Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Is the Doddering Dud the Real Dodd?
. . . Or is the helpless handwringing by the chair of the Senate Banking Committee a diversion?
CNN.com has published an interview with Senator Christopher Dodd that helps us understand how the current large-scale financial woes came to be. Dodd is chair of the Senate Banking Committee, but he doesn't sound as if he has any specialized knowledge or understanding of the industry his committee is supposed to regulate. And he doesn't seem to think before he talks.
Or maybe the senior Senator from Fannie and Freddie -- I call him that because he has taken even more in campaign contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac than Senator Barack Obama (though admittedly over many more years than Obama) -- maybe he is just reading the Democratic talking points his staff pulled off the fax machine.
Or maybe he's just playing innocent.
We'll start small and work our way toward a stealthy election prediction at the end.
Notice that in speaking of the proposed $700 billion bailout, Dodd doesn't seem to know the meaning of "blank check." When you give someone a blank check, you let that person fill in the amount. It requires a great deal of trust or foolishness, or both, on the part of the account holder. (The bold type in quotations hereafter is not in the original.)
Now note how he speaks as if he is a complete outsider, observing things that have happened on someone else's watch. And see if these lines also conjure visions for you of the man wringing his hands, maybe even whining a little:
What I cannot quote for you from the interview is when the journalist asks next, "Senator, doesn't your committee, and for that matter don't you personally, bear some responsibility for this debacle? A lot of lawmakers, you most of all, seem to have taken a lot of campaign money from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae over the years in order to look the other way." I can't quote it, you understand, because it's not there.
I also can't quote Senator Dodd saying that we need to do something. His language throughout is more passive than that: "Something needs to be done here. . . . Clearly something needs to be done." "It needs to be straightened out." This is Senatespeak. It detaches the Senator from any active connection with, responsibility for, or personal duty to solve a problem.
Here's a howler:
Yet he was happy to receive a large chunk of Freddie's and Fannie's lobbying budgets over the years in exchange for looking the other way while executives there committed large-scale fraud and walked off with enormous amounts of money. (See Slate's list of villains.)
Later, when it suits him, Dodd knows exactly how this happened: the Bush administration did it.Never mind the well-documented fact that this bipartisan travesty began years before President Bush took office, under a Democratic administration, and the fact that the biggest beneficiaries were prominent Democrats. And let's not mention the fact that it's Dodd's committee's job to make sure these things don't happen. The key words are "eight-year coffee break."
Finally, read between the lines here, and you'll see that Dodd is not confident that the Democrats will win the presidential election. He thinks the next Treasury Secretary is likely to be part of another Republican administration.
The chair of the Senate Banking Committee should be -- should have become, if he didn't begin as -- one of the nation's experts on banking and finance. The picture here is of something else entirely: a partisan hack, an intellectual lightweight, a passive hand-wringer. Maybe that's an accurate picture of Senator Dodd; maybe it's not. Maybe he thinks it plays better than looking knowledgeable, which in this case would automatically include appearing to be one of the major culprits in the current financial debacle, which he is.
Take your pick.
Who elects these people?
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Meanwhile, back at the presidential election campaigns, the sometimes bitter, often insightful Christopher Hitchens is linking Senator Barack Obama with the D-word. No, not Depression; we're not even in a recession. A scarier word, if you're a Democrat: Dukakis, as in, "Is Obama Another Dukakis?"
Copyright 2008 by David Rodeback.