When people in power in the United States talk about corruption, they often focus on corruption overseas.
Corruption overseas is usually hard corruption – bribes, kickbacks, public theft.
But then there is what is called soft corruption. That’s corruption American style. Legalized bribery. Corporate money flowing into the political system. The revolving door. Lobbyists. Consultants. Gifts. Travel.
People in power don’t like to talk about corruption in the United States because often, they are the beneficiaries of it.
But at the grassroots, corruption is a powerful political issue. It arguably was the issue that elected Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
That’s the take of Bill Curry, a two-time Democratic nominee for Governor of Connecticut and a White House advisor in the administration of Bill Clinton.
“Corruption is this great hidden tsunami of an issue,” Curry told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “Obama ran on corruption at the end of his campaigns. Both Obama and Trump ran on a variety of issues. But at the end of their races, each one of them was in a low single digit race, and each one of them had learned enough from their pollsters to talk about almost nothing else.”
“Obama’s stump speech in the end was all about fixing Washington’s culture. It had been a main theme throughout his campaign. But in the end, he held onto it. It was by far his biggest applause line.”
“Obama made a series of promises. He promised to bring C-Span cameras into the health care negotiations so that the public would know what was going on. He promised to end the revolving door between government and the K Street lobbyists. He promised to end no bid contracts. He promised he would treat whistleblowers as heros. He promised that no lobbyists would work for his administration.”
How many of those promises did he keep?
“None. Not a single one. He also promised to keep a White House log of visitors. There was one. But it was a porous one. And for the most important private meetings and private deals, you couldn’t tell from the logs that the meetings had occurred.”
“The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for the first two years of Obama’s Presidency. But also, all of those ethics issues were issues for which he could have issued executive orders without anyone complaining about his right to do so. He didn’t do any of them because in some cases he hadn’t really meant it or hadn’t really thought about it. And in other cases, he apparently changed his mind.”
“But his main message down the stretch of that 2008 election was cleaning up Washington. When he got into office, he personally decided not to fulfill any of the promises he made. It was the single issue on which he made the most specific promises. There are very few issues on which he was as detailed in terms of what he was going to do.”
“In fact, he didn’t do any of it.”
“Trump did the same thing. These were the two most historic elections of my adult life – 2008 and 2016.”
“In the industrial states where he pulled enough votes to come out on top, the drain the swamp ad was virtually his entire advertising budget. It wasn’t about NAFTA. It wasn’t about the Mexican wall. It wasn’t about terrorism.”
“At the end, Trump’s consultants, working we now know from the Facebook data that was purloined by Cambridge Analytica, gave Trump both drain the swamp and the wall. Those both came out of the Facebook data analysis.”
“And Trump people told him that of all of those issues, the one that mattered the most was corruption. And Trump ran an ad, almost exclusively at the end of that election in the industrial states, that I could have written, that Bernie Sanders could have written, that anyone working on public corruption and serious about it could have written.”
“It was extremely effective.”
“Finally, there was Bernie’s campaign. People complain that the Sanders campaign was monochromatic, that Bernie had a single rap and he gave it a lot. There is something to that.”
“The rap, however, was really good. And it was simple. You could fairly distill Bernie’s campaign into three points.”
“One, that democracy is corrupt.”
“Two, the middle class is dying.”
“And three, the reason the middle class is dying is because the democracy is corrupt.”
“That was the Sanders’ campaign in its essence. And it did gangbusters business. If labor hadn’t endorsed Hillary Clinton en mass without consulting its own membership, Sanders would have been the nominee almost certainly. Clinton almost certainly would not have won those early states — Nevada, Massachusetts, Iowa. In all of those states, she would have gone down, without AFSCME and the teachers in particular.”
“Bernie’s message had overwhelming appeal. It’s why Bernie was beating everybody in the general polls. That appeal isn’t just the Democrats – it’s across the board. It is the most powerful and effective and important political message in America today.”
“The great mystery is – how come no one running for office is saying it out loud?”
But you just said that Obama, Trump and Bernie all said it out loud and did very well.
“They did. Yes they did. Why isn’t every House and Senate candidate running on it?”
What is the answer?
“Both parties have a perceived self interest in never bringing it up. It’s the bipartisan consensus.”
“People keep calling for bipartisanship. I can’t watch cable news or pick up a newspaper without someone calling for more bipartisanship. It’s amazing given the lousy record of bipartisanship that this cliche is still repeated. Bipartisanship has given us deficit spending, the Iraq war, no child left behind, the race to the top, corporate education policies.”
“There is a bipartisan consensus. Our problem is not partisan gridlock or disagreement over the cultural issues that are always in the news. Our biggest problem is the bipartisan agreement at the time on the issues that are structural.”
“Iraq. Deficit spending. Pay to play politics. International trade. Education policy. The leaders of both parties in the executive and legislative branch agreed completely on all of those policies.”
“There is another consensus in America. The grassroots consensus. And that consensus opposed all of those policies.”
[For the complete Interview with Bill Curry, see 32 Corporate Crime Reporter 15(12), Monday April 9, 2018, print edition only.]
This piece first appeared at Corporate Crime Reporter.