The conscientious quest for turning around our fragile democracy can usefully turn its attention to a widespread but sub-visible phenomenon that can be called “The Next Step Not Taken.”
Let’s look at three areas needing fundamental reforms where the people who can get them in place are not taking the next step.
1. Call them small investors, savers or shareholders – corporate crimes, frauds and abuses have battered them in the past decade. Think Enron, Worldcom, Wall Street’s brokerage and investment giants and now the big shaky banks. Trillions of dollars have been drained or looted by these corporate bosses while they pay themselves handsomely with other people’s money.
Speaking, writing and testifying against these massive unregulated rip-offs of defenseless Americans are two former chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) — Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson. Openly sharing their urgent pleas for reform are John Bogle, founder of mutual fund indexing and severe critic of excessive, often hidden, mutual fund fees, and Lynn Turner former chief accountant of the SEC.
These men are well known and respected in their fields, have ready access to the mass business media, possess great rolodexes of supportive people all over the country and could raise substantial sums of money. They are part of the monied classes themselves.
And for what? To start a large investor protection and action organization to represent the 60 million powerless and individual investors in our country. Individual investors really have no organized voice, either in Washington, D.C., or the state and local level where public sentiment and demand for action generates the rumble for change.
These experienced, superbly connected men, who have respected each other for years and are frustrated over inaction by those in authority, are not taking the next step.
To demonstrate their credentials, see their books Take on the Street: How to Fight Your Financial Future and Take on the Street: What Wall Street and Corporate America Don’t Want You to Know by Arthur Levitt, and The Little Book of Common Sense Investing and The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism by John Bogle. To document the broader urgency of their concerns, see veteran shareholder rights leader, Robert Monks’ new book Corpocracy.
2. It would not take you very long, searching the Internet, to come up with scores of retired high military officers, from Generals and Admirals on down, high-ranking former diplomats and national security officials, who have spoken and written against the invasion of Iraq and the continuing quagmire and casualties that have cost our country so much and destroyed so much of Iraq and its people.
These outspoken, stand-up Americans, include former cabinet secretaries, agency chiefs, and White House special assistants, who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
No one can question the experience and service of these straight-talk, former public officials. They have seen it all. Wealthy, like-minded funders would return their calls.
Organized together into a powerful, well funded advocacy organization, these Americans can have a decisive impact on Congress and the White House, because they would be able to reach the American people through the mass media with the truth, and the strategies for peace and justice.
Although active in their pursuit of a sound foreign and military policy that does not jeopardize and bankrupt America, they have not taken this next step.
3. Can you possibly count all the progressives—elected, academic, authors and columnists—who are tearing into the Democratic Party for how often they caved in Congress this year to George W. Bush and his minority Republicans in the Senate and House?
There is nothing new about their complaints. Whether on foreign or domestic policy, whether on the domination of giant corporations over elections, legislatures, regulatory agencies and mass media, whether on the destructive results and portents of corporate globalization and autocratic trade regimes (WTO and NAFTA), progressives have been criticizing the Democrats for years now.
Hear it from Bob Herbert of the New York Times, John Nichols of The Nation magazine, the duos of James Carville and Paul Begala, Mark Crispin Miller and Jim Hightower, Bill Moyers and Anthony Lewis, Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, and Congressman John Conyers and Ed Markey — to name just a very few of the grossly disappointed and outraged critics of the establishment Democrats, and their Democratic Leadership Council and their corporate financiers.
But they do not take the next step. Or steps. Either organize into a powerful counter-weight inside the Democratic Party to make progressive demands that cannot be shrugged off, or move to a progressive third party that can either lever its messages to the Democrats or compete with them?
How many years can the bad Republicans and their corporatist allies keep pulling the mainstream Democratic Party toward them and leave progressives with the futility of the least worst form of disastrous corporate government?
There are many influential and knowledgeable people in our country who know what causes are critical to pursue, what redirections are necessary for present and future generations, what assets of persuasion and change to amass. But they are stalled in this state of the next step not taken.
Taking the next step is the difference between talking and acting, between promise and performance, between autocracy and democracy!