Ever heard of the Teapot Dome scandal? I'm banking that anyone reading this wasn't alive back then, and like me, might have been fuzzy on what exactly the Teapot Dome scandal entailed. Well, this article is a nice little refresher course as to what exactly this scandal was about.
A crisis that could make the US election a cleaner contest
Can the collapse of Lehman Brothers ram a rare taste of reality into the campaign? The facts are plain. John McCain enthusiastically backed every one of George Bush's moves to deregulate the banks and the mortgage industry that caused this collapse, while Barack Obama opposed them. This isn't just a credit crunch; it's a conservatism crunch. The right got their dream of a totally unregulated "shadow" banking sector –and it swiftly imploded, bringing the world economy down with it.
Yet McCain's indignant promises to "close this casino" are being reported straight, without even bothering to look at this record – or noticing that he is cashing cheques from Wall Street lobbyists as fast as they can be written. They know their man: McCain's mantra even after this collapse began was: "I am always for less regulation." Indeed, McCain's current adverts saying he will not let the "recklessness" that led to Lehman Brothers' demise happen again are in part funded by left-over donations from... Lehman Brothers.
McCain knows his stances on the economy and foreign policy are opposed by 80 percent of the population as barely-trimmed Bush. So he needs to toss up a confetti of distraction-issues instead – and Palin was the biggest distraction of all. This attempt to run down the clock was working with slick efficiency until the stock exchange's opening bell started to sound like a death-knell. He is gathering fistfuls more of confetti as we speak.
The best key to unlocking these tactics may lie in a story that might seem at first glance a yellowing old scandal, but it is actually as fresh as tomorrow's Google News. By 1920, the oil age had revved into first gear. Cars were being bought all over America, so the petrol price was at an all-time high. The bosses of Big Oil were desperate for new oilfields – and there was one in particular they coveted. In Wyoming, there was a vast oilfield called the Teapot Dome reserve, shaped like a teapot and containing more oil than the whole of California. But the oilmen were shut out: it had been set aside to supply the navy with oil if there was ever a national emergency.
So Big Oil thought of a solution. They decided to buy the presidency. A consortium led by Jake Hamon – a JR Ewing for the Jazz Age – started to buy the delegates to the 1920 Republican Convention with brown-envelope bribes, one by one. Once they owned a hefty block, they approached the initial front-runner – General Leonard Wood – and said they would make him the Republican nominee if in return he promised to make Hamon Secretary of the Interior – and therefore boss of Teapot Dome. Wood yelled: "I am an American soldier. I'll be damned if I'll betray my country! Get the hell out of here."
So Big Oil picked a different candidate instead: an obscure, bumbling Senator called Warren G Harding, who had been a 40-1 shot at the start of the convention. He had barely been out of Ohio and had only fuzzy ideas about politics – but he could be marketed as Mr Normal, the 1920s equivalent of a hockey mom. Big Oil lavishly funded a PR campaign selling him to ordinary Americans as One of You. He was pictured at baseball games eating hot dogs with his sweet family – while his opponent was presented as arid and "elitist".