Biden Must Drain His Own Swamp If Dems Want to Prevail
There’s an accelerating effort by progressive organizations to press Joe Biden to strip from his campaign and transition effort, and, if he wins, keep out of his administration, people who have worked — as lobbyists, lawyers, and corporate executives — to advance special interest goals that harm regular Americans. Biden and his team must heed this effort as a warning, for keeping his swamp drained of corrupt influences is not just the moral thing to do, and not just the best approach for strengthening our democracy and economy; it’s also important if Biden is to beat Donald Trump, and if Democrats are to win the critical elections that will follow and rid America of corrupt, divisive, malevolent Trumpism.
Donald Trump’s 2016 victory has been credited to a number of factors: Russian interference, misogyny, the personal unpopularity of his opponent, perhaps the sense among many that things were pretty good, so why not be entertained? But a core of Trump voters were drawn to a set of grievances that their candidate seemed to share, and those grievances were not only about racist whites fearing they had lost control of the country.
Trump promised to drain the swamp, and that resonated with working people who had come to believe that Washington is rigged, that a rising stock market was mostly the symbol of increasing income equality, that global trade deals continued to spur layoffs and factory closings, that the bankers and other corporate crooks who scammed their customers always got away with it. Candidate Bernie Sanders that year tapped into the same concerns. That Trump’s ultimate opponent, Hillary Clinton, was tied to a bunch of former officials and politicians associated with those grievances, while Trump was tied to pretty much nobody, made him, for some, a valid anti-corruption candidate.
Trump’s promise to drain the swamp, of course, turned out to be, like all his promises, a scam. His administration has been perhaps the most corrupt in history, from obvious grifting by Trump, his family members, and entitled cabinet officials like Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Tom Price, and Mike Pompeo to advance their personal and financial interests; to the Mitch McConnell-assisted pay-to-play shaping of regulations, tax laws, and judicial appointments to benefit wealthy GOP donors; to the perversion of criminal justice, aided by angry stooge Bill Barr, providing impunity for Trump and his henchmen, and seeking vengeance against critics and whistleblowers.
Now, the conditions of our pandemic-ravaged, economy-depressed country; Trump’s abysmal, incompetent, divisive, corruptly self-interested performance; and, of course, all the polls point to a Biden victory and a chance for Democrats to control both houses of Congress. But one of the ways that Biden could lose momentum is if he is seen as another candidate of special interests.
The efforts of these progressive groups (some with which I work closely), coupled with media interest, is producing more and more news stories about people in the Biden orbit who, when out of government, have been paid to advocate for harmful and dangerous policies sought by special interests — fossil fuel companies, big banks, junk food purveyors, predatory for-profit colleges, foreign dictatorships, and more.
Some of the subjects of these articles are colleagues of mine from many years working in Washington, including in the Clinton White House and on Capitol Hill. Some are friends, many are good people. Working for corporations, law firms, and other for-profit ventures is not the issue, should not be disqualifying. Every case should be evaluated on its merits, and a minor slip should not cancel out a career of good work in the public interest.
But working to oppose progressive initiatives of Democratic administrations, to prevent accountability for consumer scams or environmental crimes, to increase income inequality, to undermine human rights overseas, and the like — those facts should be reviewed, and Biden should not populate his administration with people who have repeatedly aided the privileged over the people in order to enrich themselves. Because that’s bad policy, and it’s bad politics.
The American people want to know, especially after experiencing the cynical corruption of the Trump administration, that Biden is selecting people who have acted with integrity and judgment. But we cannot adequately evaluate candidates in this respect unless we know not only where they have worked, but who actually paid them. To that end, there must not be a dark money component to Biden personnel disclosures. Biden must require all personnel selected for the transition and the administration to provide full disclosure of the original sources of their incomes — and not allow applicants to hide their actual benefactors, foreign or domestic, because the money was provided through a pass-through entity, such as a law firm, a public relations outfit, or a non-profit organization.
Even if the greater urgency of ridding the nation of Trump, his ugly racism, and his pandemic keeps these issues of corruption and integrity on the back burner in 2020, they could come back with a vengeance in 2022 and 2024. Personnel is policy, and Biden installing special interest lobbyists in key government positions would lead to more corrupt influence on key issues, aggravate the split in the Democratic party, and alienate working class voters of all backgrounds. It could lead to the restoration of Trumpism — and even a 47th president Donald J. Trump himself — if Biden does not keep Democratic swamp creatures off his team.