Saturday, December 18, 2004

Column 16: Neo-Corporatism

In Sinclair Lewis's novel "It Can't Happen Here," a conservative politician is helped to the presidency by a radio host. The politician runs his campaign on family values, the flag, and patriotism. He and the talk show host portray advocates of traditional American democracy - those concerned with individual rights and freedoms - as anti-American. That was 69 years ago.

Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, writing in 2003, identifies a set of agendas common to both right-wing political and fundamentalist religious movements. These include:

1. Powerful and continuing use of patriotic/religious rhetoric.
2. Sacrifice of human rights to “emergency,” political, security, or to maintain the faith.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
4. Military needs given priority over civilian.
5. Sexism
6. Mass media indirectly controlled and censored by government regulation or media spokespeople who are sympathetic and/or intimidated.
7. Obsession with national security
8. Religion and government are intertwined – use of the majority religion as a tool to manipulate public opinion; use of religious rhetoric by public officials.
9. Corporate power is protected
10. Labor power is suppressed
11. Disdain for intellect and the arts
12. Obsession with crime and punishment
13. Cronyism and corruption – government without dissent
14. Fraudulent elections

In 2000, a group of Neo-Conservatives including Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and others published a document called The Project for the New American Century, This group saw the fall of Communism as an opportunity for America to become the sole dominant power in the world, and noted that these plans would take a long time, unless there were a catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor that would let the leaders turn America into a military country.

This Neocon agenda, arose concurrently with the rise of the religious right, particularly in the wake of President Clinton’s moral failures, and the ascendancy of large corporate interests which found a congenial home in the Bush/Cheney administration. September 11th provided just the catalyst they said was needed for their rise to power.

This analysis draws in part on the thinking of Davidson Loehr, a Unitarian minister in Austin, Texas. Loehr, in a recent sermon, labels this agenda fascism, and indeed Professor Britt, in the article cited above, calls the fourteen points the characteristics of fascism. I don’t use that term – since World War II, it is impossible to use the term fascism without evoking Hitler and the Nazis, and I think that comparison to the current regime in the United States is inaccurate, and a specious oversimplification. Still, I think that the danger in what, in the 1930’s in the US was called “corporatism” is real and current.

Historically corporatist agendas, whether on the right or the left (Soviet Russia was corporate Communism and if you substitute the State for private business, it fit the fourteen criteria perfectly) has beaten liberalism and progressivism too often for those of us to the left of center to be complacent about it. This, more than any other factor was, I believe, the determinant of the recent election. Liberals and Progressives must wake up to this fact, and see that the emphasis on individual rights to the exclusion of responsibilities to the larger society is no longer a viable philosophy, if it ever was. We need to recognize the validity of people’s religious and moral values, and to include a moral platform that will appeal to the hearts and minds of voters. Also, we need to be more aggressive and factual about exposing the damage that a Corporatist agenda does to the average working person and their family. The Corporatists have learned how to sell the canard that “what’s good for corporations is good for the USA,” and we must both have a vision that is broad enough to defeat that, and a campaign that points up that the values of Corporatism are diametrically opposed to those of the average American. Or we can be steadfast about how much better we are than they are, and how tragic it is that people don’t see that, in which case we are in danger of being right – dead right.

No comments: