Lars-Erik Nelson

Nelson is a columnist in the Washington, D.C., bureau of the <I>New York Daily News</I>.

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Q: What is different about this Congress?

A: They listened to the small-business lobby. That’s the real difference between this Republican Congress and Republicans of the past. Republicans have always been for the Fortune 500: “What’s good for GM is good for the country.” But this is, “What’s good for Godfather’s Pizza is good for the country.” Big business likes public broadcasting. They like affirmative action, because they know how to deal with it. They like national regulation, because they operate in 50 states, and they don’t want 50 separate states setting regulations. But the small-business guys just want to get rid of the federal standards on health and safety and the minimum wage. They’d rather deal with the Alabama Legislature.

Q: Why has the GOP Congress fallen into such disfavor with the public?

A: These guys came in with their “Contract With America,” and the first thing you know they tried to abolish the public broadcasting system and cut back on the school lunch program.

Q: Wasn’t everything in the “Contract With America” market-tested?

A: No. Phrases were market-tested. Like, “Do you think there are too many lawsuits?” And people would say, “Yeah, there are too many lawsuits.” And then the Republicans would use that as the pretext for drafting the entire tort reform bill, including a lot of specifics that were never market-tested. If the question had been, “If your car’s gas tank explodes and you get burned, do you think you should be able to sue Ford for $50 million?” people would have said, “Sure!” But that wasn’t the question people were asked. The Republicans did a whole bunch of things like that. The second thing that hurt this Congress was letting the lobbyists in to write legislation. That perfectly fulfilled the caricature of Republicans as pawns of big business. It’s fatal when you live up to your stereotype.

Q: Didn’t Democrats use lobbyists to draft legislation?

A: If the Sierra Club is invited in to write an environmental law, it’s not because the Sierra Club stands to pocket a profit. It’s because the Sierra Club has got views about the environment — right or wrong, it’s not venality. If you let the timber companies write the environmental laws, they’re going to write them to fatten their pocketbooks. That’s the difference. If you let the AFL-CIO lobby you on the minimum wage, there’s no AFL-CIO guy who’s going to get a raise out of it. But if Herman Cain of Godfather’s Pizza says, “I don’t want to pay minimum wage,” it’s money in his own pocket.

Q: Is this just a payback or is it related to conservative ideology?

A: The Republicans feel that businessmen know best, that they are out in the real world, that they are the ones who create the jobs, and that to get the government off their backs would be great. The money finds the true believers. So they can say that they really believe that they’re not doing it for the cash. Do you have to give one of these guys money to be an asshole? No, he’s an asshole to begin with. But people who have money say, “This is my kind of asshole. I’m gonna give him some money.” I’m sure some of these people are true believers, and they would do it without the money. It’s just that without the money, they couldn’t get elected.

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