I have found a pretty near foolproof way to separate the decent politicians from the crooked ones.
Normally, we are trained to judge politicians by whether they agree with our values. We support the ones who agree with us on the classic left-vs-right divisive issues, and bitterly oppose those on the other side. But the thing is, that doesn’t really help you tell whether that politician will stand by you or sell you out.
One thing about these divisive issues is that even when we disagree, we have to acknowledge the sincerity of both sides. Whether we’re arguing for or against things like gun control or abortion or the war on drugs or social welfare programs or gay rights or overseas belligerence, we can’t doubt that people are arguing their particular side because they genuinely believe it’s what will help keep their fellow citizens safer and more prosperous.
But there are some choices politicians face which aren’t about these “values” choices at all, and they’re the unglamorous ones that politicians are going to be spending more of their everyday time and attention on. These choices don’t get nearly as much attention, either in the media or from most citizens. But they’re the ones that determine how most of your tax money gets spent, and sometimes, whether you have to pay those taxes at all. At these times, the choice faced by each politician is not whether to stand for conservative or liberal values, it’s whether to stand for the voters they represent, or for special interest campaign donors. And it’s in that choice where we have to be able to know where someone’s going to stand.
One thing about special-interest corruption is that there is no set of values in which it’s a good thing. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian, anarchist, communist, or monarchist, there is no justification for it. This means that, in order for any politician to support special interest giveaways that benefit their personal donors, they have to lie about why they did it. And it also means that if we want to judge our politicians properly, it’s these special-interest giveaway actions that we really have to look at.
And I think I’ve found one that’s just about perfect as a litmus test: an issue which is popular and widely supported by politicians, yet so clearly and purely an instance of this kind of corruption, that there is no possible excuse or justification for anyone representing the public to advocate it, no matter what kind of values they purport to represent. An issue where anyone supporting it can be immediately judged as corrupt, with no further data needed.
What is this miraculous single-issue litmus test? It’s a treaty: the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now we’re told that it’s about “free trade”, and free trade is good for the economy. But the thing is, actual trade across the Pacific is already free, or close enough to it that there are no real economic gains to be made by cleaning up any remaining minor issues. What the TPP would bring is not freer trade, but a host of business giveaways which grant them, essentially, freedom from laws they don’t like. Environmental laws, child-labor laws, food and product safety laws, job or wage protections, limitations on intellectual property rights — if concern for the health and safety of mere citizens gets in the way of doing business, the TPP would overrule any national government that tries to forbid the harmful practice. There are many sites that list the various negative effects that this treaty would have: here is one from Public Citizen.
For years, as it was being negotiated in secret, the Obama administration kept reassuring us that it would be fine, and denigrating those who criticized it, on the grounds that they hadn’t read the full terms, which they were not allowed to read. Then, when the terms of the deal finally became officially public in October 2015, it turned out to be exactly what all the leaks and warnings had said it would be; the opponents didn’t have to adjust their criticisms at all.
The United States signed the finished treaty on February 4, 2016, but has not yet ratified it. Under the terms of “fast track” legislation passed earlier to ease that process, they might have to vote yea or nay on it as soon as June, but there is some talk of delaying the formal submission to Congress to allow them to vote next winter during the lame duck session.
So, who are those politicians who are selling us out for this? The top name on the list, unfortunately, is Barack H. Obama. And you have to wonder why — this really doesn’t fit in very well with the rest of his legacy. This is the move of somebody who, unfortunately, took a lot of money from Wall Street donors.
For members of Congress, we can judge by the vote on the “fast track” legislation — a vote with the sole purpose of undercutting normal review and debate of this treaty before ratification. The fast track legislation was arguably even more corrupt than supporting the treaty itself is.
Who voted how? Broadly, Republicans were almost all for it, suddenly forgetting their otherwise almost universal opposition to letting Obama get what he wants, while Democrats were much more divided.
In the Senate, the only Republican holdouts were Susan Collins, Rand Paul, Richard Shelby, Jeff Sessions, and Ted Cruz. I don’t think this means anything for the latter three except that nothing can overcome their Obama hate, but for Collins and Paul I think it may indicate something significant. For Democrats and independents, the split was as follows:
Possibly clean: Baldwin (WI), Blumenthal (CT), Booker (NJ), Boxer (CA), Brown (OH), Casey (PA), Donnelly (IN), Durbin (IL), Franken (MN), Gillibrand (NY), Heinrich (NM), Hirono (HI), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (MN), Leahy (VT), Manchin (WV), Markey (MA), Menendez (NJ), Merkley (OR), Mikulski (MD), Murphy (CT), Peters (MI), Reed (RI), Reid (NV), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (HI), Schumer (NY), Stabenow (MI), Tester (MT), Udall (NM), Warren (MA), Whitehouse (RI).
Definitely dirty: Bennet (CO), Cantwell (WA), Cardin (MD), Carper (DE), Coons (DE), Feinstein (CA), Heitkamp (ND), Kaine (VA), McCaskill (MO), Murray (WA), Nelson (FL), Shaheen (NH), Warner (VA), Wyden (OR).
Three senators did not vote: Corker (TN), Lee (UT), and Menendez (NJ).
In the House, the vote was closer, and more partisan, with most Democrats opposing. The exceptions are as follows.
Possibly clean Republicans: Aderholt (AL), Amash (MI), Brat (VA), Bridenstine (OK), Brooks (AL), Buck (CO), Burgess (TX), Clawson (FL), Chris Collins (NY), Doug Collins (GA), Cook (CA), Donovan (NY), Jeff Duncan (SC), John Duncan (TN), Farenthold (TX), Fleming (LA), Garrett (NJ), Gibson (NY), Gohmert (TX), Gosar (AZ), Griffith (VA), Harris (MD), Hunter (CA), Jenkins (WV), Jolly (FL), Jones (NC), Jordan (OH), Joyce (OH), Katko (NY), Labrador (ID), LoBiondo (NJ), Lummis (WY), MacArthur (NJ), Massie (KY), McKinley (WV), Meadows (NC), Mooney (WV), Mulvaney (SC), Nugent (FL), Palmer (AL), Pearce (NM), Perry (PA), Poliquin (ME), Posey (FL), Rohrabacher (CA), Rothfus (PA), Russell (OK), Smith (NJ), Webster (FL), Westmoreland (GA), Wittman (VA), Yoho (FL), Young (AK), Zeldin (NY).
Definitely dirty Democrats: Ashford (NE), Bera (CA), Beyer (VA), Blumenauer (OR), Bonamici (OR), Connolly (VA), Cooper (TN), Costa (CA), Cuellar (TX), Davis (CA), Delaney (MD), DelBene (WA), Farr (CA), Himes (CT), Hinojosa (TX), Johnson (TX), Kilmer (WA), Kind (WI), Larsen (WA), Meeks (NY), O’Rourke (TX), Peters (CA), Polis (CO), Quigley (IL), Rice (NY), Schrader (OR), Sewell (AL), Wasserman Schultz (FL).
My own representative, Mike Thompson (D-CA), did not vote. Other nonvoters were Mark Amodei (R-NV), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Juan Vargas (D-CA).
It is estimated that $200,000,000 was given to various House members to sway their votes. John Boehner got over five million for his, apparently with no laws broken in the transaction. To their credit, many who voted no did so in spite of having received this kind of payment. I think this shows how public scrutiny and controversy is often the best available means to overcome the pressure of bribery. Unfortunately, only a small number of issues can receive this level of attention, while dozens of smaller ones pass unnoticed to maintain the special interest gravy train.
What about the presidential candidates? Secretary Clinton is in a dubious position: she opposes it as a candidate even though she supported it (while it was being negotiated) as Secretary of State, calling it a “gold standard” and similar effusive terms. Her current opposition is very recent and very convenient, poll-wise. And woops — here’s a leak which says she’s expected to change her mind back again.
Sanders has, of course, always staunchly opposed this kind of crap.
On the other side, the establishment Republicans such as Kasich and Rubio and Bush all support it, but Trump does not. This issue is tailor made for allowing him to be the fake populist in that bunch. Cruz also opposes it, but he’s quick to point out how much he adores free trade in general. I suspect that he only wants a deal without Obama’s name on it. Like Clinton, both Trump and Cruz originally favored the plan, and then changed their minds. I don’t think I have to spell out that I don’t trust either of them a single millimeter. Trump, for one, generally hasn’t hesitated to replace his own employees with cheaper overseas workers.
For those who are wondering why Sanders and Trump are stealing all the attention away from the establishment candidates, this should help give you a big clue about what makes that difference. A lot of voters are aware on some level that they’ve been sold out, even if they haven’t fully articulated it in Bernie-like terms, and they’ve heard this particular story before. Much of the public across the political spectrum opposes the TPP (especially among those who consider themselves at all well informed on the question), despite leaders of both sides trying to sell it to them. And such opposition is spreading across a number of other issues as awareness of the sellout pattern grows.
Much of the wide support for Trump, I believe, comes from the same source as the support for Bernie: the hope for a government that won’t betray them anymore. You may wonder how anyone could ever trust Trump, but the point is, nobody else on his side is offering these people any hope at all of changing the existing pattern of corruption. I think that is, at bottom, why Trump is able to keep winning primaries, despite acting like such a complete asshole.
As for Sanders — the only one in the race who offers real hope on this front, in my opinion… we shall see. If he fails to win the nomination, at least Clinton now has to pretend to want change, and therefore should be amenable to persuasion on those issues which have a big enough public stink raised about them.