‘This Is All A Big Game’ | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

‘This Is All A Big Game’


Joe Atkins

OXFORD—What a gathering it was two years ago when Terry McAuliffe got together with his buddies Bill Clinton and Haley Barbour in Horn Lake to celebrate the plant opening of GreenTech, a then-McAuliffe-led producer of battery-charged automobiles.

The three pols had a high-old time—lots of non-partisan backslapping, guffaws, a few off-color jokes and glee at the prospect of flowing cash that GreenTech offered.

McAuliffe, the former national Democratic Party chairman and now governor of Virginia, loved hanging out with his mentor, former President Clinton, and his old sparring pal Barbour, former national Republican Party chairman and governor of Mississippi.

After all, Barbour was key to GreenTech's securing $5 million in loans from Mississippi taxpayers plus the usual treasure chest of tax exemptions. And who but Clinton lays greater claim to the school of what New York Times Magazine writer Mark Leibovich called "Green Party" politics in his July 2012 article about the gathering?

McAuliffe, Clinton and Barbour are quintessential members of the "Washington Political Class," Leibovich wrote, "a vast and self-perpetuating network of friendships and expedient associations that transcend even the fiercest ideological differences. ... One quaint maxim of the Political Class is that there is no such thing as Democrats and Republicans in Washington, only the Green Party. Green as in money, not GreenTech, or anything to do with clean energy."

In other words, they are the essence of what many Americans despise, even if we don't always connect our anger to media darlings like McAuliffe, Clinton and Barbour.

It's one reason why record numbers of voters, particularly Democrats, simply stayed home this past Election Day. What was their choice in Mississippi? Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, Barbour's premier benefactor in Washington's money politics? Travis Childers, who signed the immigrant-hating, white-supremacist Federation for American Immigration Reform's pledge of no "amnesty" for hard-working-tax-paying-but-undocumented migrant workers?

Both parties are so beholden to billionaire financiers that Main Street voters would rather watch reruns of "Gunsmoke" than vote. At least Marshal Dillon (look him up, young readers) takes care of business, and the bad guys get their just desserts.

With the Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate last Tuesday, Cochran is in line to resume the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee with all its promise of more taxpayer-financed pork for Mississippi. Tea Partiers, still smarting over Chris McDaniel's loss in the Republican primary, hate Cochran's pork-barreling prowess. They do raise an interesting question:

Why, after years of Cochran, the late U.S. Sen. John Stennis, D-Miss., and U.S. Rep. Jamie Whitten, D-Miss., chairing their respective appropriations committees in Congress, is Mississippi still the nation's poorest state? More than one of every five Mississippians live in poverty. Roughly the same number never finish high school. One of four lacks health insurance. Why hasn't our pork-barrel done something about those statistics? Maybe the GreenTech will shed some light.

McAuliffe says he no longer has anything to do with the company. He resigned as chairman five months after that Horn Lake party. Soon after, the federal government launched an investigation into the firm and another outfit, Gulf Coast Funds Management LLC, in connection with the granting of permanent visas to major foreign investors. Production at the Mississippi plant was delayed, and the firm faces penalties if it hasn't hired 350 workers and invested $60 million by the start of 2015.

Barbour's involvement with GreenTech is reminiscent of his "Port of the Future" deal, where he recruited Thad Cochran to help maneuver a redirection of $570 million in federal funds that had been targeted for Hurricane Katrina victims needing affordable housing. The funds' new direction? An expansion of the Port of Gulfport that Barbour touted as the "Port of the Future." The project has floundered ever since.

Journalist Michael Kinsley once had this to say about Haley Barbour: "He manages to send the message: This is all a big game—a big wonderful game."

Well, Haley Barbour and the rest of the Washington political class, it's not a game to the folks out here. The economy is still a scary thing on Main Street. Too many people still lack health insurance. The migrant workers who make such great campaign fodder for Democrats like Travis Childers and Republicans like Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant only came here because of bi-partisan trade agreements that cost them their livelihood back home. Put Marshal Dillon on the ballot next time, and maybe people will show up.

Joe Atkins is a veteran journalist and professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi. His blog is laborsouth.blogspot.com.

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