BY: T. D. DUFF TONKA BAY, MINNESOTA
Without mobilizing the political and civic energies of the citizenry, even with the best of intentions, no political party can effectively deliver. So long as that party continues to reward the very power brokers whose avarice has contributed to the destitution and perpetuated social injustice, that party has failed its own stated ideals.
Sadly, this has been the legacy of the Democratic Party since 1980. As the 1960s turned toward the 70s leading into the Nixon administration, the corporate chiefs seemed at a loss, until they discovered in August of 1971 what has come to be known as the "Powell memorandum." Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, delivered his analysis of the power balance in Washington, and pronounced it a crisis for big business. The forces of reform had brought many businesses under a variety of consumer-protection regulations, and business was on the defensive. Powell urged a fundamental expansion and strengthening of the corporate-lobbying apparatus, using many of the techniques that the consumer, environmental, and other citizen interests were deploying. The results were the corporate think tanks, aggressive manipulation of the media, advancing business views on campus and in the curriculum, greater involvement in elections, and a mobilization of corporate executives. It was time, Powell said, to mount an aggressive counterattack to those liberals, whom he believed would subvert the free-enterprise system. In 1971, Nixon named Powell as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1972, the Business Roundtable, comprised only of top-level CEOs, was established.
It took some time to embed this craven counterforce. There were the years of Nixon and Ford, virulent years of inflation, large price increases, the energy crisis and Watergate. But the momentum from the fifties, sixties and early seventies was not tapped out. The Democrats controlled Congress, and were still effective. In 1975 and 1976 Jimmy Carter was campaigning, saying that he would appoint the right kind of regulators and that one of his top domestic priorities would be the creation of a consumer-protection agency, CPA.
After Carter was elected, he did appoint some good people to head the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the auto-safety commission. However, he did very little to press the CPA bill through the House, where consumer and labor groups were defeated, and many liberals defected to the side of the Business Roundtable men, the largest business coalition up until that time to oppose a bill. Instead, Carter aggressively pressed Congress to pass natural-gas deregulation. Because the CPA's mission was not regulatory but rather advocating for consumer's interests, nearly every industry imaginable felt the potential impact of this small protective agency, disturbing the cozy relationships they had juiced up with these so-called regulators.
The CPA's defeat represented the turning of the tide to the favor of the business lobbies. The Democrats were struggling, not just with their reactionary southern wing, but even among their more mainstream liberal members. With the defeat of Progressive dynamo Phil Burton of California for House Majority Leader to conservative Texas Democrat Jim Wright, liberals supported Wright, a democrat in name only (DINO), over an effective, brilliant, and compassionate liberal Progressive.
Things seriously began to change when the Business Roundtable got their wish in the form of Tony Coehlo, the Democrat from California, who in late 1980 persuaded the Democratic Party to fund raise from the same big business contributors as did the Republicans. This marked the end for Progressive Democrats. PACs began their proliferation by the month, and the corporate CEOs were responsive, plying both parties now with its corporate cash. The ultimate two-party hedge was now taking shape. The pro-labor, New Deal Democratic Party was now experiencing a slow death.
One way to clarify this merger of business interests and politicians in government is to look at the major departments and agencies in Washington and determine who are the most powerful influences over them. In every case, from the Department of Treasury, to the Department of Agriculture, to the Food and Drug Administration, it is powerful corporate interests that call the shots and control our elected representatives.
This of course has been going on for decades, only today the difference is that these agencies have become more symbiotic with their client companies, often being run by the past executives of the industries they now represent. Industry and commerce have become far more organized, more media-aggressive, and much richer at the same time that organized labor's influence has declined as an opposing force within the realm of public decision making. When this severe imbalance of power becomes institutionalized, as it has, the sovereignty of the people is diminished.
Still, the citizens' groups continue their efforts, as if riding a tread mill that keeps slipping backward, clinging to the hopes of building a truly Progressive movement in congress, not seriously coming to terms that the historic American ideology of continual progress has received its comeuppance, along with impression that thirty-five years of supply-side fraud would raise all boats. The major political parties have woefully fallen short of delivering their populist responsibilities. As proxies for big business, they have become the shameful gatekeepers who allow the corporate powers to debase the power of the people.
The words of Thomas Jefferson are so very important and prescient, as to how long people should tolerate an unresponsive government. His message was that when the situation becomes intolerable, the people need to get active and take back their government.
Being a Progressive means being far more active than just reacting to issues of identity politics. It must mean going to the roots of the abuses of power of our political economy. The Athenian politician Cicero said, "Freedom is participation in power." One hundred years ago, Woodrow Wilson's words are so true today. He said, "The government which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of their bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy."
Our country's independence was declared in 1776 by patriots, many of whom were very young. Thomas Jefferson was thirty-two, James Madison was thirty-five, John Hancock was thirty-nine, John Adams was forty-one, and their leader George Washington was only forty-four.
It is always the young who can give the people their collective judgments and that "new birth of freedom," in Abraham Lincoln's words. It is always the young who break through the shams and frauds and raise our expectation levels beyond our eroded horizons. It is always the young who seek the "impractical and the impossible" as entrenched excuses by the established interests to avoid realizable caring futures. When three hundred of the richest people on Earth have wealth equal to the bottom three billion on Earth, extreme affluence is built on the backs of extreme mass poverty.
In the forward march of time, as we now witness with the so-righteous students from Parkland, Florida, and students around the country who are standing up against NRA and gun violence, it will always be the young who look at what is and demand change, demand what can be done, and bravely call "bs" to that! We must help our younger generations in America establish the democratic sovereignty of we the people. We must help them not to grow up corporate pawns, and never let ever-larger global corporations to increasingly plan our futures, economically, culturally, politically, militarily, environmentally, and genetically, and never be dissuaded by a sensual, tempting corporate culture that can seduce younger generations into trivializing their lives and postponing their potential.
Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that "character is destiny." It is character and personality that are the catalysts of the steady sense of commitment, that enable growth and development of civic skills, perspectives and frames of reference, that provide the necessary reevaluations for new iterations and strategies and modes of self-renewal, for keeping alert and alive the public's imagination of life's truly Progressive possibilities for human beings everywhere.