Of course, House Democrats made a mistake in choosing the slick favorite of Washington special interests, Steny Hoyer, over shambling populist John Murtha to serve as House Majority Leader. In one of the more ridiculous exercises of journalistic irresponsibility by a Washington press corps that is distinguished by nothing so much as its ineptness when it comes to offering useful perspective to the American people, Murtha was dismissed as an ethically-challenged mess of a man while Hoyer, the candidate of K. Street, was presented as the tidier Democrat.
The coverage of the Murtha-Hoyer fight was commendable in the sense that Americans were reminded that it matters when members of Congress choose their leaders. Perhaps, soon, reporters will remind the populace that, under the Constitution, Congress is a co-equal branch of government charged with checking and balancing the excesses of the executive.
But, while it was nice to see a little attention paid to Congress, the failure of perspective when it came to reporting the realities of the leadership race was glaring. While Murtha certainly failed as a paragon of virtue, his alleged misdeeds tended to be petty and self-serving. Yet, they were blown up into such a “scandal” — complete with the 24/7 repetition of grainy Abscam investigation videos that featured Murtha turning down a bribe but not doing so firmly enough — that even Democrats who might have been inclined to respond to House Speaker-in-Waiting Nancy Pelosi’s pro-Murtha pleas decided to go with Hoyer.
While Murtha may be an imperfect individual, Hoyers imperfections are systemic. The Marylander who served as minority whip before the election is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the insider Democrats of Washington: He votes right on just enough issues to keep in the good graces of Democratic special-interest groups. But he votes wrong on just enough economic issues to keep the doors of corporate America open to his fund-raising appeals. The sly strategy has worked for Hoyer — Public Citizen rated the Maryland congressman as the “most dependent on special-interest money” in the House and ranked him fifth out of the 433 members reviewed for contributions received from lobbyists.
In the critical measure of who gets money from corporate political action committees, Hoyer beats Murtha 2-1.Why?
Where Murtha could point to a consistent record of standing up to Wall Street on the most fundamental of economic issues, trade policy, Hoyer’s record is one of abandoning the interests of workers, communities and the environment in order to meet the demands of multinational corporations and their lobbying groups. Even when human rights groups pleaded with Congress not to award permanent most-favored-nation trading status to China, Hoyer broke with most Democrats to back the move. In fact, Hoyer was the highest ranking Democrat in the House to support the shift. He also backed the North America Free Trade Act and other trade deals that most Democrats — including Murtha — opposed.