The Presidential election is over and once again the issues of corporate power and abuses were overwhelmingly ignored in a dispiriting bipartisanship. This political taboo is, of course, the ultimate tribute to corporate power as well as a rejection of Jefferson’s belief that representative government should be a counter to the “monied interests.”
But in California, the statewide initiative process brought forth a voters revolt against the property/casualty insurance industry and its overcharging, arbitrary cancellations and classifications. Prop. 103, which I supported, won out with a tiny budget and a large grass roots and word-of-mouth campaign. The insurance companies poured over $75 million behind their three Propositions — all of which lost — and against Prop. 103.
By all accounts, the misbehavior and power plays of the insurance companies in the commercial liability and auto areas were the hottest issues in California. But both Bush and Dukakis stayed completely away with repeated ‘no comments.’
Around the same time, a California company planned a national advertising campaign for its stop-smoking system — a kind of “say no to drugs” regime. Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Life and US magazines refused to take its ad. The company claimed that the magazines told it specifically that they did not want to upset their cigarette advertisers.
Some magazines denied this assertion. Time said that it wanted merely to have substantiation for the product’s effectiveness. The promoter replied that substantiation was requested after the press started calling Time about the ad’s rejection. The advertising director for US magazine admitted its rejection was based on the fear that the major cigarette companies “would cut their programs with us.”
Perhaps US magazine remembered when, last April, RJ Reynolds’ Nabisco took away over $70 million worth of food advertising from the advertising firm of Saatchi & Saatchi after the agency developed the campaign for Northwest Airlines’ ban on all smoking.
Two days after the election, New York City announced a $235 million welfare package, compliments of the unpolled taxpayers, to megabillion dollar Chase Manhattan Bank. Why? To persuade Chase to move 5000 workers from Manhattan to Brooklyn instead of across the River to beckoning New Jersey.
This welfare package for a very rich bank that knows how to “play the New Jersey card; as one state legislator put it, includes tax breaks, electricity subsidies and other freebies. Critical services for the people of New York will not have budgets to the extent of this give-away. Many other businesses have shaken down New York: by threatening to leave the City, but specialists in this little debated area say that this was the biggest welfare grant yet and that future companies will demand equal or superior treatment.
Just why don’t business abuses become campaign issues? Because the candidates are heavily dependent on the favors and powers of the business community. Because organized labor is too anemic or compromised to do so. Because the mass media is part of the business sector. Because business can lust leave America and go to Mexico, Taiwan, Brazil or other countries and re-import products back to our country with impunity.
And most important because we, as citizens, do not participate enough before elections to shape the election issues as a mirror of our diverse concerns.
The venerable economists’ dictum that “bad money drives out good money” can be rephrased for political elections: “trivial issues drive out serious issues” or “general themes drive out specific themes.” Will we allow another tedious replay in 1992? Or will we give more of our time and effort to invigorate politics with the informed commitment of people?