When Tom Daschle joined the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird in 2005, The Washington Post detailed the critical role played by Bob Dole -- special counsel to the firm (who "has been reported to earn $800,000 to $1 million annually") -- in recruiting Daschle to join (h/t). The article quoted Dole as explaining why Daschle would be such a valuable addition with a sentence that ought to be taught in every sixth-grade civics class around the country to explain how our Government works:
Dole said the Democrat would be a valuable asset to the firm even though Congress is run by the GOP these days.
"He's got a lot of friends in the Senate, and I've got a lot of friends in the Senate, and, combined, who knows -- we might have 51," Dole joked. "It's going to work fine. You need some flexibility and diversity. I don't think any successful firm is all Democrat or all Republican."
That about covers how Washington works: driven by sleazy, bipartisan influence-peddling. And it is, in particular, how the Senate works: members do nice favors for their "friends," who are lavishly paid for asking for those favors (and who ensure that their "friends" still in the Senate are rewarded for granting those favors), and the outcome is our set of laws.
Just to get a sense for how much sleazier this has all become, the Post quotes Public Citizen's Craig Holman as saying about Daschle's move: "The revolving door is just spinning out of control these days," and the article cites this statistic to prove that:
In the 1970s only about 3 percent of retiring members of Congress wound up in K Street law and lobbying firms. These days, the figure is more like 32 percent, [Holman] said, in part fueled by the dramatic increase in pay for such positions.
One last point: Former Time Magazine reporter Matt Cooper, at his new TPM blog, wrote yesterday:
At the moment, you have to think Tom Daschle is going to pull this out. . . . The blogs are not on fire--yes, there's Greenwald, I know--but there's not pitchfork mob calling for his head of the size and scope usually needed to kill a nomination. The optics of the thing are terrible but it's not deadly.
Just to be clear: I didn't write about Tom Daschle's sleazy history in order to initiate a crusade to defeat his nomination. I wrote about Daschle because the ways in which he is sleazy are illustrative of how the Washington establishment generally works. Daschle is noteworthy only because he's marginally more tawdry and transparent than the average Beltway operative -- the same reason that Rod Blagojevich has become the target of self-righteous condemnation even though what he is alleged to have done is different only as a matter of style (and, very arguably, degree) when compared to, say, Chuck Schumer's extremely "symbiotic" relationship with his Wall Street donors or Dianne Feinstein's humiliating resignation as Chair of the Military Construction Appropriations Sub-Committee after she got caught by independent, local investigative reporter Peter Byrne abusing that position by shoveling hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to defense contractors owned by her husband:
As chairperson and ranking member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) from 2001 through the end of 2005, Feinstein supervised the appropriation of billions of dollars a year for specific military construction projects. Two defense contractors whose interests were largely controlled by her husband, financier Richard C. Blum, benefited from decisions made by Feinstein as leader of this powerful subcommittee. . . .
From 1997 through the end of 2005, with Feinstein's knowledge, Blum was a majority owner of both URS Corp. and Perini Corp.
While setting MILCON agendas for many years, Feinstein, 73, supervised her own staff of military construction experts as they carefully examined the details of each proposal. She lobbied Pentagon officials in public hearings to support defense projects that she favored, some of which already were or subsequently became URS or Perini contracts. From 2001 to 2005, URS earned $792 million from military construction and environmental cleanup projects approved by MILCON; Perini earned $759 million from such MILCON projects.
In her annual Public Financial Disclosure Reports, Feinstein records a sizable family income from large investments in Perini, which is based in Framingham, Mass., and in URS, headquartered in San Francisco.
And that's to say nothing about the fact that the entire Republican Party was fueled in large part during the Bush years by the criminal enterprise headed by Jack Abramoff.
How are people like that going to sit in judgment of Tom Daschle and pretend to be offended by his sleazy, ethically compromised history? Obviously, they can't and won't: "That Daschle's former colleagues are vociferously supporting him is to be expected, but Democrats were surprisingly confident that the former Senate leader would ascend to President Obama's Cabinet." It doesn't really matter how slimy Daschle is or what revelations emerge about what he has done. The last thing that is disqualifying in Washington is an eagerness to profit off of one's political connections. If anything, that's a prerequisite for admission into its inner circle (which is what made all of the shocked Beltway tongue-clucking over the Blagojevich "scandal" so intolerable; Blagojevich's real crime was one of style: he was a blatantly outside-the-Beltway buffoon unschooled in the ways of smooth high-level political corruption).
Daschle is going to be confirmed no matter what is discovered about him. Bob Dole (who vigorously supports Daschle's nomination) explained exactly why three years ago when he first recruited Daschle to join his firm: "He's got a lot of friends in the Senate, and I've got a lot of friends in the Senate, and, combined, who knows -- we might have 51." The Post described that as a "joke," but the only facetious part was Dole's eye-winking pretense that, working together, their ability to get 51 votes was anything other than certain.
UPDATE: Unexpected good news: "Tom Daschle has withdrawn his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary." That's a rare episode of accountability in Washington.
On a different note, PaulBlu in comments notes this post from Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison that strongly takes issue with the above-referenced reporting of Peter Byrne regarding Dianne Feinstein. It's difficult to assess what actually happened there, but Allison clearly has some compelling objections to the piece and, in an email exchange he had with Byrne, Byrne seems to back away somewhat from the accusation that Feinstein actively steered contracts to her husband, and notes instead (accurately, I think) that there was, at the very least, a strong appearance of a conflict of interest that should have compelled her to remove herself from that position.