The 2016 Trail: Offensive Billionaires, Billionaire Offenses, Lying Reformers

The 2016 campaign trail is being dominated by the offensive billionaire and the candidate speaking most loudly about the offenses of billionaires.

The offensive billionaire, of course, is Donald Trump, who had twice as much support as Jeb Bush and was leading in a Washington Post poll released Tuesday, even though that lead started to shrink among respondents after Trump said that Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, was no war hero because war heros don’t get captured by the enemy.

The candidate who is speaking most loudly about the offenses of billionaires, of course, is Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is outdrawing all the other candidates at events and has the most small donors—a true mark of populist appeal. Mainstream media still dismiss him, even if his serious message is resonating beyond expectations.

The current moment is filled with even more upside-down politics.

Republican Jeb Bush gave a speech on Monday about the need to reform Washington from the inside out—by limiting when ex-congressmen can lobby Congress. Excuse me, but how does that fly from the candidate who raised 88 percent of his campaign cash from the penultimate insiders: people donating $2,700, the legal maximum? (Bernie got 2 percent from them).

Nonetheless, a rash of supposedly progressive democracy groups took Bush at his word and praised his proposal that no one in Congress should be allowed to lobby for six years. “A positive step,” said Every Voice’s Adam Smith. Could be “substantive,” said the Center for Responsive Politics. “Strong,” said Common Cause’s Miles Rappoport.  

Despite all the “we need to know more” caveats accompanying these comments, it is upside down to believe that the Bush dynasty’s latest heir is about to decouple party insiders from lucrative post-office lobbying. That's because a big part of his nomination strategy is based on getting hundreds of Republican National Convention votes from those same insiders who are Republican delegates.

You don't bite the hand that feeds you, when party bosses and incumbents hold 437 of the 1,235 non-pledged votes needed for the Republican nomination. Want another reality check on the sentiments of these GOP insiders?

This week, House Republicans attached fine print to an unrelated bill that would ban the White House from issuing an order to require federal contractors and non-profits (the loophole that created Super PACS) to reveal their political donations and donors. Many of those GOPers were elected after Republican state legislatures gerrymandered districts and adopted a range of newly restrictive voting laws—in the same spirit as Scott Walker’s just-announced plan to destroy Wisconsin’s election oversight board. They favor gaming the rules, doing whatever it takes to win and cashing out.

The WaPo noted there was some resistence to Jeb’s lobbying reforms in the beltway. No kidding. 

This week's news provided an additional counterpoint underscoring why reversing decades of economic policies creating America’s inequality quagmire is so hard. Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the Dodd-Frank reform law, which was passed to rein in Wall Street excess after 2008’s global financial meltdown.

The White House issued a long release touting the law’s stronger consumer protections, which have stopped commercial banks from gouging customers. It’s collected and paid back $10.1 billion to 17 million people, it said, and tried to make financial institutions more transparent and curb excess risk. The GOP has not fought the law like Obamacare; instead it's blocked one-third of its rules from taking effect, complaining all along that it would harm the economy.  

Meanwhile, outsized CEO pay—the most easily understood indice of greed—is still sky high. Two high-profile Wall Streeters, Goldman-Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon—just joined the ranks of the world’s billionaires. So the financial reform law, imperfect as it may be and hated by the GOP, has not exactly been bad for Wall Street's elite.

And so, as the political week opened, there was no shortage of upside-down political news. But among these contradictions, there seems to be one observation that stands out above the rest: isn’t it a shame that 2016’s most attention-getting candidates on both sides of the aisle—Bernie and Trump—are not poised to debate anytime soon, if ever.

Their mix of hard truths and strange fictions would be riveting, which is probably why it will never happen. It might spark real debate on an otherwise all too conventional campaign.


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