After a weird hiatus in modern history lasting four years — more like the “Twilight Zone” than “West Wing” — the US under Joe Biden will presumably return to its stable center, which is proudly claimed to be “center-right.” The Biden camp thinks that defining the nation as center-right is an objective, lucid, realistic evaluation of the mood of the population. They base it on their interpretation of the results of the 2020 election that sent Joe Biden to the White House, reduced the representation of Democrats in the House and left Republicans in control of the Senate.
The true Democrats — a group that excludes a small minority of fanatical progressives — consider themselves the center but also claim to be progressive. The true Republicans — moderates like John Kasich and Meg Whitman, who endorsed Biden — are just right of center. And they claim that the millions of Trump voters define the right. This means that to accomplish the goal of unifying the country and offering something to everyone across the spectrum, President-elect Joe Biden’s policy should logically be situated somewhere to the right of the moderate Republicans.
The Low Expectations of Biden’s High-Mindedness
Though the media seems uninterested, it can easily be demonstrated that this official reading of the “mood” of the US is based on totally erroneous assumptions. The US population is clearly tired of a foreign policy based on endless overseas wars, even traumatized by it. A clear majority of Americans, irrespective of party allegiance, favor the principle themes proposed by the progressive left of the Democratic Party: Medicare for All, a wealth tax, an end to bailouts for the rich, a $15 minimum wage, free college education, the decriminalization of marijuana, to mention only those. The Democratic center that Biden represents has branded most of those positions extreme. And the Republicans will systematically oppose them.
If a majority of the people clamor for progressive policies but the officials they elect oppose them, shouldn’t the leaders recognize a state of cognitive dissidence rather than assume that their own values represent the truth? When citing the “mood of the nation,” whose mood are they talking about, the people’s or the that of Washington insiders? Whose mood will guide the new administration’s policies?
If the choices Biden has been making for his cabinet are any indication, the only mood worth taking seriously is that of Beltway insiders. An article in The New York Times by Eric Lipton and Kenneth P. Vogel, “Biden Aides’ Ties to Consulting and Investment Firms Pose Ethics Test,” looks at the recent activity of Biden’s cabinet choices reveals how the system is built. All of the identified candidates for significant posts are linked to the kinds of corporate interests that oppose the positions the US public supports.
Worse, the authors analyze the structural corruption of the DC system of revolving doors. They focus on two companies: the consulting firm WestExec Advisors and an investment fund, Pine Island Capital Partners. The two firms feature “an overlapping roster of politically connected officials,” that include “the most prominent names on President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s team and others under consideration for high-ranking posts.” WestExec was founded by the future secretary of state, Tony Blinken, and a top candidate for secretary of defense, Michèle Flournoy.
The authors bring up the fact that Biden’s nominees have refused to release a list of their firm’s clients. This would be the key to following up any suspicion of corruption. WestExec generously offered this explanation of their refusal: “As a general matter, many of our clients require us to sign nondisclosure agreements, which are a standard business practice to protect confidential information. We are legally and ethically bound by those agreements.”
Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:
Legally and ethically bound:
Required by a supreme law, doubly enforced (by a moral code among people of honor and commercial law) to place one’s loyalty to corporate masters ahead of public service.
Welcome to the iron-clad logic of what may be called the rulebook of the elite. Slaves in the old South and elsewhere were physically bound to prevent their escape. Slaves to an all-powerful corrupt system are voluntarily bound by shackles of self-interested solidarity. The average person assumes that the wealthy and powerful have absolute freedom. They too are slaves.
Some may wonder if any difference exists between the idea of being “ethically bound” by devious commercial agreements and the Mafia’s law of omertà. Both function as a law of silence designed to hide shameful activities. The difference is that the Mafia never claims their business is either ethical or legal. Saagar Enjeti addressed The Times article on his program for The Hill, describing how the influence-peddling system Blinken and Flournoy created works, how the consulting company and the hedge fund work together to disguise their corruption. He added that “the best part is it’s totally legal. It’s also corruption 101 … a more sophisticated way of handing somebody a briefcase full of cash.”
Lipton and Vogel describe the system in these terms: “WestExec’s business plan accommodates the revolving door between the influence industry and government by offering services that draw on government expertise without triggering lobbying laws that would require its officials to disclose their clients’ identities or specific issues before the government.”
Democrats will undoubtedly point out that none of this compares with the obscenity of Donald Trump’s flagrant violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution from day one of his presidency, to say nothing of the aggravated nepotism of his administration over the past four years. But the Democrats’ precious revolving door has been there for decades. Trump’s outrageous performance offered a singular advantage to any Democrat or Republican succeeding him. If they return to the more traditional, discrete methods of corruption, no one will blink an eye. Biden has been around DC lobbyists and their ilk long enough to understand the rules of that game.
The Times article is astonishing if only because it breaks with the newspaper’s perceived editorial stance of systematically developing Democratic talking points and avoiding any criticism of the party’s establishment. This time, the authors pull no punches as they describe what can only be called a flagrant sell-out to the corporate plutocracy by a president who didn’t even wait to assume his functions before putting the graft machine to work.
Democrats will protest that, to quote Marc Antony on Brutus and his fellow assassins, “these are all honorable men” (even if today many of them are women). Lipton and Vogel mention the fact that the DC lobbyists they have spoken to “say WestExec has already come to be seen as a go-to firm for insight on how Mr. Biden’s team will approach issues of significance to deep-pocketed corporate interests.” Given the direct connections his appointees have with major defense contractors, the military-industrial complex will find itself in a more comfortable position than under Trump.
The article nevertheless carefully avoids adventuring into the real and most troubling consequences of this revolving door. Biden’s group of political professionals has a shared professional and financial interest in keeping the massive arms industry ticking over. That doesn’t mean that war is imminent. It means that the risk of war and the threat of military intervention will continue to be a dominant tool not just of diplomacy, but also of the management of the economy.
Trump had his own personal way of being what he claimed he would be during his first presidential campaign: “the most militaristic” president ever. Nevertheless, he thought military action abroad was a waste of money and sought to bring home the troops, but he also insisted that military build-up was vital. He relentlessly and needlessly bloated the defense budget. In comparison, Democratic presidents, at least since Lyndon Johnson, have tended to support both the build-up and the intervention.
Biden’s future cabinet certainly appears to conform to that model. This cabinet will undoubtedly find itself “ethically and legally bound” to reinforce the US military presence across the globe. That’s what Democrats have been doing for decades. And that’s what the masters of the revolving door have been trained to do.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.