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The Game Is Rigged…And Why It Might Change

May 3, 2012

And the hits just keep coming.

Brian McGrory had another scathing column in yesterday’s Boston Globe about the scandal of executive compensation at Liberty Mutual ($50 million a year for the CEO of an insurance company ostensibly owned by its policy holders).

The mild-mannered McGrory spares no one:

*not Liberty’s public relations advisers (“off with their heads”);

*not Gov. Deval Patrick who didn’t want to be the “pundit in chief’’ who goes “popping off’’ (“You really need to be the pundit in chief to be concerned that pay inequity is playing havoc with the American economy, that a privileged few are accumulating obscene amounts of wealth while the desperate masses are stuck in place or worse? That’s not punditry, governor; it’s leadership.”);

*not Liberty’s corporate jet fleet available for the personal use of top executives (“There was a 2010 trip to Venice, Italy. There were multiple trips to Palm Springs, as well as to Santa Barbara, Monterey, and Napa Valley, Calif., none of which are bustling commercial centers.  There was a trip to Barbados in 2008, Barcelona in 2009, and Jamaica in 2010. There was a pair of flights to Augusta, Ga. I wonder what’s there. This is in addition to the multiple trips to West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Nantucket, and Orlando.”)

*not Liberty’s part-time $200,000 a year board members who still haven’t returned his calls (“John Manning of Boston Capital; Michael Babcock, a private investor; William Van Faasen, chairman of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts; and Marian Heard, former head of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay”).

McGrory concludes, “The game is rigged. The stakes are high. And the people on top are clueless, callous, or probably both as to what it all means for everyone else. Greed and arrogance are a toxic mix.”

As you may have guessed, I’m enjoying McGrory’s series of columns about Liberty Mutual—so much so that I find myself anticipating his next column.  (Will he keep going?  What will he find out next?  How many ways can he find to rhetorically eviscerate everyone involved?)

But it’s also got me wondering how we arrived at the point where moderate, establishment folks like Brian McGrory, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein sound like left-wing radicals preparing to storm the barricades.

Obviously it’s a complex mix of reasons, but here are some that occurred to me:

1 – Democrats and the left basically accepted the Republican theft of Florida’s electoral votes in 2000, partly because Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative” who had a record of working with a Democratic legislature in Texas.  Bush responded with massive tax cuts for the wealthy, launching two unpaid for wars and demonizing Democratic opposition to the Iraq War.

2 – Democrats and the left responded, for the most part, by working “within the system” for several years—Kerry doing better than most challengers to a wartime president in 2004, retaking the House and Senate in 2006, expanding those majorities and electing Obama in 2008.  Republicans responded by almost unanimously opposing any measure Obama supported, regardless of how many compromises he made.

3 – Despite Republican opposition, the 111th Congress was, because of its overwhelming Democratic majorities, one of the most productive and progressive sessions in US history.  Outside of Congress, progressive organizations largely worked to advance their agenda legislatively.  (Gay rights and immigrant rights groups were about the only ones also using, or attempting to use, mass mobilization tactics.)

4 – When Republicans retook the House in 2010, Obama spent the first half of 2011 making every effort (and more than most congressional Democrats, let alone progressives outside of Washington wanted) to find common ground with congressional Republicans.  This culminated with the debt ceiling vote deficit-reduction deal that relied exclusively on spending cuts (because Republicans preferred default to even the smallest tax hike).

5 – Almost immediately thereafter Obama decided to change tactics and adopt a strategy of confrontation with congressional Republicans.  Simultaneously, the Occupy movement began and over the course of the next three months changed the framework of public discussion in the US.  (Democrats and progressives in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana had already taken to the streets to protest the local Republican agenda.)

Continued intransigence by conservatives and Republicans over the past few months has, I think, stunned moderates and centrists—people like McGrory who basically trust the system to work and are always inclined to give their opponents the benefit of the doubt.  Given that continued intransigence, it seems it will take repeated political and electoral defeats for Republicans (and for oligarchs like Liberty Mutual CEO Ted Kelly) to change their behavior.  Toward that end, the continued use by McGrory and folks like him of a finely-honed anger at those who would destroy our political commonwealth is a welcome addition to the toolbox of democratic (with a small “d”) tactics.


From → Politics

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  1. This Is How Change Happens « masscommons

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