Home Politicians Decision Point: To Enter the Revolving Door (or Not)

Decision Point: To Enter the Revolving Door (or Not)

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Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

(Robert Frost, from The Road Not Taken.)

In his Nov 10 segment of “Let Me Finish,” Chris Matthews spoke about the corrupting influence of power and money among Hill staffers, and in some cases, members of Congress.  He spoke specifically of when they arrive on the Hill and that first decision point about what kind of steward of the public trust they will be.

I write today about when they leave.  Voters have spoken for better or worse, in foolishness or frustration, and to the tune of the corporate-funded piper, or (less often), not.  The result is yet another class of soon-to-be ex-Congresspersons. Will they use their “exile” for good or for ill, or something in between in that gray area?  This is the moment when they can make something great of their new beginnings, or not. They can make it about working toward a better America, or about working to advantage themselves.  Surely it is hard to argue that those who’ve served us don’t deserve a break, or even retirement.  And should they decide to do that, we should honor them.  But should they continue their working years, that decision beckons. It is the moment of truth for each of them.  How many will turn their energies toward getting legislation passed in the public interest or achieving something otherwise truly lasting?  Or how many will spend their remaining work years subverting that public interest?  Forget that “gray area.”  There really is no middle ground.

Like the losers in Virginia’s 2009 state elections before them, the federal losers of Nov 2nd face choices often even more differentiated and potent than most of their state and local counterparts.  There comes a moment when a retiring Congressman or woman pivots either to a constructive generative future, or a corrupting one. They could turn this electoral madness around by modeling the way to further the work of this nation.  But the revolving door beckons and is a seductress.  Whether or not they enter it is the mark of the man (or woman). Think about the talent and what it could accomplish.  

The talents, even brilliance, of Russ Feingold, Alan Grayson, Rick Boucher and many, many others.  Think of it! Might they head a not-for-profit?  Or become spectacular public interest attorneys?  Might they head a think tank?  Or work in some way to make the lives of the 98% better?  I am an optimist.  And I continue to hope that Democrats may yet mount the kind of effort outside public office that the wrong-wing has, but one with a soul, truth-telling honesty, constructive purpose, and dignity. Imagine a concerted effort on the part of Dems that really countered the so-called tea party, but with the dignity of a Rick Boucher, who to the end modeled how a congressperson should handle himself, the consummate gentleman. The need is great.  I have heard that David Brock, founder of Media Matters, is poised to launch a progressive effort.  Surely we need others too. Imagine one also with the fiery passion of an Alan Grayson, who easily and effortlessly counters lies, myths and distortions of the other side.  Imagine Russ Feingold’s and Rick Boucher’s passion for the Constitution buttressing an effort to assure that government of, for and by (real) people doesn’t perish from this country. These are just a few examples.

Unfortunately, though, we already know what one recently retired (by “choice” of sorts–polls showed he’d lose by a wide margin, so he did not run), Senator Evan Bayh, chose, even before the end of the lame duck session.  Now he’s appearing with Peter Peterson in a campaign against the interests of his fellow Americans, the 98% at least.  He does not have enough money and power, it seems, not even with his good income, pension, talents, and wife’s high-paid executive job at one of the biggest insurance companies in America.  Now he has pooled his Blue Dog energies to bring the radical-wrong wrecking crew to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and any and all human services–and then claim he has “saved” them.  There is something wrong with this man, who cares more about protecting the industry his wife serves than protecting his constituents and more about serving the interests of the Koch brothers, big oil, etc, than the rest of America.  Now we see the caliber of the man, who makes the character in Death of a Salesman , Willie Lowman, look somehow less tragic.

We know too of how Brian Moran chose.  I do not write this to bash Brian.  As I said before, I like him.  Many of my friends still support him for DPVA chair.  Instead  I write about the moment of truth that pols face, that we all face.  That moment when we can really accomplish something good, or not.  (It is never too late…)

Of all the aspects of government service which complicate and confound a politician’s efforts to make constructive change three things stand out: Money, influence and power.  How a politician harnesses one’s attraction to those three things tells you what you need to know.  And you have to wonder, does the thought of returning to the 98% seem so repugnant?  I sincerely hope that is not it.

The job of citizen lobbyist does not pay.  And, given our current system, it isn’t easy for citizen lobbyists with no financial backing to be heard in the same way as those representing powerful interests.  But it is noble work in fulfillment of our truest responsibility as citizens.  This could be the moment when citizen lobbyists–all joined together–overcome the power of Koch, Bradley, Gates, Walton Peterson and others. There is corporate “person-hood” to slay, after all.  If only it were so.

Like all human beings, I am an imperfect person.  I have made my share of mistakes.  For all I know, Brian Moran may be a far better person than I.  But one thing I know is that choosing the gravy train is not always the best choice.  Choosing a path that will harm millions of real people, or bury our public schools and colleges, surely is not. As Robert Frost wrote:


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

  • Dan Sullivan

    This revolving door business is a morass. It extends to all aspects of human interaction and preys on our weaknesses. A comment by Gretchen Laskas yesterday follows along these lines.

    For the life of me I do not know how some can look themselves in the mirror knowing their decisions were taken along that road based upon personal interests that were to the detriment of their employers; whether politicians betraying the electorate, military leadership betraying the trust and confidence of the protectorate, or employees betraying the bosses to whom they owe alligiance. All taking decisons to set themselves up for life after office, service, or employment.

    There is nothing wrong with looking out for your own interests. There is a lot wrong with betraying your integrity to the detriment of your benefactors so that you can later prey on them.

    Politicians claim business acumen and who hail entrpreneurship as the holy grail of the economy, then can’t strike out on their own are among the worst offenders. Military personnel who go to work for the contactors they “supervised” while on active duty come in a close second. But public servants are not alone in this. It is, as Gretchen points out, a human condition.