SOLOMON: Media Encouraged Clinton's Embrace of Fat Cats
After years of urging Bill Clinton to be a "New Democrat" and lie down with corporate dogs, the press is now marveling that his presidency is infested with scandalous fleas.Conventional media wisdom has always been that President Clinton should be "moderate" and "centrist" -- catering to the economic establishment. Over the years, Clinton has drawn profuse media praise for doing just that.Back in early 1993, top White House aides defended Clinton's first budget by boasting of its "pro-business slant." Since then, the dominant news media have demanded -- and gotten -- a president striving to satisfy the centers of financial power.A natural outcome of corporate-friendly politics is that wealthy donors line up to buy influence. Many journalists pushed the White House to fix big-money omelets and now are wailing about all the ethical eggs that got cracked.Of course Clinton is going to seek large contributions from people who appreciate his eagerness to make them richer. What's he supposed to do -- ask for dollar bills from the working-class Americans he has betrayed?Midway through his first term, Clinton set about raising millions to ward off any challenge to renomination in the Democratic primaries. When the strategy worked, media outlets widely applauded Clinton's maneuver as smart politics that helped to subdue his party's left wing.Clinton's hardball zeal at playing the money game attracted many fans in the Washington press corps. And leading pundits cheered when Clinton repeatedly portrayed the corporate agenda -- NAFTA, "free trade" and so forth -- as key to America's role in the world.For several years, news media have lauded Clinton for putting the interests of U.S.-based corporations at the forefront of foreign policy. The president won accolades for his global vision. Many journalists voiced enthusiasm as the Commerce Department became immersed in high-rolling projects overseas.Commerce Secretary William Daley -- like his predecessors Mickey Kantor and the late Ron Brown -- rose to prominence by matching big donors with political doers. When Daley got Clinton's nod last December, most of the press responded warmly. The Washington Post's influential commentator David Broder quickly told CNN viewers that the Daley appointment was "terrific."Two months ago, Time magazine seemed positively lighthearted when it described Clinton's second-term economic team as a "firm" -- "a bunch of investment bankers and lawyers, friendly to the stock market." The upbeat Time article reported that Robert Rubin "is thoroughly entrenched as treasury secretary and a kind of managing partner." One banking analyst explained that the new Clinton appointees "are exactly what Wall Street wants."The blatant transfer of government policy-making to elite financiers has become so routine that past arrogance hardly seems remarkable now. Barely four years ago, Rubin agreed to be the president's "chief economic adviser" after receiving $17 million for his 1992 services as co-chair of Goldman, Sachs and Co.As he was moving from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, Rubin sent a matter-of-fact note to his corporate clients, saying: "I look forward to continuing to work with you in my new capacity."Clinton's shameless privatization of federal economic decisions did not set off warning bells in the news media. On the contrary, year after year, it enhanced the president's glowing credentials as a New Democrat -- unburdened by old-fashioned allegiances to labor and the poor.These days, outrage is all the rage as Clinton's sleazier fund-raising gambits come to light. But the media outcry is taking place largely because he was so brazen about trading White House access for big bucks.At the White House in late February, the president proclaimed: "They were my friends and I was proud to have them here. I did not have any strangers here." In effect, Clinton was saying: Any friend of the corporate system can be a friend of mine.Overall, the news media have welcomed those affinities in the past. The current uproar is due to the president's clumsy implementation.The same journalists who have long admired Clinton's savvy, corporate-hugging centrism are now shaking their heads. They don't really fault Clinton for prostituting his presidency to corporate interests. The scandal is that he went about it in such a tacky way.