Karl Marx’s economic interpretation of history has fallen so far out of fashion that William Greider fairly startles us with how well its application can work in Who Will Tell the People. The rest of us sit numbed with asking ourselves over and over, “What’s wrong with the Democratic Party?” and Greider bobs up with an answer as plausible as it is simple: Nothing at all is wrong with the Democratic Party from the point of view of the cadre of Washington lawyers who are its government in exile.
The senior among them is Robert Strauss, universally recognized as “Mr. Democrat.” Strauss’s firm, Akin, Gump, Greider observes, represents “everything from Drexel Burnham Lambert to the Motion Picture Association of America, from McDonnell Douglas to AT & T.” Strauss is currently on leave as ambassador to Russia, doing his country honor and service as explorer of new economic frontiers.
An ascending junior is Tommy Boggs, son of Hale Boggs, the deceased former majority leader of the House. One ornament of Patton, Boggs and Blow is Ron Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Brown’s elevation was popularly recognized as a mark of the new authority of Democrats of color. It seems to have been rather more significant as evidence of Tommy Boggs’s increasing authority as a Democrat of power and profit. His new office has inhibited Brown’s exertions as lobbyist; but all the same, while Old Nippon was outtrading us and the congressional Democrats were threatening reprisals, Brown was on the Hill crying mercy for twenty-one Japanese electronics companies.
When Frank Lorenzo was breaking the machinists’ union and ruining Eastern Airlines, David Sawyer, seasoned Democratic consultant, managed his advertising campaign; and Strauss and Boggs bore his briefs and helped him block a congressional bill to force his quarrel into mediation. Having been unashamed to help Lorenzo trammel working people, Strauss and Boggs were unembarrassed to repair to bankruptcy court and collect their share of $12 million in legal fees for helping wreck Eastern.
Strauss and Boggs are old stagers in the Washington bar’s Democratic cadre. Stuart Eizenstat, Jimmy Carter’s domestic policy adviser, is newer to their mercenary troop but has found in its foragings a sovereign cure for his defeated liberal wounds.
Eizenstat, Greider informs us, represented the National Association of Manufacturers in its efforts to weaken “a workers’ right-to-know law on toxic chemicals” and upheld Public Service Indiana’s struggle against over-intrusive acid rain legislation with so much agility of address that Public Service Indiana rewarded him with a seat as a director.
When he is not employed at the public woe, Eizenstat does his voluntary bit for the public weal by writing speeches for the Democratic Speaker of the House and the Democratic majority leader of the Senate.
The collective expression of Straussism, Boggsism, and Eizenstatism is the Democratic Leadership Council, which is financed by ARCO, Dow Chemical, Prudential Bache etc. The DLC’s aim is to persuade the party to return to the mainstream of American politics, i.e., to where its corporate patrons feed and fee distinguished counsel.
The DLC’s preferred presidential candidate is Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, a longstanding associate. It would be ridiculous to belabor Clinton for this choice of guiding light: Where else does hope reside in our politics when Republicans and Democrats alike get 70 percent of their campaign funds from corporate PACs in dolings serenely bipartisan? Political commentators a while ago discarded the economic interpretation of history; otherwise they might be less puzzled to notice how few voters have even bothered with the Democratic primaries. The simplest answer is a question: Why should ordinary voters care when they can’t see any more difference between Republicans and Democrats than the corporate PACs do?
June 25, 1992