By Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
The late Marjorie Williams who wrote on Washington and its passing leaders noted once about Richard Darman, who was an aide to five Republican presidents, the views of a former colleague: "I think he would do anything to advance himself." "If the cavalry is winning, he's for Custer, " says another. "And if the Indians are winning, he's for Sitting Bull."
It feels as though everyone in politics at present is in it for him or herself. How else can you explain the Republicans defeating a bill that would have allowed wage parity for women? Equal pay for equal work is enforced in most countries of the world, and yet here, a nation built on promises of equal opportunity we vote against it? And in a further remarkable action against worker rights, Governor Scott Brown saw Wisconsin affirm its support of him this week. This is in a country with high unemployment, no real wage increases in a decade, and workers who are putting in an average of 500 hours more a year than a decade ago, according to researchers at Harvard - with the cost that entails to stable family relationships and health.
I recently reread Bill Moyers: Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times by Bill Moyers, The New Press, New York/London, 2004 - and I underscored these words: "Taking on political scandal is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington" I believe the power of money in politics has tipped the balance against our democratic institutions" Theodore Roosevelt believed the central fact of his era was that big business had become so dominant it would chew up democracy and spit it out" Mighty corporations are again the undisputed overlords of politics and government, their influence permeating the White House, Congress, and, increasingly, the judiciary."
Remember, this is what he was writing in 2003, how much more potent then are his words now as the greed that caused the global economic crisis remains unpunished and administration executives feel emboldened to mislead.
He wrote too: "Mark Hanna saw to it that first Ohio then Washington were, in his words, "ruled by business " by bankers, railroads, and public utility corporations." Any who opposed the oligarchy were smeared as disturbers of the peace, socialists, anarchists, or worse. Back then they didn't bother with hollow euphemisms such as "compassionate conservatism' to disguise the raw reactionary politics that produced government of, by, and for the ruling corporate class. They just saw the loot and went for it. " Pro-corporate apologists -- hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words such as progress, opportunity and individualism into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right."
It is when we ignore history that we allow lessons to go unlearned. Turning to my bookshelves I found something else, Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda by Alan Axelrod, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2009. Axelrod wrote that America's first propagandist was probably Ivy Lee who told John D. Rockefeller, "Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn't like what you're doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want." He was, as George Creel, came to realize in 1914, a master of propaganda and Creel emulated him. Creel, a former journalist and head of the Committee on Public Information began selling the people on the very war President Woodrow Wilson had sought to avoid. In April 1917, Wilson and Creel would present U.S. entry into the First World War as an idealistic and ideological imperative, a fight to "make the world safe for democracy." Doesn't that remind you of another war and another president closer to these times?
By the end of 1917, 100,000 were working with Creel. He created a Division of News that would send out carefully orchestrated reports of the war. It made me think of Homeland Security and what journalists traded by becoming embedded in war zones and wearing military uniforms.
Truth-telling requires a certain distancing. When I blew the whistle at the Environmental Protection Agency I did not do it because I disliked my colleagues, or did not support the aims of the organization. I did. I liked my colleagues; some testified for me, one went to jail. Defending the environment is one of the greatest tasks of our time, I spoke out because that is what I believe is necessary to sustain democracy.
In the final words of my book, No Fear: A Whistleblower's triumph over corruption and retaliation at the EPA I note: "We had opened our hearts to fellow human beings. We had heard of their pain, their struggle, and embraced it as our own. It is the sound freedom makes. Grasshoppers no longer looked like giants. We had mastered what my mom had long ago identified as the most imposing grasshopper of all: fear."