What did Katie Couric know when she was assigned to cover the Pentagon?
Who will be investigating Chris Dodd and Barney Frank?
Why is the government in the mortgage business in the first place?
These three questions go straight to the heart of the new world that is emerging in the aftermath of the economic crisis, of the Palin nomination and the advent of the New Media. It is a world of paradigms lost. You know paradigms, that collection of pesky “assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them” as the online Free Dictionary has it.
Assumptions such as the notion that a multi-millionaire television anchor gets to ask snooty questions of a female vice-presidential nominee while being forgetful of just what got the said anchor on the road to being that anchor in the first place. Assumptions such as the idea that those in Congress who created the crisis at Fannie Mae, which in turn set off the Wall Street implosion, are somehow invulnerable to everything from Congressional hearings to federal investigations. Assumptions such as the concept that the New Deal must still reign supreme and that the federal government simply must be engaged in the mortgage business or run your health care or God only knows what else.
The world has changed, the old paradigm is gone with it. So let’s see how things look anew in a 21st century paradigm.
ASSUMPTION ONE: For those who heard the Couric CBS News interview of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin it is perhaps best to start with Couric herself. The not-so subtle message Couric was sending in her interview was that Palin, a sitting Governor, is unqualified to be vice president.
OK. Got it. Couric disdains putting unqualified people in important jobs.
So let’s turn to the new paradigm that allows us to question the credibility of mainstream journalists. When, exactly, did Katie Couric begin to dance on the national mainstream media scene and what qualified her to do so? Well, to start, Katie is a public school product, including Yorktown High in Arlington, Virginia. She was a cheerleader there. Then she moved on to the University of Virginia, a state school as was Palin’s University of Idaho, where our Katie was an English major. Then Ms. Couric headed into journalism, starting at the bottom with perhaps the journalistic equivalent of Palin’s PTA — a lowly desk assistant at a network. After a couple more rungs on the ladder she made it to general assignment reporter at a Miami TV station, where she doubtless covered every street festival and homicide there was to be had in the big city. Then it was back to Washington for a reportorial stint at the local NBC affiliate.
Here’s where the new paradigm kicks in. Having been through the journalistic equivalent of politics in Wasilla, Alaska, Katie suddenly is appointed — are you ready? — Deputy Pentagon Correspondent for NBC News. Whoa, Nelly! What just happened here? Are we to understand that this young woman — the cheerleader from Yorktown High, the English major, the “general assignment reporter” in Miami — is suddenly qualified to be covering the Pentagon for NBC News? Can it be that the network of Huntley and Brinkley was sending someone to cover the headquarters of the United States Armed Forces — in the middle of the Cold War — who had never had a nano-second’s worth of experience with the military? Well, yes. That’s exactly what they did. Our Katie had evidenced not a scintilla of experience in this area anywhere in her career. Did she know the difference between an F-14 and a B-52? How many military bases had she visited? Did she have a clue what the Navy’s SLEP program was?
Let’s do a little time travel. Let’s go back to the day of Katie’s appointment to the Pentagon in 1989 and rephrase some of the questions Ms. Couric asked of Governor Palin the other day as they strolled in front of the United Nations building in New York. Let’s see how they would sound if we had the chance back then (through a correspondent we’ll call Ike the New Media guy) to ask them of Katie the cheerleader, English major, and Miami street reporter as Katie and Ike strolled in front of the Pentagon.
Couric to Palin: As we stand before this august building and institution, what do you see as the role of the United States in the world?
Ike to Couric: As we stand before this august building and institution, what do you see as the role of the United States military in the world?
Couric to Palin: In preparing for this conversation, a lot of our viewers … and Internet users wanted to know why you did not get a passport until last year. And they wondered if that indicated a lack of interest and curiosity in the world.
Ike to Couric: In preparing for this conversation, a lot of our viewers wanted to know why you did not either serve in the military yourself or get any kind of degree in international politics or national security. And they wondered if that indicated a lack of interest and curiosity in the military, or perhaps hostility.
Couric to Palin: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?
Ike to Couric: You’ve cited growing up near the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery as well as covering night life in Miami and Washington Mayor Marion Barry as part of your national security and defense policy experience to cover the Pentagon. What did you mean by that?
Couric to Palin: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
Ike to Couric: Have you ever been involved in covering any U.S. military actions from the scene, for example, in Lebanon or Grenada?
Does the phrase “double standard” ring a bell with any readers out there? Good for Katie Couric that she’s a hardworking soul who has ambition and may be a quick study. But by her own standards, she should never have been given a Pentagon press pass back there in 1989.
ASSUMPTION TWO: Where is it written that when members of Congress screw up big time — like, say, Wall Street executives — only the Wall Streeters are going to be investigated? (At the moment the FBI has opened a number of investigations into the Wall Street belly-ups.) Are any of the people on Wall Street or at Fannie Mae who caused this problem going to be summoned from their cushy lives to clean up Wall Street and investigate what happened? Are you kidding? But yes indeed, our friends Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and recipient of a cushy deal from Countrywide Financial, is going to look into all of this. So too will Congressman Barney Frank over in the House, where he used his perch on the Financial Services Committee, of which he is now chairman, to shield Fannie Mae from calls for tightened regulations. Calls made by then-Bush administration Secretary of the Treasury John Snow and Senator John McCain, among others. Said Barney on the floor of t he House on June 27, 2005 (highlights mine):
“This is not the dot-com situation. We had problems with people having invested in business plans for which there was no reality and people building fiber-optic cable for which there was no need. Homes that are occupied may see an ebb and flow in the price at a certain percentage level, but you will not see the collapse that you see when people talk about a bubble.”
Right. Thanks for the look into the liberal crystal ball Congressman Frank.
So now the question has to be asked in the new paradigm. Who will investigate the greed for political power? Who will investigate Chris Dodd (33 years in Congress) and Barney Frank (27 years in Congress)? Dodd alone received not one but two cushy deals for nearly $800,000 in mortgages. He received $133,900 in campaign contributions from Fannie Mae. And he is assailing greedy capitalists?? Why are these two guys still serving as Chairmen of their respective committees? Why are they involved in any fashion whatsoever in structuring the bailout package? Who in the Senate and House will now pick up the ball and insist that these two rogue politicians be dismissed from their posts and investigated — for their conduct, their ties to the industry they were charged to regulate, their campaign contributions from Fannie Mae, and their precise role in pushing the entire financial system of the United States to near-implosion. And how about a little straight talk on the greed for power?
ASSUMPTION THREE: The paradigm that the New Deal is the gold standard for American government. For this we turn to the late Senator Barry Goldwater, who wrote the following in his classic The Conscience of a Conservative almost fifty years ago:
The government must begin to withdraw from a whole series of programs that are outside its constitutional mandate — from social welfare programs, education, public power, agriculture, public housing, urban renewal and all other activities that can be better performed by lower levels of government or by private institutions or by individuals. I do not suggest that the federal government drop all of these programs overnight. But I do suggest that we establish, by law, a rigid timetable for a staged withdrawal.
Do the words Fannie Mae mean anything in this context? Fannie Mae is a New Deal chestnut from 1938, but why stop at Fannie Mae with the new paradigm? As Senator McCain says over and over again, government expenditures are now completely out of control. For those of you with liberal friends who keep chanting the Obama mantra of change, suggest the Goldwater principle above and see how fast the Obama-acolytes race in the other direction. The single biggest con of the Obama campaign is that it is committed to serious change. Obama is a prince of the New Deal Establishment. His role as a community organizer was not to get rid of government bureaucracies and create jobs. It wasn’t a fight for change. It was a fight to beg for favors from government bureaucracies, to milk the status quo. As a liberal Senator he is reflexively committed to extending the status quo. Listen to this unnoticed remark from the debate the other night as Obama responded to McCain’s suggestion that there be a freeze on federal expenditures:
“The problem with a spending freeze is you’re using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are underfunded. I want to increase early childhood education…”
Catch that? Mr. Change is horrified at the notion of even a freeze on federal spending, and oh, by the way, he wants to raise your taxes so he can “increase early childhood education.” To return to Goldwater, the paradigm here is to ask why the federal government should be involved in early childhood education at all? This is precisely why this country is in financial trouble, whether it’s Dodd and Frank re-arranging credit to ensure, in the words of the now infamous Clintonite Fannie Mae chief Mr. Franklin Raines, “millions of families” receive mortgages they can’t afford, or raising taxes because Senator Obama has a thing for appeasing teachers unions by increasing spending for early childhood education. All the hue and cry over the role of lobbyists in Washington begs the question: they are only there because politicians have created these huge bureaucracies that attract lobbyists both to the bureaucrats and the Congressmen who have created them. It is the Washington equivalent of spreading chum in the water to attract sharks. Guess what? It works!
WHATEVER ELSE COMES OUT of the last few weeks, the paradigms of the last several decades have begun to shatter. Never again will the media be able to pronounce judgment on others while conveniently avoiding a similar self-examination. More and more angry Americans are understanding the importance of not letting incompetent or corrupt members of Congress go un-investigated after almost bankrupting the country. And the idea of simply assuming that a governmental paradigm installed in 1933 — 75 years ago! — is still valid is, thanks to the Fannie Mae debacle, being shredded in front of our eyes. The idea that the greed for power is just as important — if not more so — than the greed for money has taken root.
Perhaps we can borrow a phrase from the now-famous Obama pastor the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
After decades, finally, for the mainstream media, the corrupt members of Congress and the New Deal itself the pot has begun to boil.
The chickens have come home to roost.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania.