Is corporatism on a collision course with conservativism? The contradictions are sufficient to cautiously predict a serious split coming between members of Congress who curtsy to corporate power and those who see corporate power as restricting choice, freedom and justice.
Starting in 1983 when real conservatives teamed up with liberals to defeat Ronald Reagan’s tax-subsidized Clinch River Breeder Reactor program in Tennessee, the conservative rumblings in Congress against corporate welfare — gigantic and numerous subsidies, guarantees, bailouts, give-aways and inflated contracts -have grown louder.
Conservatives like Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) were appalled by the waste, fraud and abuse that defense contractors heaped on the Pentagon. His revulsion lead to the False Claims Act of 1986 which has returned some rip-offs back to the taxpayers through whistle-blower generated civil lawsuits.
The massive files kept on American consumers by corporations with computers whizzing personal data all over the place has become a relentless invasion of privacy to these conservatives’ way of thinking.
The corporate globalization through autocratic systems of governance called GATT and NAFTA, which undermine our democratic processes and legitimate sovereignty, has turned numerous Senators and Representatives against similar future adventures like bailouts of foreign oligarchs and dictators deep in debt to
Two hard-line conservatives, House Budget Chairman, John Kasich (R-OH) and Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), reflect this split between conservatives and corporatists.
Kasich has upset his superiors, Newt Gingrich and Richard Armey, by loudly crusading against a list of corporate subsidies that he fought to terminate last year. He mostly failed, but the process of overcoming the corporate welfare state will take some time. And, as Kasich knows well, it will take a coalition of conservatives, liberals and progressives to break through.
On some corporate welfare issues, Kasich finds himself allied with Bernie Sanders (Independent from Vermont) who is one of the most outspoken critics of corporate power in Congress.
Charlie Norwood is even more shocking to his corporatist colleagues. Campaigning on a hate-the-federal-government-theme, Norwood won his Georgia Congressional seat in 1994. He soon began to fit the born-again definition of a modern conservative — that is, a corporatist mugged by reality. In Norwood’s case, he started listening to people back home complaining about HMOs and giant hospital chains blocking access to specialists and emergency rooms and arbitrarily rationing health care that folks needed.
Norwood then obtained an amazing bi-partisan number of House sponsors for legislation to stop these managed care behemoths from restricting people’s choices and rights to get what they paid for. He wants to give patients the right to sue these HMOs when the latter are responsible for something that goes wrong. Two Hundred and Twenty Four members of the House signed on.
Listen to Norwood’s rationale:
“A large number of Washington conservatives need to spend a lot more time with working people across America and a lot less time with lobbyists and politicos. For it appears that far from being defenders of individual freedom, they have convinced themselves that at least in terms of the debate on managed-care reform, the only freedom that counts is the freedom of corporations.
“In fact, average working families are just as opposed to big business running their lives as they are to big governments.”
What Norwood says about the health care megacorporations applies to many other areas of our economy dominated by Big Business.
So are the Kasichs and the Norwoods the forerunners of realignment in Congress against corporate power? There certainly is a lot more room for realignment, what with many Republicans and Democrats still pushing to usurp the state laws of wrongful injury, to weaken the corporate criminal laws, to facilitate bigger mergers between banking and other lines of commerce, and to undermine the food and drug laws.
The saplings of legislative revolt against corporatism require more nourishment — such as comprehensive Congressional hearings on corporate welfare rackets, more public dialogue and media attention, more essays and conceptual scholarship and more political leaders willing to make these issues of too much corporate power and control over our country prime campaign material before elections.
The people don’t need much convincing. It’s the leaders who need some political courage to really earn rather than just buy their leadership positions on Capitol Hill.