A few readers wondered why the Biden White House senior staff members’ past work for big corporations matters. If you believe that anyone should be free to work for any employer as long as they obey the law, then no, their past employers and clients don’t matter much at all. General Electric, IBM, AT&T, Verizon, defense contractors and the rest all deserve lawyers, marketing firms, lobbyists and consultants too.
But that is not how many progressive activists see the world. In their mind, just about any work for corporate America means you’ve sold out and become part of the system, instead of seeking to overturn the system.
This will shock progressive activists, but it turns out that a lot of the kinds of people who work in Democratic politics like to make money, too, and if their skills are in law, lobbying, marketing, public relations, or other related fields … corporate America is where the money is. And corporate America is more than happy to hire big-name out-of-office Democratic officials and staffers with ties to those officials.
Barack Obama frequently painted corporate America as his most ardent foe: “Large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them!”
And then after Obama left office, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson went to work for Lockheed Martin, former Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes and Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood went to Booz Allen Hamilton, campaign manager David Plouffe went to Uber, and former attorney general Eric Holder “is now a partner at the law firm of Covington and Burling, a D.C.-based outfit that specializes in work on behalf of the banking industry” while also working for Airbnb. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner became president of the private equity firm Warburg Pincus. Former White House Press Secretary Tim Carney went to work for Amazon, and Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson went to Apple. And Obama himself signed a lucrative production deal with Netflix.
Progressive activists dream of a Democratic administration full of impassioned and pure advocates, eager to use the power of the executive branch to tear down America’s biggest companies and redistribute their profits and wealth to the more deserving. In other words, progressive activists dream of a Democratic administration full of people like themselves. And each job that goes to one of the alleged corporate sellouts is one less job open to people like them.
When progressives fume that incoming Democratic White House staffers and appointees have spent too much time in corporate C-suites, they’re exhibiting a Manichean and somewhat childish worldview. Working for a big corporation does not make a person inherently corrupt, evil, or callous. In fact, there’s no guarantee that a Democratic consultant’s work for a big company will make them feel warm and friendly towards that company. But the progressive idealists are probably correct that working for big companies probably makes one less than eager to tear down the entire existing structure of American capitalism and replace it entirely with statist economics. Socialism has a lot of advantages in the battle over American economic system, but one of its most glaring disadvantages is that just about everyone likes the idea of making a lot of money.
And remember, for most of the Trump administration, just about any appointee with past lobbying experience was seen as a scandal, or at least ethically problematic by mainstream publications. We will see if those publications hold the Biden appointees to the same scrutiny.
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