After cutting their deals and indenturing their treasuries to corporate interests between past elections which they have won several Presidential candidates are lobbing some catchall primary-time populism to the voters in the upcoming primaries. Give the folks some corporate bear meat, their advisers say; it fleshes out that “send ’em a message” urge against the establishment.
No Democratic Presidential hopeful has demonstrated this belated opportunism more blatantly than Congressman Richard Gephardt.
Here is a legislator who, for years in Congress, flaunted his corporatism as a revisionist or neo-liberal. I recall walking with him from his office to the House floor one day in 1978 urging him to vote for a tiny consumer advocacy agency that would nudge the federal regulators into protecting the health and safety of Americans or take these moribund agencies to court. The large majority of his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate were for this bill. He listened in a noncommittal manner and then joined the Republicans to narrowly defeat this legislation a few days later.
This negative vote seemed to whet his appetite. In 1980 he joined with then Cong. David Stockman in a losing effort to take the federal cop off the health industry beat. He would leave patients defenseless. He also led the fight against Jimmy Carter’s hospital cost containment plan at a time when health bills were skyrocketing.
In 1981 he sided with the natural gas lobbies and supported probably the single most incredible forced consumer subsidy in U.S. history. This legislation, which passed but was never implemented, would have charged consumers up to $50 billion for a private gas pipeline from Alaska, in case it ‘wasn’t finished, as if they had received the gas. Fortunately, the pipeline never reached the critical mass of miles built to start the charge.
In 1982, he felt an irresistible urge, greased by some campaign contributions, to ally himself with the used car dealers. He backed a Congressional veto of a Federal Trade Commission rule that would have required used car dealers to tell consumers about any defects they know of in the cars they sell. The FTC didn’t even require an inspection, just a Golden Rule type requirement to tell potential customers of any known dangers in the vehicle.
He voted for the biggest corporate tax cut in U.S. history, proposed by Reagan in 1981, which laid more of the basis for the huge deficits by draining needed revenues. This is the tax cut that let, for example, General Electric reports profits of $6.5 billion without paying a dollar of federal income tax over three years.
He worked to block, unsuccessfully, legislation that made the chemical companies pay for a large share of the Superfund program’s costs to clean up toxic: waste dumps. Gephardt wanted, instead, a broad-based regressive excise tax. He likes to give welfare payments to major corporations, as in his support of a Synfuels plant in Kentucky.
Now, campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states, a new, new Gephardt is blasting away at big business, Wall Street, while extolling small farmers, workers and other regular Americans. He still hobnobs with corporate lobbyists, as the press noted last week.
In a way, this late hour rhetoric does recognize the appeal of certain! progressive values throughout the electorate, as the opinion polls show repeatedly. But the words are delivered with deceptive motive for their impact of the moment. The voters need to strip away such deceptive packaging by focusing on the candidate’s record, not his 60 second windup.