From the backwoods to lower Manhattan


Let's draw a line that goes from a good ol' boy in southern Arkansas up through Capitol Hill and northward to Wall Street, disturbing the political and financial order all along the way.

This good ol' boy in southern Arkansas, who abhors President Obama for reasons ranging from ugly to irrational to peripherally valid, votes against U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln in a Democratic primary on Tuesday.

He does so because he thinks she's an Obama pal and liberal, which is true only part of the time. Her essence is that of a flip-flopper committed to personal political perpetuation. Her alliance with Obama is an on-off switch hinging on whether she's engaged currently in expedient flips or self-serving flops.

Because of this good ol' boy in southern Arkansas -- a timber-cutter, maybe -- Lincoln is forced into a runoff to secure her renomination, which will not occur for three weeks.

As a result, big-time investment bankers must wait before the Senate Democratic club will excise a transparently self-serving and surely doomed provision that Lincoln, as Senate Agriculture chairman, inserted in the financial reform bill. It's to force these big banks to spin off and wall off their derivatives operations.

Lincoln put that in the bill about a month ago because her abiding interest in personal political perpetuation required her to flip liberal for a while to appear to oppose Wall Street because she was getting hammered for being a bank bailout supporter in her primary back home.

The White House, the Fed, the Treasury Department and the Senate Democratic leadership saw the provision as nuts. They want to regulate banks, including their derivatives operations, not force swaps trading into a vague outside arena that might go unregulated.

But the Senate Democratic culture is that of a club, of self-perpetuation, of mutual political scratching of mutual political itching.

It really shouldn't matter to a generic Senate Democrat whether his partisan colleague from Arkansas is Lincoln or her challenger, Bill Halter, just at it shouldn't have mattered to this general Senate Democrat whether Arlen Specter made it back as a Democrat of convenience or got beat.

That's the business of Arkansas voters and Pennsylvania voters.

But the politicians-as-usual in Washington made it their business, because, you see, incumbents exist to protect each other.

So Senate Democrats agreed to let Lincoln keep her nonsensical provision in the bill until May 19, the morning after she would dispose of the little inconvenience of actual voter engagement back home.

But it actually was a three-person race down in that odd and remote little province, and Arkansas requires runoffs if you don't get 50 percent plus one in the first primary. And, doggone, those pesky Arkansas good ol' boys gummed up the little charade, delaying a resolution until June 8.

On Wednesday morning, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the Democrats' point man on financial reform, moved to tend to this little snafu by putting in a rear-covering provision by which this spinning off of derivatives would stay in the bill, but have its effective date delayed two years while a study took place.

Presumably this would have allowed reasonable policy to proceed while Lincoln went back to Arkansas and argued that her get-tough measure was still in the bill and that she was looking out for the working man and really sticking it to Wall Street.

But then Dodd pulled down the amendment because the political calculation was that his solution was entirely too transparently hollow and because the financial experts said two years of limbo in derivatives regulation was precisely what the American financial markets did not need.

So the insulated Beltway denizen and the good-suited guy on Wall Street must wait for the ball-capped good ol' boy in southern Arkansas to come back out of the timber woods and cast his runoff vote.

And you wonder why this good ol' boy thinks Washington politics is bogus.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.

 

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