Published in the 8/18/2010 Edition of the Wall Street Journal
Earlier this year, Barney Frank and Ron Paul convened the Sustainable Defense Task Force, consisting of experts “spanning the ideological spectrum.” They recommended a 10-year, $1 trillion reduction in Pentagon spending that disturbed some in the military-industrial complex. Other members of Congress were surprised by this improbable combination of lawmakers taking on such a taboo subject. But the spiral of bloated, wasteful military expenditures documented by newspapers has reached the point where opposites on the political-ideological spectrum were willing to make common cause.
A convergence of liberal-progressives with conservative-libertarians centering on the autocratic, corporate-dominated nature of our government may be growing. To be sure, there are obstacles to a synthesis of anticorporatist views becoming a political movement.
One is over-concern with labels and abstractions by both political factions. Yet once they take up the daily injustices—credit-card ripoffs, unsafe drugs and contaminated food—affecting people everywhere, common ground can be found. Another obstacle is that the concentrated power of big money and lobbies have so overtaken both political parties and controlled the parameters of political conversation that progressives and libertarians fail to recognize their similar, deep aversions to concentrated power of any kind. Finally, the anticorporatists in both camps are reluctant to collaborate in principled action because they have battled over issues for so long where they do not agree.
Yet this reluctance may be fading as abuses of corporate power, especially when supplemented by state power, become more plain to all. The multitrillion dollar bailout of an avariciously reckless Wall Street rammed through Washington, without any input from an angry public, epitomized shared outrage.
This perceived feeling of being excluded, disrespected and then taxed for the crimes and abuses of big business has been building for years. The loss of both sovereignty and jobs have produced a lasting resentment toward the antidemocratic North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and unpatriotic U.S. corporations that hollow out communities as they shift industries to China and other repressive regimes.
I have received earfuls on these matters during my three nationwide presidential campaigns from both workers and taxpayers who call themselves conservatives or progressives. The Main Street versus Wall Street figures of speech bespeak a deep sense of loss of control over just about everything that matters to people’s lives. In their daily discourse they know that big government beats to the drums of big business or, to use the elegant words of conservative philosopher Russell Kirk, “a host of squalid oligarchs.”
Because corporatists falsely assume the mantle of conservatism, they keep agendas that the left and right would agree on—such as cracking down on corporate crime, fraud and abuse against consumers, taxpayers and investors—from being heard and talked about and acted upon. The issues that don’t get nearly the attention they deserve include opposition to the arbitrary erosion of privacy by the Patriot Act and to the daily collection and storage of personal consumer information in corporate databases; resistance to tax-funded sports stadiums, the Federal Reserve’s out-of-control powers, unconstitutional wars and monopolistic practices against small business, and to the swarm of corporate welfare subsidies, tax havens, handouts, giveaways and bailouts.
Corporate abuse is recognized by elements in our society that might surprise you. Some years ago, at a sizable gathering of evangelical Christians, I denounced the rampant direct marketing to children of junk food and violent programming, undermining parental authority and furthering childhood obesity and mental coarseness. As people of faith, as parents and citizens, the audience responded enthusiastically.
No matter how often corporatists call themselves conservatives, the two hail from very different moral, historical and intellectual antecedents.
The powerful nuclear power industry discovered this difference in 1983, when a tight coalition of conservative, environmental and taxpayer groups defeated the deficit-ridden Clinch River Breeder Reactor in Tennessee. More recently, in 2008, demands coming from both the left and right that Congress ban genetic discrimination by health insurers overcame the corporatist lobby.
In several polls, including ones by Businessweek and Gallup, a sizable majority of Americans say that corporations have too much control over their lives, that both major parties are failing and that America is going in the wrong direction.
Once this slowly awakening giant of American reform shucks off the corporatists who divide, distort and deny many common identities, a dynamic civic force for freedom, fairness and prosperity will define and advance its own political and electoral agendas. Mr. Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us” (Seven Stories Press, 2009).