So Eric Cantor’s going to Wall Street to make a boat load of money. Not a huge shock. But to hear many in the mainstream media tell it, you’d almost think it’s a huge sin. The Washington Post lamenting his $3.4 million pay package at boutique investment bank Moelis & Co., confirms the cozy and consistent revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.
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Even Fortune Magazine is tying Cantor’s deal to Congress’s disproportionate fixation with fundraising. “When the No. 1 requirement to secure office is that you know rich people and are good at getting them to give you money,” Chris Matthews writes, “why is it any surprise that Congress is full of people who will choose cash over honor and service.”
It’s a valid argument, but is it a consistent one? Or in Cantor’s case, is it even a fair one? After all, the upended Republican House leader didn’t plan on ending his honored government service, he was kicked out – repudiated by Republicans in his own Virginia state primary. So, let’s clarify that Cantor “had to” look for work. He found it at a financial firm. I guess it would have been more politically acceptable if he had found it at Apple?
Who knows? This much I do know. Republicans who seek out greener financial pastures after leaving office have a nasty habit of picking up the bad press their Democratic counterparts seem to avoid while doing the same thing. Few made much of a fuss over Bill Clinton’s staggering speaking fees, or later his wife’s, until they became what one Democratic wag described as “almost too insidious to ignore,” or as my friend political pollster Pat Caddell put it, “too Romney-esque to let roll over.”
Hillary Clinton later claiming in an interview that she and her husband left the White House “dirt poor” did little to gloss over the fact that since departing the White House, they’ve more than made up for those challenging days. But again, that’s the Clintons’ right. We might blush at the reported “hardship” of making a $250,000 speech, but what the heck, it’s a free country. We’re all free to get what we can out of it, and from anyone who’ll sign the check to offer it.
Never mind it “seems” unseemly to so crassly capitalize on your government service, is it me or do Republicans seem to be the ones who get disproportionately scrutinized for doing so? I don’t recall President Obama’s former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner getting nearly this grief when he left Washington to join the financial firm Warburg Pincus – the man who policed investment banks through and after a meltdown shacking up with a big one when it was time to settle down.
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Again, no big deal, right? But you’d think that a media once obsessed with Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital days, and his supposed satanic delight in buying and selling companies, would at least notice that Warburg Pincus is a firm that today engages in doing pretty much the same thing – buying and selling companies.
That doesn’t make Warburg awful, any more than it made Bain Capital awful – but ask yourself how Romney’s association with such an enterprise warrants endless badgering press and Geithner’s all but a media pass? Weird. But consistent. Republicans who hit the financial jackpot must be sinister; Democrats who do the same thing? Not so much.
Go back in history and examine how wealthier candidates are picked apart by the media. I can save you the trouble – not exactly equally. Wealthy Republican candidates simply can’t relate. Wealthy Democratic candidates simply can’t be questioned. That’s why upper class “trust fund” titans like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy are to be admired, but comparative paupers like Ronald Reagan or Mitt Romney are to be vilified.
Maybe what helped FDR and JFK is that they disguised their wealth so well, or maybe they just avoided the media scrutiny altogether by advocating the populist, big government positions favored by Democrats. They were visionaries for embracing government. Reagan and Romney were all but vile, dare questioning government.
Just think about how the media tends to define “fat cats.” They’re usually working on Wall Street, and they’re usually caricatured to look like that fat banker dude in the “Monopoly” board game. Tell me that guy doesn’t “reek” GOP!! (Doesn’t he just scream, “When I’m done, every character on this board is mine!”)
Wealthy Democrats are hardly ever seen in such a light; actually, they’re hardly ever fat, at all! No, they’re more “cunning” than “callous.” JFK’s father Joe Kennedy made a lot of questionable investments as he built his considerable fortune. Yet after making a ton of that dough on Wall Street, there was old Joe, being put in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission by no less than FDR – talk about putting the Fox over the henhouse! Few batted an eye then.
Fewer still question liberal wealth today. Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer’s a visionary for committing $100 million in the midterm elections to push his climate change agenda. The billionaire Koch brothers are not for committing far smaller sums to questioning that agenda.
It’s not fair. It’s not consistent. And bottom line, it’s not right. Frankly, I have no problem with the media making candidates’ wealth an issue. I have a very big problem with the media making only SOME candidates’ wealth an issue. Would it hurt any questioner of Hillary Clinton today to at least inquire how is it this “dirt poor” couple leaving the White House still managed to secure a $2 million real estate loan before they did? Just asking. Still wondering.
Just like I’m wondering how the media world judges those who matter in its own world – where Ted Turner’s a hero for his commitment to the United Nations. But one Rupert Murdoch is not because maybe he doesn’t share Ted’s views? Or the consensus media’s views?
Look, the way I see it, money doesn’t make the man, or the woman. In politics, their ideas do, so right or left, just be fair. I’ve known rich jerks and I’ve known poor jerks. Frankly, I think jerkery knows no pedigree. But if you are running with the narrative rich conservatives are awful but rich liberals are insightful, don’t be surprised if you leave your readers and viewers confused, and soon, angry.
Don’t be surprised if they start questioning how this chasm between the rich and poor that liberals seem to bemoan so much, has grown so much under a Democratic president. Don’t be surprised if they start wondering exactly why it is so many companies are seeking out safer tax havens abroad. Don’t be surprised if they discover maybe it’s because taxes are so high here. Don’t be surprised if they see in their own taxes that they’re paying, how it is so many Americans in this country aren’t paying. Don’t be surprised if they start wondering about the wisdom of giving to a government that supposedly knows best, that now has left them only with less.
What’s rich about bashing the rich and those who go on to become rich is how we selectively define rich and what separates the good rich from the bad rich. The problem isn’t Eric Cantor seeking his fortune on Wall Street. The problem is so few in Washington addressing the palpable rage building on Main Street.
It isn’t about how much money anyone makes. It’s about how the argument masks how little sense their critics make. It’s a head fake, and if we let them play these games…we are all soooo “faked.”