PJ Media

Leftists Disinterested in Real Conflicts of Interest

It’s really been something watching the government go after Toyota for a gas pedal problem that even a Consumers Union official described as “putting an awful lot of effort on a very small risk.”

Has a head of the U.S. Department of Transportation ever previously told a group of vehicle owners not to drive their cars until they’re fixed? After doing just that, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he misspoke. But the damage was done.

Or was it really “mission accomplished”?

Observers wouldn’t be asking that question if the government didn’t control General Motors and Chrysler, two of Toyota’s largest competitors, and if those two entities hadn’t gobbled up over $100 billion in government money and creditor assets in the past year. But it does and they have, which makes raising the issue perfectly fair to everyone except far leftists and apparently the vast majority of establishment media journalists (but I repeat myself). The only wire report I’ve seen that has addressed the issue — and to its credit, did so aggressively (“Is U.S. bullying Toyota on recall?”) — is this one from AFP. I hope for her sake that AFP reporter Mira Oberman has built up a comfy financial reserve.

Now it seems that Honda is going through its own costly, possibly defensive recall, “even though recent testing of [airbag] units from this production process performed correctly.” Meanwhile, this historical list of recalls shows that GM and Chrysler, even though they were collectively involved in efforts relating to over 8.9 million vehicles from 2004 to 2008, have not been involved in any since Uncle Sam began sending them money. How convenient. Maybe GM and Chrysler are benefitting because their safety watchdog has been instructed to bark only at companies not controlled by the boss.

Leftists and journalists almost never acknowledge drop-dead obvious conflicts of interest when bringing them to the public’s attention might hurt their pet causes. Have you seen anyone bring up the point that Ford, in negotiating with the United Auto Workers union last year, was bargaining with an entity that through benefit plan affiliates has an ownership interest in two of its competitors? Not surprisingly, Ford was unable to strike a bargain with UAW negotiators that the rank and file was willing to support. Excuse me for speculating that the union agreed to an offer it knew Ford’s hourly workers would refuse.

Faced with a video-driven scandal that threatened its very existence, the political activist organization ACORN nonetheless shunned doing the logical thing, which would have been to hire an independent CPA firm to conduct a comprehensive financial review. Instead, it chose former Massachusetts attorney general and, uh, political activist Scott Harshbarger. Seemingly focused only on the work of James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles and not the organization’s awful to nonexistent financial controls and chronically illegal electioneering, Harshbarger found that, in the words of the Apparatchik, er, Associated Press, “There was no criminal conduct by employees who offered advice on how to hide assets and falsify lending documents.” Harshbarger said in a statement that “no action, illegal or otherwise, was ever taken by any ACORN employee on behalf of the videographers.” That’s very clever wording, because giving people illegal advice may not be an “action,” but it is, well, illegal. Whether it could be successfully prosecuted is irrelevant to the question of legality.

Speaking of conflicts of interest, how coincidental is it that no fewer than 13 journalists have left what from all appearances is a shriveling or dying industry to take jobs in the White House or the federal government? Could one reason why the press coverage of the 2008 Obama campaign was so obviously biased be that they were asked to or consciously chose to slant their reports to curry favor with a potential employer who is (for now, but maybe not for long) in better financial shape?

When it comes to conservatives and their situations, however, there’s almost no such thing as good enough to satisfy leftists. I’ve had commenters claim that I should qualify my columns about the perils of statist health care because I did business with companies in the health care industry several years ago — even though whether the given companies would benefit or be hurt by various versions of so-called reform is completely unclear and irrelevant to the larger arguments. Another line of supposed thought is that because I’ve done business with Ford and the UAW in the too-distant past, I can’t speak fairly to the situation in the overall car business. That’s strange, because I criticized Ford relentlessly several years ago over its refusal to deal with a pro-family organization’s boycott that threatened to bring it to its knees.

The larger goals of such criticisms aren’t merely to force disclosure, which I for one am glad to do when it makes sense. They are to inhibit free expression and ultimately to keep private players first out of public discussion and foremost out of public life.

One small example: President Bush’s heads of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) were relentlessly criticized not because of any demonstrated nonchalance towards safety and health, but simply because they had spent time in industry management. Why, we can’t have that. That’s a “conflict of interest.” Instead of having someone who can work cooperatively with industry to improve safety and working conditions, we’re supposedly better off with people relatively lacking in detailed industry knowledge who have chips on their shoulders to prove how “tough” they are. Bush had to make his 2006 pick a recess appointment.

Well, if having someone with germane business experience regulating an industry is so dangerous, someone will have to tell America’s mineworkers how that’s so. In 2009, the final year of Dick Stickler’s three-year tenure as head of MSHA (he left on October 21, 2009), the 35 fatalities from all forms of mining (18 in coal and 17 in metal/nonmetal) each represented by far the lowest total ever. During the Bush administration’s approximate time of full responsibility using industry veterans (2002-2009), total mining fatalities were 32% lower than during the Clinton administration’s related responsible term (1994-2001). The chance of dying on the job as a mineworker — even as a coal miner — is now less than doing so while driving a truck.

The takeaway is that to the left, any conservative with a potential conflict, even in someone’s fevered imagination, is presumptively evil, regardless of results. But when one of their own has a drop-dead obvious conflict, it’s supposed to be no big deal. What their conflicts really represent, as seen above with “Government Motors” and ACORN, are opportunities for legalized mischief.