In political parlance for some time now there has been the distinction between liberals and conservatives and their extreme fringes. But this political dichotomy no longer fully serves what’s being represented in government these days. There is a new breed of conservative and liberal and though they have been around for a couple of decades now, little is made mention of them at the level it needs to be.
Insert the prefix “neo” before both conservative and liberal and you find that you have a whole new animal, where both have one thing in common that their more traditional elements lack in comparison. Both neos are corporate devotees, representing the interests of multi-national and highly profitable corporations along with financial investors and stockholders, over small businesses and the labor force in this and other countries.
Both new, corporate-friendly liberals and conservatives preach the benefits of the “free market”. If a distinction can be made it’s that neo-liberals still try to advance the needs of the general populace with an emphasis on the powerless in societies while conservatives advance the notion that the wealthy will create jobs with their gains and thus allow the “natural consequences” of self-interests dictate who benefits and who doesn’t.
Where this change tends to harm the traditional aspects of the political divide is that corporations are now the main driving force in the halls of local, state and federal governments and their agencies that have been established to “serve the people”. When push comes to shove, the individual, the community and the small business entrepreneur are shoved to the rear to allow room for the bigger, wealthier corporate interests. I noted in an earlier article that an entity known as ALEC, the American Legislative Executive Council, has been making “model’ legislation that fits the needs around corporations and passed on to legislative bodies to be represented as the work of elected officials.
On their website, ALEC Exposed, the Center for American Democracy describes this shady group as follows:
ALEC is not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on the board.) Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. Participating legislators, overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched” organization. We agree. It is as if a state legislature had been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door.
More than 98% of ALEC’s revenues come from sources other than legislative dues, such as corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations. Each corporate member pays an annual fee of between $7,000 and $25,000 a year, and if a corporation participates in any of the nine task forces, additional fees apply, from $2,500 to $10,000 each year. ALEC also receives direct grants from corporations, such as $1.4 million from ExxonMobil from 1998-2009. It has also received grants from some of the biggest foundations funded by corporate CEOs in the country, such as: the Koch family Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Scaife family Allegheny Foundation, the Coors family Castle Rock Foundation, to name a few. Less than 2% of ALEC’s funding comes from “Membership Dues” of $50 per year paid by state legislators, a steeply discounted price that may run afoul of state gift bans.
Some of the more well-known corporations that participate and fund ALEC are AT&T, Bayer Corp., Coca-Cola, Exxon/Mobil and of course, Wal-Mart. The full corporate list can be found here.
The encroachment of wealthy and powerful corporations into our democratic republic has been a concern since the earliest days of our nation’s founding. Joel Bakan informs us in his groundbreaking work, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power. “that corporations were originally created for very limited purposes but that they have grown over time into entities in some ways more powerful than national governments.”
The first boost they received from their allies in Congress and the Courts was in the 1886 Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County v. the Southern Pacific Railroad. The actual ruling does not connote corporate personhood but a pro-corporate court reporter who once worked for a railroad company conveyed to a publication, United States Reports, following the trial:
“The Court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations.”
From this point on, corporations were seen as persons by the Court. Source
Just recently the Republican-appointed judges on the Roberts Supreme Court further enhanced the notion of corporate citizen in the highly controversial court decision, Citizens United vs the FEC, a decision that President Obama decried in his 2010 State of the Union Speech.
“In short, this decision gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money — literally millions of dollars — to affect elections throughout our country. This, in turn, will multiply their influence over decision-making in our government.” Barack Obama, Jan. 2010
Thomas Jefferson conveyed similar concerns in stronger language over 200 years ago. Shortly after the new Constitutional government was formed he expressed his hope that we, as a nation would “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” After leaving office he further contended in 1816 that “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
Other presidents in our history were equally fearful of the creeping hand of corporatism into our government bodies. In 1864 Lincoln conveyed to Col. William F. Elkins in a letter stating “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” Nearly three-quarters of a century later Franklin Roosevelt would also write a military acquaintance, telling Colonel E. Mandell House, “The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson.”
Today, many in the traditional groups of conservatives and liberals have been enticed to associate with these more corporate-friendly versions, not realizing that the language they use, though familiar on some levels to them, is really new-speak to promote an interest that subvert real grass-roots efforts and small business concerns. The Tea Party movement, originally an expression of this “independent” spirit that was more prominent in colonial days has been hijacked by moneyed interest and usurped the power of the people in more traditional conservative persuasions.
The neo-liberals have tried to make their more traditional elements look like radicals and something to be avoided. An example of this was displayed by Obama’s former press secretary Robert Gibbs who “dismissed the ‘professional left’ in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, ‘They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality’.”
The “right” and the “left” will exist for the foreseeable future but right now the traditional members of both ideologies share a common concern and perhaps should join forces opposing the strength of corporate interests over grass-roots interests. If we allow ourselves to be caught up in the neo conversion’s view of Americana, we may well find ourselves at a point similar to the early colonist in the late 18th century when the British throne and their aristocracy in the several states dictated life to their American subjects.