Monday, January 18, 2010

Thoughts on the Departure of Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan

Earlier this month, two prominent Democratic senators, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, announced that they will not be seeking reelection this year. From the standpoint of 21st Century Jeffersonianism, the departure of Senator Dodd is most welcome, but the departure of Senator Dorgan is to be much lamented.

Senator Dodd has represented Connecticut in the Senate since 1981, and while he has supported some sound environmental policies and opposed the Iraq War, he is also corrupt to the core and completely in the pocket of the nation's crooked financial industry. While serving as the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, he received a sweetheart mortgage deal (not to mention massive campaign contributions) from Countrywide Financial, even while he was pushing a bill through the Senate that bailed out the mortgage industry from its self-imposed financial crisis. As if that were not bad enough, Senator Dodd also inserted a loop hole into a bank bailout bill allowing AIG and other institutions to use taxpayer dollars in order to pay obscenely massive bonuses to their executives, the very people whose greed brought the country to the brink of economic ruin. Not surprisingly, Senator Dodd has received more campaign donations from AIG than any other senator.

The sleaze stories don't end there. Senator Dodd owns a vacation home in Ireland, which somehow tripled in value when the rest of Irish real estate was plunging in value. Clearly, the property was purchased at a price far below its actual market value. The man who helped Dodd buy this home, Edward Downe, had been convicted of insider trading and wire fraud back in the 1990s. Senator Dodd was instrumental in getting Downe a presidential pardon.

Senator Dodd is a man after Alexander Hamilton's heart: an officeholder who would rather use his influence to serve the rich and powerful rather than the ordinary citizens who elected him. Luckily, the wheels of democracy have not entirely halted, for the voters in Connecticut have made it rather clear that, in the wake of these revelations, Dodd had little or no chance of being reelected. Hence, his announcement that he is leaving the Senate is as welcome as it is unsurprising. Dodd will have to look at himself in the mirror for the rest of his life and know that he failed in his sacred trust as a United States Senator.

But if Senator Dodd's departure from Washington will bring smiles to the faces of 21st Century Jeffersonians, the departure of Senator Dorgan will leave crestfallen expressions of sadness.

Senator Dorgan is one of a dying breed- one of the last genuine Jeffersonians in a position of major political power in the United States. Embodying the virtues of small town North Dakota, he has always displayed an ability to cut through the complicated morass of policy-making to get at the real issues at stake. He has been a constant opponent of incompetent (corrupt?) military contractors in Iraq and American companies who harm our own economy by shipping our jobs overseas (especially Wal-Mart, a mortal enemy of 21st Century Jeffersonianism). And he has cracked down when he saw wasteful use of taxpayer dollars, no matter how small, as when he squelched a foolish proposal by the Treasury Department to hire a humor consultant. And while he initially supported the Iraq War, he publicly disavowed the war when it became clear that rationale the Bush administration laid out for the war was completely false, and that the administration had either been deliberately deceptive or criminally incompetent.

Perhaps most notably, Dorgan was one of only eight senators who, in 1999, voted against the so-called Financial Services Modernization Act, which broke down the regulatory barriers between banks and investment firms and thus paved the way for the current financial crisis. Dorgan saw the disaster coming and tried to stop it. How much better off would we be had we listened to him?

America needs a Congress that has fewer Chris Dodds and more Byron Dorgans. The best thing 21st Century Jeffersonians can do, aside from making themselves as self-sufficient and free as possible in their own lives, is to help elect people to Congress and the state legislatures who possess common sense, who resist the seductions offered by special interests, and who have a commonwealth interest at heart. The more we do that, the closer we are to the dream of living in a truly Jeffersonian republic.

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