Obama is a Corporatist Sell Out! seems to have become one of the battle cries on the liberal blogosphere at the moment, and partly inspired by Al Giordano’s excellent article We Have Met the Corporation and It is Us (hat tip to Happy in VT for the link) this seems worthy of a wider moose moot. I was hoping to write something more linked and substantial and elegantly argued, but given the holiday season, thought it best to get this modified comment out there, sooner rather than later.
You may disagree but, from this transatlantic perch, it seems that there is some justice on focusing on the role of commercial and corporate interest in the US legislative life. As the Health Reform process has made quite clear, the US system of campaign finance, legislative checks and balances, is quite prone to effective lobbyists, paid handsomely by their corporate clients, surely because they get results.
But to go from this recognition of corporate influence, to a conspiratorial Chomskyite hegemony and argue that ‘everything is about corporate power’ seems to be – as Al Giordano says – to both state the obvious and miss the point.
Also forgotten in this born-again anti-corporatism is what Alinksy, Gandhi and others have demonstrated: To create and sustain successful political movements and revolutions, you have to turn small triumphs into ever increasing larger ones. If you don’t have victories along the way and call them that, the people lose hope and motivation to back any movement or revolt.
And yet that is precisely what the bill-killer tendency (and we will surely see them behave the same incoherent way on future battles: immigration reform will be next) is pushing: This sense that nothing is progress, nothing can be defined as a win, and that winning itself is evil if it doesn’t overturn everything. Even that might be understandable if they had a coherent plan for what winning would really look like, for what kind of society and system they would build to replace corporate capitalism. But they don’t have even a skeletal blueprint yet.
Some people have been shocked, shocked, shocked, that Obama has failed to take on and destroy American capitalism in his first year. They call him a traitor and sell out. Anyone who doesn’t recognise this is a liar, Obamabot and shill.
There’s a lot to be written about corporate America, and a lot that’s already been said, but the idea that the democratic party was ever going to challenge American capitalism at its core is frankly ludicrous. To call out Obama or the democratic party for this is just a recipe for self immolation.
Coming from a European left background, I’m equally aware of the danger of the corporate interests of government, and find that state capitalism has little to recommend it to corporate capitalism: the interests may be a little more accountable, but the monopoly is near perfect. We have had ‘socialist’ governments in the UK, with mixed successes. Great triumphs in thinks like civil rights, healthcare coverage and improved education, but problems with nationalisation and choosing commercial winners, who then go on and atrophy through the risk averse tendencies of bureaucratic control.
And I won’t even go there with my long experience of former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
All government or collective intervention isn’t socialist, but nor is all commercial or capitalist activity a corporate conspiracy. Different sectors compete with each other, as well as different players within a sector. Insurance and financial services also provide employment, can be broken up by firmer anti trust laws, can be regulated more heavily, and – with reform of corporation law – can be made more answerable to their shareholders.
There are many routes to mitigating corporate power in the US and beyond, without resorting to an apocalyptic world where hope explodes into despair.
A lot of this comes down, I think, to the effects of the credit crunch, and the realisation for a whole generation that some of the underlying premises of the economy in the last 25 years were flawed. We’re still undergoing a crisis in neo classical Reaganomics and laissez faire deregulaiton; an ideology which has basically dominated Anglo Saxon thinking for over a quarter of a century.
Formulating what can replace or mitigate that: a wider appreciation of human development and wealth beyond the absentee landlord form of capitalism we have today; is an urgent priority. There are elements of Obama’s thinking and organisation, especially what he has derived from Alinsky, which could be useful here.
The US system of checks and balances seems to me to be radically malfunctioning in the modern era of sophisticated lobbying and corporate campaign finance. Does this need to be reformed? You bet. Is this all Obama’s fault. Clearly not. Is he completely captured by these corporate interests, and has been deceiving us all along with the liberal parts of his mainly centrist approach?
Some people have made their minds up on the latter, after merely a year of governance. I certainly haven’t. It could be argued that the health care bill is a victory, a sign of hope rather than despair, and a small step towards a greater goal, rather a capitulation and total retreat.
My broader question to my fellow Mooses, a sincere question which I don’t pretend I know the exact answer to, is how to keep things progressing.
Do accusations of betrayal, threats to leave the democratic party, actually constitute an effective left wing lobby pressure on a centrist government?
Or do such manoeuvres actually undermine the progress claims to adherence from the Obama administration?
Are there simple effective ways to increase the power of the ordinary voter over your politicians, instead of the over representation of monied special interests?
Surely these are the sort of discussions you should be having on the left, rather than accusing your leaders of betrayal, and forming alliances with destructive right wingers.