Nov 16, 2018
Senate Democrats have once again selected Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as their minority leader without so much as a whisper of a debate or contest.
This is galling. The man is incompetent, has abysmal politics, and as we were reminded in a huge New York Times investigation into Facebook, is extremely corrupt.
In his first two years as Senate minority leader, Schumer had two main priorities. First, preserve his vulnerable moderates running in deeply Trumpy states, like Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Second, use the Trump presidency to sneak through some odious stuff that most liberals hate.
Schumer definitely succeeded in the latter objective. In keeping with his long career as a Wall Street stooge (and in sharp contrast with his predecessor Harry Reid), he quietly shepherded financial deregulation through. And because he has an almost neoconservative foreign policy, he largely stood aside as Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal for no reason. He also attacked Trump from the right for not being belligerent enough towards North Korea.
And how about that first goal? Schumer failed spectacularly in preserving most of these seats. Nearly all of his moderates -- to whom he had granted significant leeway to vote for President Trump's judicial nominees and bills -- lost. Only Joe Manchin in West Virginia managed to hang on. The Democratic Senate margin is being somewhat bolstered only by other candidates knocking off Republican senators in Arizona and Nevada, which Schumer had little to do with. (Indeed, Harry Reid, who is still helping run a well-oiled labor turnout machine in Nevada, was the key figure behind the Nevada win.)
This brings me to Facebook. Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg, and Jack Nicas wrote a jaw-dropping piece of reporting for the Times about Facebook's lobbying operation. They focused on how the company has defended itself from evidence that Russian intelligence used the platform to help Trump win in 2016, and that political extremists have been using the platform to organize atrocities, including genocide.
Basically, the strategy conducted by Facebook's top executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, was the filthiest sludge out of the bottom of the lobbying barrel. (Facebook has defended itself and calls the report "grossly unfair.") The story is very long, but probably the most explosive revelation was that Facebook hired a soulless Republican propaganda shop to attack its critics -- notably the Open Markets Institute, which Anne-Marie Slaughter shoved out of the New America Foundation on instructions from her Google paymasters -- with anti-Semitic smears, casting it as the tool of wealthy Jewish philanthropist George Soros. Remarkably, at the very same time they convinced the Anti-Defamation League to cast criticism of Facebook as anti-Semitic, as both Zuckerberg and Sandberg are Jewish.
It's worth stopping for a moment to take this in. Just a couple weeks ago a right-wing terrorist hopped up on anti-Soros propaganda massacred 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Another sent a mail bomb to Soros' home. A third person in D.C. was recently arrested on suspicion of plotting another synagogue shooting.
Where does Schumer come in? Well, in 2017, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) opened an investigation into Facebook over Russiagate and misinformation generally. (Far from being some fire-breathing populist, Warner is among the most milquetoast, business-friendly Democrats who has ever held high office.) But Schumer has raised more money from Facebook than any other member of Congress, his daughter works there, and he helped get his former staffer appointed to the Federal Trade Commission (which oversees Facebook). In concert with Facebook brass, he told Warner to lay off the company, reported the Times: "Mr. Warner should be looking for ways to work with Facebook, Mr. Schumer advised, not harm it."
So when it comes to sellout Democrats voting to make another financial crisis more likely, Schumer wrings his hands and hectors progressives not to criticize them too much (after which most of the sellouts lose anyway). But when those same sellouts start criticizing one of his favored sources of campaign cash, suddenly he discovers a knack for backroom arm-twisting and hardball tactics.
The problem isn't exactly that Schumer is cynical when he should be idealistic. It's that he's just so incredibly feckless. He burns all his political capital on defending despised banks who are no doubt cooking up new schemes to pillage the working class, and a monstrous social media giant that maybe helped Trump win and is hugely biased towards the extreme right in terms of traffic. What does he get in return? Three lost Senate seats.
Let's hope in the next Congress, Democrats can come up with someone who isn't so craven and helpless. If nothing else, I suggest start with drawing names out of a hat.
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