Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wall Street Flunky for Governor? I Think Not.

You’d think the California GOP would have learned.  In 2010 the party ran two representatives of the corporate world for the Governorship and a Senate seat and lost spectacularly.  Californians were not impressed by the argument that the state should be run like a business, particularly not after a profiteering, anti-social, corporate mentality plunged our country into a recession.
"The 35 year old dingbat from Goldman someone put in charge of handing out $700 billion bailout dollars"


In 2014, wary of their party’s nomination falling into the hands of a Minuteman with a criminal record and the outlook of a fundamentalist, the state GOP turned to Neel Kashkari.  Memorably described as “the 35 year old dingbat from Goldman someone put in charge of handing out $700 billion bailout dollars”, Kashkari represents the effort by the GOP establishment to move away from the dead-end social conservatism of its grassroots base (a base increasingly impoverished by GOP economic policy) and towards an embrace of the twisted libertarianism increasingly amenable to the state’s upper middle class voters in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

According to a recent story in the Sacramento Bee, Kashkari believes that his electoral fortunes can only rise—he currently polls at about 2%— if voters get to know him more.  But if he thinks that people are going to find his record of serving Wall Street endearing, he’ll have to think again.

In her recent book, Senator Elizabeth Warren recalls how part-way through negotiations about the bailout and stimulus she asked Kashkari about how much more money was going to the banks.  “Kashkari”, she recalled, “objected to the word bailout, so we wrangled about that for a couple of minutes.  But he was very clear on one point: the big cash injections were done, and Treasury would now concentrate on getting assistance to smaller banks”.

“Less than forty-eight hours later”, Warren went on, “the news broke that Treasury had just mad e ahuge new commitment to Citibank, a giant bank that had already received $25 billion in TARP money.  Now Treasury was giving $20 billion in additional TARP bailout funds to Citibank, plus a $306 billion taxpayer guarantee”. 

Warren fumed about how as her watchdog group was working to ensure that TARP funds benefited taxpayers, Kashkari “sent [Warren and her colleagues] out of the room knowing we believed that the big bailouts were over and knowing exactly how wrong that belief was” (Warren 89-90).  Kashkari had tried to persuade the public that they should “trust the insiders”, in Warren’s words, when the insiders either didn’t know what they were doing, or else were playing a game in which a “win” meant working at cross-purposes with the interests of the public (Warren 95).

Now the half-witted “expert” who fumbled the national economy wants to try his hand at California’s. 
As any aspiring GOP candidate must, Kashkari cites Reagan as his political inspiration.  It’s fitting, because Regan began the process of running California for its wealthiest citizens rather than for all of its citizens.  He declared war on the state’s children, and he introduced tuition to the state’s public university.  He attacked the poor as “scroungers”, and questioned the patriotism of his critics, by way of avoiding responsibility.

Kashkari “became captivated with President Ronald Reagan” as he watched him fumble his way through the Iran-Contra hearings.  Perhaps as he lied to Elizabeth Warren and worked for Wall Street’s ends rather than the public good, Kashkari could relate to watching Reagan’s contortions as he sought to brush away the criminal activity and gangsterism of his administration in the Middle East and Central America.

In an effort to brush away his own legacy of carrying cash to Wall Street, Kashkari has come up with a campaign platform: Jobs and Education.  That’s it”.  And that’s really it.  Kashkari’s “policies”, such as they exist, are the typical bundle of contradictions faced by right-wingers who pretend to some measure of social responsibility and public-spiritedness.  He won’t raise new revenue, but he’s somehow going to improve beleaguered schools and universities by waving his magic wand.  He’s not going to protect the increasingly fragile rights of working people, but somehow that wand will create, good, secure, well-paid jobs. 

Kashkari isn’t the only one with “bailout” troubles.  Jerry Brown, coasting to re-election, embraced the austerity which characterised the GOP’s nationwide response to the recession with a vengeance, dishing out punishment to California’s poorest, weakest, youngest, and oldest citizens with little regard for anything other than his political future.

And when pressed on restoring funding to the state’s higher education sector, a potential engine for creating jobs, kick-starting new sectors of the economy, and reducing inequality by offering opportunities, Brown demurred, equating public funding of a public university with the bank “bailouts”. 

Faced only with the likes of Donnelly and Kashkari, Brown is cruising to re-election.  But it is an open question whether California’s students and their parents will put up with being compared to Wall Street bankers by a Governor who is transparently unmoved by the wreckage his right-wing policies are making of the state. 

If nothing else, Brown and Kashkari should have an interesting conversation about their respective failures to address economic and democratic crises if they ever meet on the debate stage.  But since Kashkari is being beaten better than eight to one in the polls by a man with a criminal record who hasn’t raised enough money to pay his next fine let alone run a campaign, I suspect that’s a conversation that will never take place...

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Elizabeth Warren, A Fighting Chance.  New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.

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