The Democratic senator from New Jersey is one of the sleaziest members of the US Congress and that is saying something. He barely escaped going to jail on corruption charges because of a hung jury. Glenn Greenwald asks and answers the obvious question: How can such a sleazy politician get re-nominated with virtually n opposition?
In so many ways beyond the corruption and sleaze, Menendez is the classic representation of what the Democratic Party is at the national level. He first made it to the Senate when he was appointed by former Goldman Sachs CEO and then-Democratic New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. Though he is a somewhat reliable Democratic vote on standard domestic debates, in the area where he has exerted the greatest influence as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has been far to the right, especially recently, despite being from one of the country’s bluest states.
In 2006, he joined with the GOP and right-wing Democrats to enact the Bush/Cheney Military Commissions Act, which stripped War on Terror detainees of the right to judicial review (it was later struck down as unconstitutional). He is one of the Senate’s most extreme Iran hawks, having opposed Obama’s Iran Deal (as the party’s senior foreign policy Senator) and serving as one of the most vocal loyalists for a pro-regime-change Iranian cult that had been on the U.S. terrorist list (once it was removed from the list, money associated with the group began flowing aggressively to Mendenez).
Most of all, the New Jersey Democrat is one of the most fanatical loyalists to the Israeli Government and AIPAC. He has been the honored guest of the American Friends of Likud, along with officials from the Netanyahu government. AIPAC supported him vocally during his corruption trial, and after his hung jury, he received what the JTA described as a “hero’s welcome” in March. Menendez was also one of the co-sponsors of a bill that would have made it a crime for companies to support a boycott of Israel, which the ACLU denounced as a severe threat to free speech.
But the party establishment has solidly backed him, and thus thwarted others who might be better candidates.
Their united front, along with the massive war chest of money Menendez has compiled from corporate interests, has made it essentially impossible for any credible primary challenge to be mounted against him.
For a very short time, it looked as if Menendez might face a credible challenger. In December, Michael Starr Hopkins (pictured, right), an African-American lawyer who worked on both the Hillary Clinton and Obama campaigns, signaled his intention to run, asking, quite reasonably, about Menendez’s sleazy behavior over years: “If what Menendez did doesn’t disqualify you from serving in the Senate, then what does?”
Touting his commitment to “fight for Medicare for all” and other progressive causes, Hopkins argued that re-nominating “a candidate whose name is synonymous with corruption only muddies the waters, making it easy for Republicans to cry hypocrisy and for voters across the country to say that ‘both parties’ are rotten.”
But a mere four months later, Hopkins announced he was dropping his bid. The reason? He could not raise anywhere near the money needed to mount a credible challenge because, as Politico put it, Menendez “has the support of virtually all of the top Democrats in the state.” In his letter announcing his withdrawal, Hopkins wrote: “In a campaign system such as we have that is stacked against the average guy seeking public office to challenge an incumbent, prodigious fundraising is practically the only way to get the traction needed to keep a campaign afloat.”
The speed and unanimity with which Democratic leaders rallied to endorse Menendez’s re-election was dizzying.
Greenwald sums up what the party really stands for.
As the Intercept’s political reporting team has spent the year documenting, the entire party apparatus is designed to ensure that only rich, establishment candidates can win, while doing everything possible to block and destroy the chances of outsider, insurgent candidates (see the superb reporting from my colleague Aida Chávez on Sunday about the obstacles put in front of working-class Democratic primary challenges, often by their own party’s structures).
It’s a party that lacks any vibrancy or movement. It’s stilted, stifled, and ossified. They don’t even allow primary challenges to rotted incumbents who have oozed a suffocating stench of corruption during almost three decades of incumbency in Congress, even if that incumbent has repeatedly blocked the party’s own agenda. As was also demonstrated by Hillary Clinton’s recent endorsement of the corruption-tainted Andrew Cuomo over his progressive primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, seeking to become New York state’s first female governor: all that matters to them is closing ranks around one another, clinging as tightly as they can to their own prerogatives, preventing anyone from disrupting their ability to greedily feed at the corporate-fueled trough which keeps them fat and satiated.[My emphasis-MS]
Those who think that this critical focus on Democrats will empower Trump and the Republicans, or that it serves the GOP’s interests, have it exactly backwards. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias so deftly documented after Trump’s victory, “the Obama years have created a Democratic Party that’s essentially a smoking pile of rubble.”
A refusal to attempt to improve the party, to inject a new form of politics and new voices, to change what has caused its collapse as a national political force, will ensure more victories by more Trumps and more Republicans for years to come. And it’s hard to imagine anything that better exemplifies that sickness, that danger, than rank-closing around someone like Bob Menendez.