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The words from the podium were inspiring. Ron Reagan urged voters to chose “between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology.” Teresa Heinz Kerry asked Americans to summon “the better angels of our nature.”
Democratic Convention speakers gave voice to the historic choice that is before us in November, but not a word was said about the biggest obstacle standing in the way of our aspiration “to build one America”: multinational corporations that owe allegiance only to the bottom line. Even John Edwards, who made a career of battling corporate lawyers, did not use the word “corporation” once in his speech.
The Democratic National Committee issued a prohibition against Bush-bashing. No such edict is needed when it comes to corporations. You don’t bite the hand that fills your wallet.
A 34-year-old Bill Clinton, the populist governor of Arkansas who battled Arkansas Power and Light Co. and other corporate interests, learned that lesson. In 1980 he lost his reelection bid to Frank White, an investment banker backed by Arkansas’ corporate establishment and a then-impressive $400,000 war chest. Michael Kelly noted in the New York Times Magazine that the message Clinton gleaned was clear: “To be successful, a politician had to appear hugely concerned with bettering the lives of ordinary citizens but had to be careful to avoid acting on those concerns so aggressively that they threatened the interests of the business elite.”
Indeed, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, in this current election cycle corporate interests have contributed $356 million, or 70 percent, of the $511 million in campaign donations Democrats have collected so far.
That money bought silence. Imagine what might have been said at the podium if the Democrats did not have to worry about their masters’ whips. Perhaps some prime-time speaker might have called for much-needed reform of the campaign finance system.
Corporations are the dominant form of economic organization in our world. That is not going to change. However, their basest excesses can be corralled through legislation and trade agreements.
Captains of industry created corporations, in part, to shield themselves from financial liability. And in the mid-1800s, U.S. corporations gained human powers through a judicial system that imbued these bloodless entities with the constitutional rights of flesh-and-blood individuals.
But we allow corporations to do things that we would never allow a person to do. The Corporation, a documentary now in theaters, examines corporations as legal “persons.” Applying the standard diagnostic criteria of psychologists, the filmmakers conclude that corporations are psychopathic personalities.
The documentary makes the case that the corporation’s operating principles give it a highly anti-social “personality”: It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt. In other words, it is evil.
The corporation is not a “person” that you want wielding the gross power it currently holds over you and your community. From the dangers to the earth’s future posed by global warming, to a healthcare system that denies coverage to those who can’t afford it, to an economic system that encourages CEOs to shift production to countries with no labor laws — the list of social ills that result from undue corporate influence on the political process is endless.
Yes, the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but that freedom is curtailed when the power of money silences our political leaders from speaking out. And no, we can’t look to the corporate media to provide the needed critique.
We the people, especially those of us in independent media, need to work to change the paradigm, to challenge the hegemony of corporations.
Listen to the rallying cry from Boston, but hear the silence surrounding it — the evil that dare not say its name.
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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.