By Ryan McGreal
Published May 19, 2006
Here's a link to a fascinating interview between arch-conservative (note the small c) Pat Buchanan and public interest activist Ralph Nader in The American Conservative.
Nader's making a remarkable pitch to conservatives - that's real conservatives, not the radical statists running the GOP - and it's amazing not only how much they have in common, but also how clear it is that the Republican Party has betrayed its own ethical and philosophical foundation in a cauldron of cronyism, corruption, influence peddling, and cynical "values" ploys of political flimflammery.
Nader's basically a libertarian, but with a very powerful sense that government is the only effective countervail to the illiberal, un-democratic concentration of wealth that comes with corporate free rein. Other antifascist libertarians, like Chicago school economists Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, have a tragic ideological filter that blinds them to the tyrannical powers of the corporations they defend.
Buchanan asked Nader to explain his theory of corporate economic power and alternatives. Rhetorically, he added, "I presume you are not talking about state ownership or socialism, or perhaps you are ..." Nader's response was instructive, and I hope you'll bear with me if I reproduce his full answer here:
Well, that is what representative government is for, to counteract the excesses of the monied interests, as Thomas Jefferson said. Because big business realizes that the main countervailing force against their excesses and abuses is government, their goal has been to take over the government, and they do this with money and politics. They do it by putting their top officials at the Pentagon, Treasury, and Federal Reserve, and they do it by providing job opportunities to retiring members of Congress. They have law firms that draft legislation and think-tanks that provide ready-made speeches. They also do it by threatening to leave the country. The quickest way to bring a member of Congress to his or her knees is by shifting industries abroad.
Concentrated corporate power violates many principles of capitalism. For example, under capitalism, owners control their property. Under multinational corporations, the shareholders don't control their corporation. Under capitalism, if you can't make the market respond, you sink. Under big business, you don't go bankrupt; you go to Washington for a bailout. Under capitalism, there is supposed to be freedom of contract. When was the last time you negotiated a contract with banks or auto dealers? They are all fine-print contracts. The law of contracts has been wiped out for 99 percent of contracts that ordinary consumers sign on to. Capitalism is supposed to be based on law and order. Corporations get away with corporate crime, fraud, and abuse. And finally, capitalism is premised on a level playing field; the most meritorious is supposed to win. Tell that to a small inventor or a small business up against McDonald's or a software programmer up against Microsoft.
Giant multinational corporations have no allegiance to any country or community other than to control them or abandon them. So what we have now is the merger of big business and big government to further subsidize costs or eliminate risks or guarantee profits by our government.
Similarly, when Nader discusses illegal immigrants, he doesn't focus on poor Mexicans who are dispossessed from their farms and cross the border trying to find a way to support their families; he focuses on corporations that are happy to pay slave wages to illegals instead of paying living wages to Americans, explaining, "Let's get down to the manual labor [sic]. This is the reason the Wall Street Journal is for an open-borders policy: they want a cheap-wage policy." His response is to raise the minimum wage enough that an American worker at a minimum wage job can make enough money to support a family, thus eliminating what he calls "so-called work that Americans won't do."
He talks about members of Congress who voted to ratify the WTO agreement without actually reading it, and concludes, "it is impossible to exaggerate the dereliction of diligence in the Congress." Republican Senator Hank Brown, the one free trade supporter who actually read the agreement, was "so appalled by the anti-democratic provisions that I am going to vote against it and urge everyone else to." His fellow Senators and the American media simply ignored him.
Nader hopes conservatives, particularly those who are appalled with the Bush administration but feel they have nowhere else to turn, will recognize that they actually have as much in common with Nader as they do with corporatist Republicans (if not more, since so many Republican "values" positions turn out to be hypocritical). He explains, "The impact of giant corporations, commercialism, direct marketing to kids, sidestepping parents, selling them junk food, selling them violence, selling them sex and addictions, selling them the suspension of their socialization process - years ago conservatives spoke out on that, but it was never transformed into a political position."
It's the flip-side of his ongoing pitch to progressives who vote for the equally corporatist Democratic party because they feel they have nowhere else to turn. As he put it, "If you add all of those up, you should have a conservative rebellion against the giant corporation in the White House masquerading as a human being named George W. Bush. Just as progressives have been abandoned by the corporate Democrats and told, 'You got nowhere to go other than to stay home or vote for the Democrats,' this is the fate of the authentic conservatives in the Republican Party."
Politics needs a lot less reflexive head-nodding and hasty denunciations, and a lot more case-by-case, issue-by-issue pragmatism. Sadly, in today's political and media environment, there's almost no chance that someone like Nader, who has more in common with that the public actually values and wants than just about any part politician, will even get a word in edgewise, let alone go head to head with the incumbents in a free exchange of ideas.