Liberalism’s Death Bell Tolls, Part 1: A History of the Demise of a Vital Institution
Richard Gale and Gary Null
Progressive Radio Network, March 4, 2013
The rudiments of neo-fascism stole into American politics during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. At that time, government discovered that serving the private corporate sector was more profitable than serving American citizens. The Reagan and Bush regimes told us we must protect the wealth of the elite who profiteered from the free market because it would be from this tiny wealthy and powerful class that jobs would trickle down creating a free market that would benefit everyone. However, according to the Reagan agenda, for this scheme to work it was also necessary to cut back social entitlements, to lessen taxes, and eliminate as many federal and state regulations as necessary.
At the same time, the Reagan/Bush conservatives had no reservations about launching ever larger increases in government and military spending as well as providing tax relief and other subsidies for major corporations including Big Oil, Big Nuclear, Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Ag, and Big Insurance. Meanwhile, American citizens were gradually indoctrinated to believe that either all of the nation’s problems resulted from too much federal spending or, conversely, arose from too little government expenditure.
On the flip side, liberals were historically the champions of the working class, unions, civil rights, social welfare, and the anti-war movement. However, during the Clinton presidency and now under Obama, the liberal agenda has removed firewalls, such as the Glass-Steagle Act, passed regressive free trade treaties (NAFTA and GATT), and now again increasing military spending. These measures ultimately destroyed unions, offshored jobs, reduced the standard of living, continued the Republicans’ ghettoization of America, and granted foreign corporations sovereign rights over the exploitation of America’s labor and resources. While the conservatives have regressed to a pre-Enlightenment, anti-scientific mindset—the denial of climate change being just one example—the liberal left refuses to acknowledge the severity of climate change and its pending catastrophic consequences because it is contrary to the corporate myth of infinite growth and progress that is still perceived as absolutely essential for keeping the US as the world’s most prosperous nation.
In the meantime, the major media, television, magazines and partisan talking heads blame each other for the country’s cultural collapse and its social and economic illnesses. Neither has displayed the capacity to be self-reflective and accept how each has contributed to the problems. Therefore, both corporate Democrats and Republicans, corporate liberals and conservatives, are accused for their complicity in manipulating America’s economic, political and social structures in order to meet financial ends at the expense of the health and well-being of the nation.
How did the liberal left get it so wrong? When did it become so powerless in facing the avalanche of domestic and global crises ahead? At what point did it lose its moral bearing and compromise on its fundamental principles that at one time were truly progressive and democratic?
Starting in the 1960s and continuing for several decades, America witnessed an unprecedented surge of educated young adults in the work force. As the years passed, men and women increasingly saw the neoliberal-corporate agenda as a path to economic prosperity. It seemed to highlight a road map for an American Dream promised by the preceding Great Generation. By the time the Reagan revolution arrived, the political philosophies of Democrat and Republican parties were secondary. What had become primary for the new best and brightest class, who now perceived themselves as intellectually superior, was personal advancement.
Historically, members of the professional educated class occupied positions in the establishment that promised economic security during the course of a career and through retirement. Consequently a large percentage of the professional class became an invisible population of mutes. Following the Peter Principle—a popular publication in 1969—a person would continue to be promoted through the capitalist hierarchy to his or her highest level of competency yet not so high as to to be essential for policy-making decisions. Simultaneously, the person was distant enough from the working class to convince himself that his job was secure. This allowed millions of the professional class to become corporate technocrats.
Then there was the game changer. In the mid-1970s when the heads of multinational corporations and banking firms, the captains of industry and the trust babies—Rockefellers, Fisks, Mellons, et al—were no longer the only privileged class of policy makers who controlled the advancement of those in their industries and set the national, state and local policies, a new class had emerged. These were the vulture capitalists who not only wanted their piece of the pie, but believed they were brighter and more worthy than the industrial and financial moguls from the preceding generation. At the fore of this group were corporate raiders such as T. Boone Pickens, Carl Icahn and Saul Steinberg, equity kings like Henry Kravis, and junk bond traders like Michael Milken. These and others such as Bain Capital, the Carlyle Group and the Texas Pacific Group were among the architects of a new financial paradigm that rapidly changed the way business was done and as a result looted the nation.
The new vulture capitalists took immense risks regardless of how destructive the outcomes were to the livelihoods of others or to the economic health of the nation. In his book The Capitalism Papers, Jerry Mander calls this neoliberal economic ideology “amoral” and undemocratic because its sole purpose is to increase wealth and avoid its distribution. Considering the damage to individuals and society left in the wake of pursuing fortune at any expense, it’s clear that such practices are also profoundly immoral.
Unlike the industrialists from the previous generation, the new elite was solely concerned with making money off of money and developing schemes to leverage debt in order to gain greater profit margins. By securing Wall Street bridge loans for equity partnerships, the new paradigm decimated financially stable private and public firms that at one time contributed to America’s real growth. After saddling financially solvent corporations with unsustainable debt loads that couldn’t be serviced and pushing the limits of downsizing, corporate executives and financers realized it would be more lucrative to ship the work overseas. They could build a company in China and other developing nations, hire cheap labor, export the product back into the US and, in time, destroy the domestic competition. Numerous jobs were lost and the economic destruction of American communities accelerated. Aside from workers being laid off and no longer finding a need for their skills in the US, this downsizing trend remained fairly invisible for years. This was a recurrent pattern by both Democrat and Republican for nearly forty years. Between 2000 and 2010, 58,000 factories were closed, and thousands more shut down going back to the mid-1970s that went silently untracked in partnership buyouts. For the media and policy makers, if they had honestly reviewed how the new financial titans made their profits the full scope of their destructive practices would have been unveiled.
These were the formative years for the shaping of the new elite that we now call the 1 percent. The new elite’s adrenaline was directed towards the numerous opportunities promised from a new global workforce of cheap labor. In the meantime, the big box store phenomena—WalMart and Target—started to proliferate the landscape. The elite flourished through a network of financial firms, corporations, boards, institutions and lobbyist firms with direct access to The Hill and White House. This web guaranteed their wealth and power would increase and paved the way for the rise of the oligarchic 1 percent.
When Clinton entered the White House in 1992, political affiliation was already rapidly turning irrelevant. The best and brightest Democrats and Republicans were now corporatized and together they worked through a grid of coalitions. The rhetoric of liberal versus conservative became a smokescreen as politicians aligned themselves with private industry to further their careers. The signing of the Marrakech Agreement, which formally gave birth to the World Trade Organization, as well as the flurry of neoliberal trade agreements—GATT, TRIPS, NAFTA, etc.— advanced the new elite’s consolidation over domestic and global wealth. Recall how blind most of the liberal left were to the profound flaws in Clinton’s fiscal and economic policies during the boom years? The Clinton administration and the technocrats surrounding him functioned in a fog of corporate interests. With the moral integrity of meth-heads, the Clinton White House and the Bush-Cheney regime to follow advanced the transformation of once vibrant American cities of industry into bankrupt wastelands, rusting factory ghost towns, crumpling infrastructure from the Atlantic to Pacific, and decaying communities and neighborhoods. President Obama has continued this agenda but with even less transparency than his predecessors.
However, the destruction didn’t stop there. The oligarchs of private industry demanded far more control and started to seed think thanks, non profit organizations, legions of educated doctorates and academics, the media networks, and armies of propagandists and lobbyists to shape public opinion. The goal was to assure that government would never side with the American people and would forever serve the immorality of the 1 percent.
Now that the Occupy Movement as a viable challenge to inequality has collapsed, and liberalism has proven to be a failure as a coherent moral and constructive energy for leading the fight for progressive social and political change, the myth of the 1 percent versus a 99 percent needs to be reevaluated. Should the 1 percent only be understood according to how much it is personally worth on tax returns? If President Obama, Hilary Clinton, John Boehner, Paul Ryan and practically every other elected official in Washington pushes for legislation to benefit the 1 percent, then why should it be assumed that they embody the needs of the 99 percent? And why should we believe Obama when he says he is “one of us?”
Weighing America’s domestic social struggle solely as an economic war misses the significance of a parallel morality play for power. The 1 percent should also be considered in relation to the massive army of human resources protecting and supporting its control. TARP and back door bank bailouts, Obama’s NDAA to advance Washington’s police state agenda, exponential growth in the cybersecurity and intelligence industries, the fossil fuel cartel, out of control hydrofracking for natural gas, expanding military bases abroad and building more privatized prisons, agro-chemical agriculture and GMOs, a corrupt medical establishment that provides Americans with the worst healthcare in the developed world, and so much more would not have been possible without tens of millions of people consciously keeping government corruption and corporate interests alive. This includes the 2.1 million civilians working in the federal government; there is an additional 1 million operating within the intelligence agencies; 1.4 million serve in the armed forces, and another 20 million private citizens work in corporations, academic institutions, and laboratories deeply tied to the problems being outlined. Mainstream media, which has the mandate to truthfully report about this vast network of power, venom and hypocrisy instead protects this regime by keeping the public confused and terrified. We are now witnessing the results of this betrayal as democracy is silently being dismantled. Finally another 20 million, one third of retired Americans, are apathetic about the direction of the nation and remain soundless. Although they are financially secure, many live in gated communities and have removed themselves from any form of political and social activism. When we add this support base to the greed and narcissism that frames the 1 percent, we realize the psychopathology extends far beyond the elite alone.
When this additional 44 million people, or 15 percent of the population, are added to the formula for who controls the major stakes of power, wealth, influence and policy making today, we can more easily understand why Obama can break almost every campaign promise and consistently deceive Americans openly yet not be held accountable by his base. Without the additional 15 percent passively serving the most powerful 1 percent and not holding them accountable, life in the US would be far more democratic and safe today. This is the economic and political atmosphere that has given birth to a new face of fascism.
Richard Gale is the Executive Producer of the Progressive Radio Network and the former head of communications for the State of the World Forum and the Gorbachev Foundation. Dr. Gary Null is the host of the nation’s longest running public radio program on natural health and the environment and a multi-award-winning director of progressive documentary films, including War on Health: The FDA Cult of Tyranny (2011) and Seeds of Death: Unveiling the Lies of GMOS (2012).