Diversity Dilemma; China in Latin America; Quote of the Week
Good morning, it’s Friday, January 11, 2019. Today is National Milk Day, which means our quote of the week practically suggested itself: “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” This aphorism was popularized in the early 1960s by famed California Assembly Speaker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh. The powerful Democrat -- and Ronald Reagan nemesis -- might have coined the phrase himself, although some contemporaries attributed it to Southern California tycoon Howard Ahmanson.
I’ll offer a bit more of Jesse Unruh’s ruminations about political money in a moment. First, I’d direct you to our front page, which aggregates an array of columns and stories spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors this morning, including the following:
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Dems’ Diversity Push May Block White Males in 2020. Adele Malpass examines the party’s increasing embrace of identity politics and the effect it could have on the next presidential primary.
Why U.S. Should Bolster Latin American Investment. In RealClearWorld, James Marks writes that China is filling the void.
“Black Mirror” Creates Privacy Problems It Warns Against. In RealClearPolicy, Mark Epstein sees hypocrisy in Netflix’s tale about corporate data collection run amok.
Trump’s Xenophobia Is Harming Public Higher Ed. Also in RCPolicy, Jeff Kucik and Rajan Menon warn that American universities may not be able to count on international students serving as cash cows.
Millennials Get Free Markets, But Not How Pols Preach About Them. In RealClearMarkets, Yates Wilburn hails the virtues of “Unbox Therapy,” a YouTube channel aimed at his generation.
NYC’s Climate Lawsuit Wastes Money to Boost de Blasio. RealClearEnergy editor Jude Clemente takes a dim view of the mayor’s now year-old legal action against oil companies.
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In the 1950s and 1960s, when Jesse (pronounced “Jess”) Unruh came to power in Sacramento, the lines between personal and political money were often blurred. Some lawmakers, such as Unruh, took money from lobbyists -- today we’d call them “special interests” -- strictly for political purposes. That is to say, they didn’t line their own pockets; they sought donations to fund the election campaigns of themselves and their allies. Others were less scrupulous; they accepted personal favors such as liquor, meals, women, even cash.
Let’s be frank about this: There was always an ethical distinction between these two types of exploitation. Today, it is an especially bright line; the first form of influence peddling is celebrated -- some politicians even boast about their fundraising prowess. The second kind is considered simple graft and can land a lawmaker in prison.
In Unruh’s mind, however, political money itself presented a stark ethical dilemma however it was dispensed or used. He solved this problem -- or perhaps excused it away -- with an infamous bit of bravado. At a time when House Speaker Sam Rayburn was advising freshmen congressmen “to get along, go along,” the salty Unruh dispensed with any euphemisms. Alluding to the blandishments offered by lobbyists to lawmakers, Unruh told his lieutenants, “If you can’t take their money, drink their booze, screw their women, and look them in the eye and vote against them, you don’t belong here.”
A catchy line, to be sure, but it hardly solves the timeless ethical quandary presented by the “mother’s milk” of political money. Speaking more candidly to crusading California journalist Leslie Velie -- under a cloak of anonymity as “Assemblyman X” -- Unruh was more reflective, and used language that has a timeless, even haunting, quality:
This is my dilemma. If I had stayed away from the lobbyists I would have been ineffective. If I take their money and give them nothing for it, I am a cheat. If I do their bidding, I could be cheating the public. I find myself rationalizing what I have done. The tragedy is that I may wind up serving the very elements I set out to beat -- yet not even know that I have changed.
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics