Tuesday, April 20, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Ganging up on Wall Street

How are we to know who is the more fawning servant of the corporate masters, Sen. Blanche Lincoln or her opponent, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter? Every day’s mail, the Internet and television commercials tell us it’s this one, and the next day
it’s the other.

We haven’t seen an Arkansas campaign targeted at Wall Street and big corporations since, well, since Jeff Davis, the Wild Ass of the Ozarks, was riding wagons into the cocklebur country a century ago to expose the perfidies of the Wall Street banks and insurance companies.

It’s not just the Democrats either. Over in the Republican primary for the Senate, all the candidates except U. S. Rep. John Boozman are trying to tap into the rage over the bailout of the nation’s financial institutions in the closing weeks of the George W. Bush administration. Boozman half apologizes for voting to give the financiers a siphon hose into the federal treasury, but unlike Lincoln, he doesn’t try to insinuate that he didn’t do it. Bush administration officials persuaded him that it was necessary to save the country, but he won’t do it again.

Some in the media are calling Halter and Lincoln to account for being a trifle misleading in their attacks on each other. Lincoln has accused Halter of wanting to invest Social Security trust funds with Wall Street and of complicity in the dealings of several West Coast companies that she said shipped American jobs to India and misled investors and customers. Halter once sat on the boards of the companies. Her ads were more than a little misleading and the Social Security charge was virtually without merit. Halter was a vocal opponent of any privatization of Social Security.

But Halter has been too clever with the facts, both in his defense and in his accusations against Lincoln, whom he characterizes as a persistent toady of the big financial houses and the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

We don’t want to appear too shocked at such conduct. Misleading political advertising? Tell us it ain’t so! That is how the game is played. Memories do not have to be encyclopedic to recall the advertising barrage of 2009, when insurance companies, the chamber of commerce and all sorts of front groups warned us of the terrible deeds in pending health-care legislation, deeds that were nowhere to be found in the bills. Much of the advertising was aimed at Lincoln, who was on a key Senate committee writing the legislation. She plunged 25 percent in the polls, and she isn’t recovering. Should she not have learned a lesson about how to turn silk into a sow’s ear?

Halter has returned the favor by accusing Lincoln in a blizzard of slick flyers aiming to show that Lincoln has voted consistently to help big corporations ship jobs overseas, mainly by ratifying trade agreements, and that her political career is bankrolled by the rapacious financial houses that crashed the U. S. economy and then cashed in at the federal treasury. She has been fighting back this week, accusing him of distorting her position. Imagine that. Distorting a politician’s position.

Yesterday’s mail produced a new flyer from Halter saying that Lincoln voted no on health-care reform to make the insurance companies happy. Lincoln voted for the big health bill, but no on a bill making small modifications in it that were not favorable for Arkansas.

Halter said Lincoln promised not to accept campaign gifts from institutions that took taxpayer bailouts and then took them, over and over. He backed it up with details of gifts from Goldman Sachs, charged last week with civil fraud, and other institutions that took cash from the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).

Wait, Lincoln cautioned this week, she did not make such a flat pledge but only vowed to reject their money while they still owed the treasury. Goldman Sachs and others that have given her money have repaid the treasury. Lincoln is right and Halter is convicted of being too crafty with the facts. But does she have much of a point? She has been heavily rewarded and continues to be rewarded by the institutions that undermined the global financial system.

Who hasn’t? President Obama enjoyed major support from Goldman Sachs and others in 2008, as did his Republican opponent, John McCain. Obama has turned on his benefactors by pushing for a strong regulatory system to prevent a recurrence of the collapse.

Last week, Lincoln countered Halter’s anti-Wall Street campaign by introducing a bill that she says is tougher on the banks and their derivatives trading than any other bill in Congress. Now, she asked, who’s tougher on Wall Street?

It is, indeed, a tough bill, but is it a ruse? Her bill is not going to get a vote in the Senate and House, and everyone, including Goldman Sachs and every commercial and investment-banking executive, knows it. Individual bills on sweeping matters are for show. The question is, will she vote for the bill produced by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that is the fulcrum of the battle? That will tell the tale for her bank supporters and it should for her voters as well.

We don’t care about the anti-Wall Street rhetoric. Will you vote to solve the problem with the only means at hand, even if it means biting the corporate hands that have fed you? We think Lincoln will do that, and that is about all of this populism strain that matters.