By Froma Harrop
With polls showing that Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd would probably lose to most everyone running against him, the Democrat’s decision not to seek re-election is a relief to all but his Republican opponents. A Senate seat from true-blue Connecticut isn’t something Democrats should have to worry about. They’ve already got enough on their hands dealing with the state’s other senator, independent Joe Lieberman.
Dodd’s plan to leave the Senate after three decades should move his compass point from politics to policy. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Dodd has been pushing for stringent regulation of the very financiers whose reckless conduct he used to tolerate. Had he supported these needed changes — such as a strong consumer protection agency and joining the four bank regulators into one effective overseer — two years ago, his political future would have been considerably brighter today. Unfortunately, he wasted much time and opportunity defending many risky practices of the financial industry.
Does Dodd’s pullout from the race free him from liberals demanding that he hang tough on plans to reform Wall Street? Or does it free him from doing the business of the fat cats, under whose Spindletop of gushing millions he’s held many a campaign bucket?
An optimist, I’m going to predict the latter. Dodd has always been the affable type, though often prone to making bad judgments. Who can forget his decision to relocate the family to Des Moines as a means of currying favor with presidential caucus voters in Iowa? Such a spectacular act of taking an electorate for granted has rarely been equaled.
While in Davenport before the Iowa caucuses, I watched a flesh-pressing Dodd hug familiar reporters from New England with genuine joy. But I was struck by his apparent non-concern over the deep sulking going on back home in Connecticut. For this trouble, Dodd picked up only one Iowa delegate.
Let it be said that Dodd hasn’t entirely deserved all the raps he’s taken of late. The senator very well might have been truth-telling when he insisted that he didn’t know about his being a “friend of Angelo.” That would be Angelo Mozilo, the former head of Countrywide Financial, whose fallen sub-prime mortgage empire is costing taxpayers an unsettling sum.
The Wall Street bailout that Dodd shepherded through the Senate in October 2008 remains highly unloved in populist, among other, circles. But what choice did he have, really? Days before, a coalition of angry Republicans and Democrats had sent the bill to defeat in the House. And as the votes were being counted, the Dow Jones Industrial Average took a swan dive, ending down nearly 800 points for the day. The tough-talkers reconsidered whether the pleasure of sending Wall Street into the fiery pit of bankruptcy was worth the cost, and Congress quickly passed the bill.
Finally, we should also recognize that the big money movers are also hometown employers for much of Connecticut. They provide jobs for janitors and car dealers, as well as hedge-fund billionaires.
So wither Chris Dodd? A natural politician, he is son of the late Connecticut Sen. Thomas Dodd. The father’s career sunk after the Senate censured the elder Dodd for the misuse of funds. The son has said, “Every time I walk on the Senate floor, I feel he’s vindicated.”
Dodd now has a bit of vindicating to do for himself. But liberated from running for office, Dodd can strap on the blinders and concentrate on serving the public’s interest. Legacy seems to matter to him, and that could bring progress on enacting the financial reform that America desperately needs.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.