By Robert Scheer
How convenient that seemingly everyone in the liberal blogosphere, and even at many points to the right, got to use Jim Bunning as a scapegoat. The venom of the attacks suggests that the maverick Republican senator from Kentucky provided a welcome alternative to the real villains: bankers much closer to the centers of power. As if Bunning’s denial of unanimous consent to a stopgap extension of unemployment insurance—easily overcome, as was demonstrated Tuesday night—is at the root of our economic crisis.
It isn’t, and it is vicious nonsense to transform Bunning, who has a long record of opposition to the bipartisan policies that caused America’s financial mess, into a poster boy for economic heartlessness. The issue was not one of extending aid for another month to those whose benefits had run out but rather holding the government accountable for the means of payment.
Bunning’s action was a sideshow, a boneheaded symbolic gesture that backfired with slight consequences. Yet the senator was made to look the dangerous fool in media accounts while many of those who enabled the financial catastrophe continue to be treated as reasonable experts after being rewarded for their folly with the highest posts in both the Bush and Obama administrations.
The real issue here is the banking bailout, a bipartisan swindle that Bunning opposed and that has led to a dangerously spiraling deficit without providing relief to ordinary folk. It is the same issue that carried Texas Gov. Rick Perry to victory Tuesday in his state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, in which he defeated U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in part because of her support of the bank bailout.
As with the January defeat of the Democratic candidate in the Massachusetts election for a U.S. Senate seat, the message from voters is loud and clear: The political establishment cares only about the fat cats and not the people who are hurting. Bunning’s gesture was not intended, as his critics insisted, to increase that pain but rather to hold the government accountable for the money it is spending. He has consistently blasted the bailout as a shameless gift to the Wall Street hustlers and urged that the money being wasted on them instead be spent to aid homeowners and other victims of their greed.
This is not the first time that Bunning has stood alone in Congress. He was the sole member of the Senate to vote against the nomination of Ben Bernanke to be head of the Federal Reserve. That appointment came from Republican President George W. Bush, and yet it was Republican Sen. Bunning who warned that Bernanke as a Fed governor had been allied with then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan in his disastrous policymaking.
That was four years ago, when Greenspan was still being lionized by most Democratic and Republican politicians as well as by much of the media. On Jan. 28 of this year, Bunning once again rose in the Senate to challenge Bernanke, this time after President Barack Obama had nominated him for a second term:
“Chairman Bernanke … bowed to the political pressure of the Bush and Obama administrations and turned the Fed into an arm of the Treasury. … Instead of taking that money and lending to consumers and cleaning up their balance sheets, the banks started to pocket record profits and pay out billions of dollars in bonuses. … So if you like those bailouts, by all means vote for Chairman Bernanke. But if you want to put an end to bailouts and send a message to Wall Street, this vote is your choice.”
He is right to point out that enormous sums always seem to exist to aid Wall Street but that assistance to average Americans has consistently been only an afterthought. And he does have a point in noting that if the latest spending extension was felt to be so important, why wasn’t it funded in a timely manner or in an orderly procedure by his congressional colleagues from both parties who are now trouncing him?
The money is always there when they want it, as we have witnessed throughout the banking bailout when enormous sums have suddenly been made available to those who least need it. The Treasury Department managed to find $200 billion last week to deposit with the Fed to increase the purchase of toxic mortgages to $1.25 trillion to make the bankers whole.
But the level of vituperation unleashed against this senator is so disproportionate to his role in the economic catastrophe as to raise questions of motive. The overreaction to Bunning’s protest was never anything more than a ploy for Democratic and Republican leaders to profess great sorrow for the folks on Main Street while they continue to coddle Wall Street.
AP / Harry Hamburg
Jim Bunning, R-Ky., during Senate Banking Committee hearing in 2009.