Sep 15, 2011 4:14 PM GMT
This line of attack is long overdue though I have little faith that Republicans would not do fund different companies though in lesser amounts given new found 'tea party' pressures.
When Michele Bachmann attacked Rick Perry in this week's debate for helping a politically connected drug company, and Newt Gingrich attacked GE and even oil companies for benefitting from targeted tax breaks, it stirred a bit of a reaction on the Left.
"Wait, being a crony capitalist is a problem now?" journalist Dave Roberts, a liberal environmentalist, asked rhetorically.
It's actually an important question.
Although the Republicans' professed belief in free markets would imply a rejection of corporate welfare, GOP cries of "crony capitalism" and critiques of subsidy sucklers and regulatory robber barons usually come only from the party's back bench. It's striking, then, to hear this talk from prominent Republicans on center stage at a presidential debate.
It's part of a small but growing trend toward free-market populism in Republican rhetoric, if not action.
When Gingrich called out General Electric by name for profiting from special tax breaks and green subsidies, he was expressing a growing conservative distaste for GE, which has visibly embraced President Obama's subsidize-and-regulate economic policy. On everything from climate change and windmills to health care and embryonic stem cells, CEO Jeffrey Immelt has positioned GE to profit from big government, often lending the company's unmatched lobbying clout to the administration's efforts.
Obama's pick of Immelt as jobs czar was a fitting symbol of the symbiotic relationship between the industrial giant and Obama's agenda.
Bachmann, meanwhile, steered the discussion of Perry's 2007 unilateral mandate of an HPV vaccine to the question of cronyism, benefitting drugmaker Merck. "We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate."
Bachmann went on, about sounding like a populist: "The governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong."
A week earlier in Iowa, Sarah Palin also attacked "crony corporate capitalism."
"This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk," she said. "It's the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest -- to the little guys."
Throughout the presidential campaign, Ron Paul has attacked the corporatism that has flourished under Bush and Obama. Before he dropped out of the race, Tim Pawlenty regularly lashed out on the campaign trail against "big bailed-out businesses."
Beneath the rhetoric, sure enough, you can find hypocrisy. Gingrich, when he was in the private sector, lobbied the conservative movement to support the Medicare prescription drug bill that was backed by drugmakers and insurance companies. Govs. Palin and Pawlenty -- though they did at times battle the big business lobby -- created their share of special-interest tax breaks.
But we free-market populists take whatever drippings we can get, and lip service from prominent Republicans on center stage is an improvement. Important Republicans typically shy away from attacks on big business, presumably for fear of alienating key donors and supporters.
It's not as if President Obama hasn't provided the GOP with plenty of ammunition with which to attack corporate welfare and crony capitalism. When House Democrats in 2009 pushed a climate bill endorsed by a powerful coalition of energy and manufacturing companies that stood to profit from the legislation's wealth transfers, the only congressmen criticizing the bill's corporate welfare were far-left liberals.
After Obama let the drug lobby write part of the health care bill, which required individuals to buy private insurance, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean attacked it as a gift to big business. Republicans stayed mum on the naked corporatism of the legislation, letting Obama get away with falsely saying the bill represented "standing up to the special interests."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce aggressively backed Obama's giant first stimulus bill and then supported Cash for Clunkers.
Yet still, despite all these Obama gifts to industry, the Republican attack on Obama has generally been that he's "anti-business."