Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
President Obama’s stab at changing government is a lot like Heracles’ famed battle with the Hydra of Lerna, a nine-headed serpent with poisonous breath. Every time Mr. Obama proposes cutting off one head of a foe of change, two more grow back. The worst part is that many of the heads are found in his own government.
Look at any political avenue that the president is traveling, and his larger problems are not the particular issues, but the people who move and shake around them.
In banking, Mr. Obama looked towards the Northeastern-educated scions of Wall Street to help bail out and regulate their own, which is just not working. The news from Bloomberg on January 7th was no surprise:
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then led by Timothy Geithner, told American International Group Inc. to withhold details from the public about the bailed-out insurer’s payments to banks during the depths of the financial crisis, e-mails between the company and its regulator show.”
Mr. Geithner allegedly told insurance bogeyman AIG to keep details of their big bailout from the public, undercutting the Obama Administration’s get-tough on Wall Street Welfare firms.
The economy is stabilizing, but there are no reforms of the Glass-Stegall Act to restore what Phil Gramm and his well-funded band of anti-regulation cut-throats stripped out of the Depression Era safeguards for our banking system.
Now Mr. Obama faces the two heads of further speculative investing without any further regulation, and the taint of his point-men, Mr. Geithner and Mr. Bernanke, who also has been criticized for bailing out his friends on the Street.
In a moment of financial weakness, the giant Insurance, heath care and pharmaceutical industries kneeled for a moment as health care reform was introduced by Mr. Obama.
Then the economy righted, and the might and thunder of billions of dollars of backing of health care special interests descended upon the legislation, popping up a hundred more heads, spewing poisons on everything from the public option to funding for conservative pet peeves like abortion.
Electing Mr. Obama did not end the work of special interest lobbyists on K-Street.
It also did not remove corruption from our horribly corrupt legislative system. We have yet to amend the laws which allow Senators who were around before 2008 to keep their campaign war chest slush funds as retirement programs.
Mr Obama has not changed the underlying system of parties installing politically loyal bureaucrats over eight or more years to undercut the ability of the opposing party to effect policy.
We run superficial campaigns that try to put a new coat of paint on government when the engine needs a big overhaul.
Unfortunately, talking about the engine is a wonky exercise that does not get politicians elected or re-elected, even though it is the heart of the change that we need.
Americans would much rather talk about the new coat of paint on their government, or the plush new seats, before they hold much interest in the rusted and dilapidated engine under the hood.
Before you can make any kind of meaningful change in policy, though, you have to clean up the political mire that bogs down both elected and civil service employees of the government.
To get rid of the huge, crushing influence of special interests may well be impossible, but if it is even remotely possible, we will need to start cauterizing the stumps where the heads of the monster used to be.
Congressional Salary and Campaign Finance Reform – You cannot have the people who earn a living from a political career in government control how they get paid, and how they can raise funds.
That doesn’t mean slash the senator’s salary. In fact it needs to be quite the opposite. To have to realistically meet their needs and aspirations in legitimate ways if you want members of Congress to give up the more questionable means of funding their careers, you have to compensate them in-line with what they might make in upper-level management of a major American corporation.
If we assume that we want to attract people who are not going to always be hat-in-hand to special interests, Senators and Congressmen should be paid comparably to executives who hold similar positions at the top of the private sector.
It might also be a good idea to offer retirement programs for years served that keep career politicians from needing to build up slush funds and find workarounds to the finance laws to cash in on their service, which we know that they will do.
All financing for campaigns should be public. FCC license to use the airwaves should include a certain number of hours every campaign cycle for political ads.
Bureaucratic Reform The attorney firings in the Justice Department by the Bush Administration were just one more flagrant example of that kind of political manipulation of government agencies that wield a lot of power.
You cannot execute a policy initiated by either party when the other party invests bureaucrats at agencies over the years to act as road-blocks. Most laws leave a lot of wiggle room to the bureaucracy, and therein the creativity of manipulating a program away from its intent can mean the difference between the program’s success and failure.
Legislation needs to be passed to keep the both political parties, and the Executive’s hands off of management hiring decisions at agencies. Existing rules under the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act protecting, the political neutrality of civil service hirings, need to be reinforced.
Disincentivize Professional Lobbying Everyone has a right to be heard before their government. Some, though, are just plain better at it not because of the righteousness of their ideas, but because of the depth of their pockets.
Well paid congressmen and senators on the public dime would go a long way to taking the back-door money out of the system, but more needs to be done to keep lobbyists and large industries from re-writing legislation in thousands of pages of details set to their own liking that derail the larger intent of the legislation.
Some amendments pushed by members of the Congress are no more than legal infomercials for the special interests greasing the palms of the member pushing their agenda.
If you want to put a leash and a muzzle on a dog, you need to know which end to approach first.
Turn Away from Convention We always look to the schools of the Northeast and the halls of Wall Street for our leaders and economic advisors. There was a time historically where this made sense, in about 1811. These days, though, the Obama Administration should be breaking with those conventions and reaching out to people from other parts of the country with new ideas and new solutions. Particularly people who have done something successful at the state level or in the private sector should get the audience for round-two of the job hand-outs that come after the fall-out of the first people in a presidential administration who are not making the grade.
Mr. Obama is taking some big cuts at his ambitious agendas. I think, though, without meaningful reform of the Congress, which is the real engine of change, the Civil Service, which is the gear-system that executes it, or K-Street which greases it, he will not get the ship of state beyond a knot or two.
My shiny two.
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Past as “Barack Obama and Change: Even Heracles Had Better Odds”