Often, national politics seems like the Peanuts cartoon: Lucy grips the football, promising to hold steady; Charlie Brown runs to kick the ball, and Lucy swipes it away at the last moment.
The American people want an end to all sorts of corruption and folly in Washington. That’s not asking for much. They’d probably be ecstatic if the federal government just lived within its revenue and spent more only after more revenue was received. You know, like normal people. Like good, virtuous people.
And they’d love it if politicians wouldn’t line their pockets, if politics wasn’t so driven by ensured incumbency, insider favors, and incompetence on matters of great trust.
But no: the politicians play the part of Lucy. They snatch away what they promise. The power of incumbency and rigged rules often minimize our choices to bad and worse. When we miraculously elect a good guy, he “goes Washington” on us, joining the bad guys and continuing America’s reckless advance into insolvency.
I’m upset. You’re upset.
And so is Ralph Nader.
Yes. His latest book does more than suggest a solution. He proposes a grand left-right alliance. He’s asking Republicans to forget the insider favorites like McCain and Romney and Democrats to forget folks like the Clintons. Work, instead, to achieve shared goals.
He thinks this plan is Unstoppable. And that’s the title of his book.
On a family vacation, I’ve been reading it when I get a chance. There’s much that I disagree with here, but the big proposal is pretty sound. For progressives, conservatives, libertarians and independents often do have a lot they can work together on and accomplish.
Indeed, Nader envisions “left” and “right” in a coalition built firmly on common ground working for things such as
- full initiative and referendum rights in every state and locality;
- stricter ethical standards for representatives;
- an end to bailouts of businesses and investors;
- a rational attack on the eternal and sumptuous giveaways to contractors for the Pentagon;
and much more. He calls the common enemy “corporatism,” and has the wit to see that this reign of insiders works by dividing Americans so that we can’t fully and effectively confront those fleecing us.
I’m especially gratified to note that Nader cites one of my activist organizations, Citizens in Charge, for its efforts putting, well, citizens in charge. He calls us a “convergent group”—meaning that we work across ideological lines for strategic, common goals.
Nader argues that, “Each side’s view of the flaws in the current arrangement are good starts, but once again liberals and conservatives have to drop their corporatist and two-party allegiances and look straight at the reforms that are needed to give more choices for the voters in a competitive democracy.” And he urges Americans to work together — not for every element of what we see as the common good, but against a common enemy: corporatism.
So, what is that? What is corporatism?
Corporatism or “corporate statism,” as Grover Norquist calls it, is first and foremost a doctrine of corporate supremacy. Whatever advances that system of power and status over the constitutionally affirmed sovereignty of the people comprises the widening, all-encompassing corporatist agenda. As befits the ever-concentrating command of ever more mobile capital, labor, and technology — as well as its own media — the corporations’ dynamic of expanding control with ever more immunity knows no self-imposed limitations.
What corporations want, Nader writes, is “maximum predictability and the most feasible control of outcomes, with government being the preferred servicing or enforcement tool.”
Now, predictability is a good thing. Government is supposed to provide that by providing equal rights for all. That is true security. Not security from fashion, changing consumer preference, or moral censure, but security from crime and fraud. The security that can provide the best foundation for a free society, and more than enough real-world predictability for making profits.
The trouble is, once you stop treating rights as central — the rule of law as the crucial glue provided by government — even democratic governance can get awfully twisted, allowing special interests of all types to get an upper hand, to capture the regulatory process, and to ride herd over their competition.
My big quibble with Mr. Nader centers on how “corporatism” or “crony capitalism” really works. He seems to see it as something foisted on us by corporations. I see it as an ideology that, if given a constitutional inch will take the proverbial mile. It’s basically the idea of unlimited government, which attracts special interest group support and perpetrates a vast con job, tricking people into thinking that unlimited government accrues benefits to “the common people” or “traditional society” or what-have-you — while really concentrating benefits mostly on the insiders.
This week on my Common Sense site, I placed a “Thought of the Day” not from Ralph Nader but from James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill (who authored “On Liberty” and other classics). The elder Mill saw corporatism pretty clearly:
It never ought to be forgotten, that, in every country, there is “a Few,” and there is “a Many”; that in all countries in which the government is not very good, the interest of “the Few” prevails over the interest of “the Many,” and is promoted at their expence. “The Few” is the part that governs; “the Many” the part that is governed.
America is supposed to be different. We have the tools, after all, to let the Many have a say. And with that, we can kick out (or, more realistically, hem in) the current corporatist insiders.
This is the kind of thing that skeptical Americans — Americans who have wised up and realized that Democratic and Republican Party leaders are trying to pull the wool over our eyes — can work together to limit. By getting back to basics.
And that means folks who read Townhall would have to work with folks like Ralph Nader — and his regular readers. We could accomplish a great deal this way. We needn’t get bogged down on the ample areas where we disagree. There’s a lot to do on important subjects where we do agree, like ending corporate bailouts and establishing citizen initiative to put a check on insiders and runaway politicians.
We don’t need politicians to hold the ball. It’s time we bench the career Lucys and put citizens on the field.
May 18, 2014
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.