Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Toadying the Party Line

Many Americans are suspicious of what goes on behind closed doors when politicians hobnob with big-time contributors. Mitch McConnell ratified their suspicions.

campaign-cashAppearing at a conclave hosted by the Koch brothers, McConnell laid out how a Senate Republican majority would use budget riders to thwart President Barack Obama’s agenda in his last two years in office. The audition for campaign cash was supposed to be private, but someone taped it and leaked the audio tape.

McConnell, who is running for re-election in Kentucky, wasn’t alone in supplicating to the billionaire brothers. Three other Republicans in tight Senate races this fall reinforced how GOP control of the Congress would support an agenda of lower federal spending and less government regulation, even if it ran counter to the interests of the states they represent.

Congressman Tom Cotton, running for the Senate in Arkansas, skipped the popular Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival in his home state to sit at the knee of the Koch brothers in tony Dana Point, California. A Koch henchman defended Cotton for having the political guts to vote against a farm bill Arkansas farmers urged him to support, but apparently not enough guts to face the farmers at the Pink Tomato Festival.

As a big chunk of Americans feel frozen in their economic tracks, toadying to the line of billionaires who are hellbent on repealing Obamacare, throttling consumer protection and blunting climate change rules may seem off point. Americans are interested in strengthening the economy so they feel some of its sugar. They are angered politicians of all parties and stripes seem more interested in placating people in high places instead of helping ones with low incomes.

Pandering to contributors, big or small, is hardly new. McConnell’s naked aggression against a sitting President isn’t just a political act to delight the Koch brothers. His previous goal was to prevent Obama’s re-election in 2012.

This kind of pandering has played a role in undermining public confidence in their political leadership. They question who politicians regard as their boss. Party leaders? Rich contributors? Lobbyists? A growing number of Americans are convinced it isn’t them.

I’ve worked on political campaigns and run for office. I spent time on the telephone, in small groups and in large groups asking for money, almost to the point of begging. It was uncomfortable and unseemly.

I asked people to contribute who generally shared my views, but I studiously avoided pledging my total allegiance to any person or group, which I regarded as pandering beyond the pale. If I had a major disagreement, I felt ethically obliged to flag it.

So it was that I appeared at a Machinists Union gathering in Warrenton, Oregon. I was summoned to talk about my support for free trade policies and the Export-Import Bank, both critical to their employer, Boeing, but to them odorous bogeymen. After a frank discussion, including my willingness to condition free trade agreements to take into account labor and environmental conditions in partner countries, I sat down.

My opponent rose and, after giving her personal background, admitted knowing little about trade policy, but pledged to vote however the Machinist Union wanted. There was a burst of applause and someone jumped up with a large cardboard PAC check written to my opponent’s campaign.

Phil Keisling, who was running as the Democratic candidate for Oregon secretary of state and witnessed  what happened, sent me a note afterward saying how stunned he was at my opponent’s unabashed political pandering. I’m guessing McConnell would just smirk. My opponent got a $5,000 political contribution. McConnell and his toady crew are in line for a whole lot more.





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