Here's a new Zen riddle: What is the sound of money not talking?
Sure, it talks sometimes. We heard it loud and clear at the Republican Convention. But sometimes the sound of money in politics is the sound of silence. It's the sound of crooked bankers being let off the hook, of economies left at risk, of Social Security and Medicare being weakened, of growing inequity being ignored.
They're talking about the economy at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, which calls itself "the Wall Street of the South." But as of this writing (see update below), nobody's talked about stronger oversight of Wall Street and other corporations, and nobody's promised to defend Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts.
Big-money interests want weak regulations and cuts to Social Security and Medicare. And they're a siren song to both parties -- not only for their campaign contributions, but for the lucrative world of para-political employment that awaits ex-pols if they don't step out of line. (Matt Stoller's been exploring that topic -- here, and here.)
If you're campaigning as a liberal and don't want to limit your career opportunities, sometimes the best course is silence.
Wednesday night Bill Clinton rallied the crowd for Barack Obama. But he didn't criticize the Wall Street interests that financed his political career and made him wealthy once he left office. It was Clinton who rebuked Obama for using anti-hedge fund rhetoric to attack Mitt Romney, saying Romney had "a sterling business career."
"I don't think that we ought to get into the position," said Clinton, "where we say 'This is bad work. This is good work.'"
But Bain-style predation is bad work. And deregulating Wall Street was bad policy. So was the idea of building an economy around financial speculation rather than jobs-based production.
Tuesday night another ex-president who governed as a "centrist," Jimmy Carter, was limited to a short video appearance. Clinton's star turn is based on his popularity, but Carter's selfless and courageous post-presidential career may also make ambitious politicians and staffers uncomfortable. Instead they can take heart from the post-political path to riches followed by Clinton and many of his senior aides.
It's no coincidence that Bill Clinton is also one of the most outspoken -- and most deceptively cynical -- sales reps for that elite piece of austerity hucksterism known as the "Simpson-Bowles" plan, which would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits while actually lowering tax rates for corporations and the ultra-wealthy (under the pretense of closing unnamed "loopholes" at an unspecified later date).
"Simpson-Bowles," and the propaganda efforts behind it, are also creatures of big money -- especially that of billionaire Pete Peterson, a former member of Richard Nixon's cabinet who has been coopting Democrats into his anti-government, anti-middle class agenda for decades. Peterson's had a long and close relationship with Bill Clinton, who appointed him to an "Entitlement and Tax Reform Commission" in 1994.
Peterson acolytes Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) and Erskine Bowles (D-Morgan Stanley) were appointed to a "deficit commission" by President Obama. Following that commission's failure, they issued a personal proposal of cuts to Social Security and Medicare, fulfilling Peterson's long-held dream of eviscerating those programs. President Obama's been trying to cut that deal for years.
This year's Democratic platform equivocates on Social Security and Medicare, promising only to prevent Social Security from being privatized (which isn't on the table right now). "We reject approaches that insist that cutting benefits is the only answer," say the Democrats.