I think a lot of people misunderstand what the real corrupting force in federal politics is. It’s not campaign contributions, but the desire to have a cushy retirement–something I pointed out two years ago:
It’s simple: it’s about life after politics. 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.
The narcissistic motivation is far more subtle. Many ex-politicians are invited to join think tanks or, at least, be participants on panels and round tables (which often pay a decent stipend for ‘marquee’ names, such as an ex-senator). This allows them to, once again, for a brief, shining moment, walk into a room and have everyone treat them as a Very Important Person. And you get to blather on about policy without having to the heavy lifting of politics and politicking. Yet if you’re tagged as the ‘wrong sort’, you won’t get these perks either.
That’s why I thought Ezra Klein’s lovey-dovey post about Senator Evan Bayh last year was odd: there was nothing in his record that suggested he would do anything other than line his own pockets after leaving the Senate.
So how is Bayh doing so far? Did he return to the Great State of Indiana, or remain in the cesspool of Washington? Stayed in War-Shing-Tun.
Did he decide to work for a lobbyist? Why, yes, he did:
He did not, as he said he was thinking of doing, join a foundation. Rather, he went to the massive law firm McGuire Woods. And who does McGuire Woods work for? “Principal clients served from our Washington office include national energy companies, foreign countries, international manufacturing companies, trade associations and local and national businesses,” reads the company’s Web site. He followed that up by signing on as a senior adviser to Apollo Management Group, a giant public-equity firm.
Did he opt for being a professional pontificator? You betcha:
…this week, he joined Fox News as a contributor. It’s as if he’s systematically ticking off every poison he identified in the body politic and rushing to dump more of it into the water supply.
Admittedly, Fox is a little declassé, if renumerative, but he’ll climb his way up, I’m sure. Klein seems very distraught about all of this:
The “corrosive system of campaign financing” that Bayh considered such a threat? He’s being paid by both McGuire Woods and Apollo Global Management to act as a corroding agent on their behalf. The “strident partisanship” and “unyielding ideology” he complained was ruining the Senate? At Fox News, he’ll be right there on set while it gets cooked up. His warning that “what is required from members of Congress and the public alike is a new spirit of devotion to the national welfare beyond party or self-interest” sounds, in retrospect, like a joke. Evan Bayh doing performance art as Evan Bayh. Exactly which of these new positions would Bayh say is against his self-interest, or in promotion of the general welfare?
Everyone says Klein is a really smart guy–oy, look at those punim! But Klein really has to pull his head out of his policy briefings and pay attention to the obvious. He has to stop being so credulous, especially when talking to conservatives. It was obvious what Bayh would do.
Go back to Indiana and teach business management at State? Especially since Bayh’s wife’s value as a Wellpoint (health insurance company) board member has diminished with his retirement. C’mon….