Robert Reich is a shrewd and seasoned commentator. He was Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and is now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. And when he announces the possible birth of a “People’s Party” in America, I sit up and pay attention.
The protests that erupted in Wisconsin over Republican Governor Scott Walker’s ham-handed union busting stir the cockles of my heart. And I want to answer “yes! yes! yes!” when Reich asks:
Are we finally seeing average Americans stand up and demand a fair shake in an economy now grotesquely tilted toward the wealthy and the privileged? Are Americans beginning to awake to the fact that our economy now delivers a larger share of total income to the very top than at any time in living memory? That big corporations are making more money and creating more jobs abroad than in the United States?
That this concentration of income and wealth has so corrupted politics that corporations can extort whatever they want from the government – tax breaks, loan guarantees, subsidies – while the super-rich can take most of their income as capital gains (taxed at 15 percent), and the rest at the lowest top rate in 25 years? And that because of this our kids are crowded into classrooms, our streets and highways and bridges are falling apart, and our healthcare bills are out of control?
When I see those crowds on TV and learn that Governor Walker is apparently backing down, I want to stay up all night, drink cheap wine and sing those old union songs the way we did in the Sixties. But the Sixties were then; this is now.
And now is scary.
Reich thinks a movement like the radical right’s Tea Party might be emerging to fight for progressive values – the right to form unions, the right to earn a decent living, send your kids to decent schools, enjoy a reasonably free and independent life…
I so desperately want to share his optimism.
But I wonder whether it might be too late. The “better angels” of American society seem to be in retreat, routed by decades of conservative brainwashing.
When I talk to Americans today, I am often surprised by their distrust of unions, their antipathy to welfare and their acceptance of corporate dominance.
This did not happen by accident.
The liberal tide of the Sixties created a backlash among the rich and powerful in America. And a number of them got together and decided to fight back.
The crusade began in 1970, when Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote to the National Chamber of Commerce complaining that America’s best students had become anti-business because of the Vietnam War. He suggested doing something to counteract the trend. That “something” included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, establish institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and fund conservative “think tanks.”
The most visible results of this crusade include the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute and the Cato Institute. But these think tanks are just the tip of the iceberg. Not so visible are the huge increase in corporate ownership of U.S. media, the influence that conservative billionaires have bought in American higher education, and the rise of “prosperity” theology and the religious right – all funded by billionaire activists intent on brainwashing the American public.
When Reich compares the Wisconsin protests to the Tea Party movement, I wonder if he is overlooking the torrent of cash behind the Tea Party. Lobbyists, public relations professionals and right-wing activists (like Charles and David Koch) lavishly fund Tea Party activities to further their hidden agendas.
Compared with the resources behind the radical right, the funds available to any “progressive” movement in America are minuscule. Like Republicans, Democrats have had to rely on corporate lobbyists and Wall Street financiers to provide the enormous amounts of money required to fund a political campaign today.
And as the policies bought and paid for by the obscenely rich funnel more and more of the nation’s wealth into their pockets, their ability to control public opinion becomes ever stronger, their influence in Washington becomes more pernicious and the vicious cycle continues – to the detriment of “the people.”
Despite all this, I dare to hope that Reich’s prediction might be more than “wishful thinking.”
The manipulative plutocrats and their political hacks have become so confident that they no longer bother to keep their agendas secret. Surely, no amount of brainwashing can make the American public accept their blatant attacks on teachers, firemen, police and other government workers, on women, on ethnic, sexual and religious minorities, on the poor, the sick and the old…
It could well be enough to make”the people” wake up at last.