It appears the de facto Congressional retirement plan is spreading to the lower orders. For those who aren’t familiar with the Congressional retirement plan, here’s what I mean:
One of the dirty secrets about many, if not most, congressmen and senators is that they like Washington, D.C., rhetoric notwithstanding. They want to stay in town after they leave (or lose) office. Once you’ve tasted the Capital of the Free World, do you really want to go back to Pierre, South Dakota? (Tom Daschle comes to mind…). It’s funny how many politicians, having made a career out of bashing War-Shing-Tun, don’t…seem…to…ever…leave.
I can’t blame them: I moved to Boston, and would be very happy to stay here. Places do grow on you. The problem comes, for politicians, when they have to find a job. For an ex-politician, there aren’t that many ‘straight paths’ to getting your next job: lobbyist and corporate board member are the easiest and the most lucrative.
But if you get a reputation as someone who opposes large business interests, what chance do you have of getting either of these types of jobs? Sometimes, the quid pro quo is very crude and direct (e.g., Billy Tauzin), but the Village’s political culture makes it clear what is acceptable. One should not be ‘populist’, or, heaven forbid, liberal.
According to Matt Stoller, the contagion is spreading (italics mine):
Let’s take a look at someone that I liked a great deal while I worked in the House, a staffer named Doug Thornell, who worked for Rep. Chris Van Hollen. Van Hollen was the architect of the Democratic response to Citizens United, as well as the Chair of the electoral arm of the House Democrats, the DCCC. Thornell was his communications staffer, and you could always count on him for a quote to go after the GOP’s reliance on special interests. Thornell was also one of the Hill’s 50 most beautiful people in 2010.
In 2010, Doug Thornell would let the GOP have it.
“For 20 years, John Boehner has been in Washington caddying for powerful corporate special interests and working against middle class families,” Doug Thornell said. “He rushed to support President Bush’s Wall Street bailout, but when President Obama asked for his support for middle class tax cuts, help for small businesses and aid for those most in need, he turned his back.”
Fast-forward to 2011. Doug Thornell is now working for a group seeking to allow corporations to repatriate profits without paying taxes. His tune on special interests has changed.
“Our broken tax system currently penalizes U.S. businesses that want to bring their global earnings home,” said Doug Thornell, a former House Democratic staffer who is now a spokesman for the Win America Campaign. “The simple truth is there are few policy options left that will inject this amount of money into our economy and cost taxpayers next to nothing.”
You can say “how dare he do this!” But that’s actually beside the point. Doug is a highly trained and highly competent communications staffer, and he genuinely did want to help people when he worked for Van Hollen. Where else could he go after the Democrats lost the majority? It’s obvious that the career path options in the political class are so limited that they constrain behavior within the institutions themselves.
While Stoller proposes that liberals should have well-heeled
retirement homes think tanks in which former Democratic operatives can be esconced, what this really tells us is that our political betters–the ones who supposedly know so much more than we hoi polloi–are fatally compromised. And I don’t know how to fix that.
It would appear that once upon a time, Democratic operatives were able to serve their country without an off ramp. Not sure what happened since then.