Matt Taibbi has a decent write-up of the Senate Banking Committee's mass fellatio testimony from Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, which highlights the continued evolution of our government from a functional if unwieldy public sector to an expensive group of administrative assistants to the financial industry. Dragging some hapless public figure before the Senate to testify uncomfortably for the cameras is a timeless political ritual in the U.S. However, in the past it was done primarily for the purpose of tearing the witness a new asshole with the greatest possible fanfare for political gain – Look at Senator Smith handing it to those crooked fat cats! Look at how he pounded the table and shouted "Sir, I demand answers!" Not even popular public figures were off limits; recall Howard Hughes being dragged before the War Investigating Committee in 1947 to account for the lavish War Department contracts his companies had received over the previous decade. Today our elected officials sit listlessly through such hearings with the Captains of Industry, scarcely able to whimper out a few softball questions before recalling that children are best seen but not heard.

There are two obvious explanations here, both of which reflect a political process so completely broken that we can safely confirm a return to the 1890s at this point. One, quite obviously, is that the Senators have been bought off by the financial interests they are supposed to regulate. Remember, the recent testimony took place before the Senate Banking Committee – a group of people that at least in theory is supposed to have a great interest in the issue. Instead the Senators' intent appeared to be to let Dimon speak virtually unchallenged for over an hour, to pick his mighty brain for ideas on how to do their job of regulating his behemoth company. The second explanation is much more disturbing – that the Senators no longer have any political points to score from a public Asshole Tearing of a man who is the modern textbook definition of a Wall Street Tycoon. In fact I suspect that many of them would suffer political repercussions (GOP primary challengers) if they did anything beyond occasionally glancing up at Dimon and asking him if they're doing it right. Don't worry, Sen. Corker. He'll give you the rhetorical head tap if you're not up to snuff.

I rarely say "I'm surprised" by the political world as anything other than a rhetorical device, but this is the real deal. How can it be unpopular to take rhetorical shots at the 21st Century equivalent of the Monopoly Man or J.P. Morgan? How and to whom is this a sympathetic figure? That the Senators can plausibly think "My constituents are gonna be angry if I'm too hard on this guy" is the least subtle sign that Gilded Age politics have returned in full force. That they don't even put up the pretense of being tough on the cartoon villain banking CEO – reaming him for the cameras and then kissing his ass behind closed doors with hearty backslaps and plenty of winking; "Sorry you had to sit through that song and dance, your majesty!" – reveals that they know exactly who the real "constituents" are. Graft and corruption collapse into themselves when those involved get so brazen that they conduct their crimes out in the open because they no longer fear punishment enough to bother with a cover-up. Yet rather than collapsing under a tidal wave of reform, Congress manages to continue getting worse. Each new election thins out more veterans with half of a brain and brings in more Ron Johnson "pro-business" types who don't know their mouths from their assholes.

That anyone could watch such a spectacle as the Great Dimon Gangbang of '12 and not be disgusted is hard for me to believe. Luckily for the bottoms/Senators involved, most Americans appear to have given up so completely on the idea of a functional government representing their interests that no one really notices anymore. Between the 800 cable channels and the number of Americans working two jobs just to keep afloat, most of us are sufficiently distracted to guarantee the Senators free reign to worship their master on camera.