of the late 1990s, the New York Times looked the other way as Clinton opened the White House to lobbyists across the full spectrum of business and other special interest groups. By glossing over his misdeeds, the paper gives a free pass to all politicians, letting them rest easily knowing they'll never really be called to task.

I am a financial journalist, comfortable with hard facts such as earnings numbers and GDP reports. Coming from this background, I sometimes feel that the culture of dishonesty didn't begin in Washington, but at 620 Eighth Avenue, where that New York Times is based. They have given politicians a free pass for years because they agreed with them. They did the same thing when the Supreme Court made outrageous intepretations of the constitution -- as long as the Times' liberal news staff agreed with the decisions, they were just fine.

Because politicians have been allowed to operate in this culture of non-accountability for so long, it's little surprise that Obama thought he could promise change, and then deliver more of the same.

This whole thing was a bit like a subprime home loan made during the credit bubble in 2006, when mortgages were written dishonestly based on fancy and fable. The watchmen at the banks let down their guard, and abuse became rampant. Now we're paying the price for it.

I fear that news outlets such as the New York Times -- our watchmen as voters -- let us down the same way. Instead of failing to verify the existence of income, they failed to verify the existence of a plan to fix the country. Instead of accepting no money down, they accepted a thin gruel of bromides and catchy phrases in the place of real ideas. Instead of ignoring the borrower's limited and potentially troubling credit background, they disregarded the candidate's diminuitive resume and history of being influnced by people like Saul Alinsky, Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers. Instead of allowing a subprime mortgage loan to be made, they allowed a subprime candidate to become president.

Thank you, New York Times. Now that the trouble has come to your backyard, it's nice of you to notice.

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