Congressional reporter Carl Hulse used the Senate hearings, in which senators from both party berated two Goldman Sachs executives about marketing flawed mortgage investments, in his front-page "Political Memo" Wednesday: "For Democrats, Bankers Make A Handy Foil - Grilling Goldman and Pressuring G.O.P."
Hulse specializes in this kind of partisan story, where Democrats are outfoxing (or claim they're outfoxing, or want the Times' liberal readership to think they're outfoxing) the GOP and exerting political pressure:
Politicians like nothing more than a convenient foil, and Democrats locked in a stubborn impasse with Republicans over new rules to govern Wall Street believe they have found a gold-plated one in Goldman Sachs.
But they have seized on emerging details about Goldman's wheeling and dealing - recounted in a marathon bipartisan questioning of top executives from the firm on Tuesday during a televised Senate hearing - to put pressure on Republicans.
Even as current and former Goldman executives defended themselves against charges of pillaging the economy, Democrats forced another procedural vote on the Wall Street regulatory measure. They knew they would come up short but were intent on juxtaposing the image of millionaire bankers parrying suggestions of greed and malfeasance with Republican determination to at least slow a bill calling for tighter regulation. Democrats said they would keep calling for votes to make their point.
"Republicans will have more opportunities to show whose side they are truly on," said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader.
If nothing else, the civil case filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against Goldman has given Democrats a chance to highlight a cast of purported villains, embodiments of the forces that led to the financial crisis and the ensuing deep recession and faces at which the nation's angry populist impulses could be directed.
While Senate Republicans joined Democrats in pounding on the Goldman executives at the hearing and expressed comparable outrage over what they described as blatant conflicts of interest in the structuring of Goldman deals, they confidently trooped over to the Senate floor to vote again to block the bill.
They accused Democrats of trying to force through a partisan measure, sought to raise new questions about the measure's reach beyond the titans of Wall Street and noted that many Democrats had benefited more from Goldman campaign contributions than Republicans.
Hulse could have fleshed out that talking point. National Review's Rich Lowry has the numbers:
In the 2008 election cycle, Democrats garnered 73 percent of the political donations of Goldman Sachs, as well as the majority of donations from other financial giants such as UBS and Citigroup. They soaked up most of the hedge-fund money, and won the battle for donations from industries as varied as health care, defense, and law.
Hulse left discouraging words for Democrats to the 18th paragraph out of 22:
Other Democrats said privately that the party needed to be careful in how far it goes in portraying Goldman Sachs as the chief bad guy in the financial collapse given the firm's major presence on Wall Street, as well as in the world's financial markets. Some Republicans have suggested that the Goldman developments are too much of a coincidence, implying that the S.E.C. lawsuit and Senate hearing were all elements of an orchestrated effort to provide momentum to the Wall Street overhaul and help Democrats break the Republican unity against the measure.