Nothing Nefarious About It


In today’s political scene, it is easy to find examples of individuals charging the Obama administration of being socialists. Conservatives see the bank bailouts and the public healthcare option as threats to the capitalist economic system. What’s so remarkable about these ploys is that they are completely off the mark, as testified by socialists writing to the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post. The bank bailouts and the public healthcare option do not change the fundamentally private nature of the banks and the healthcare system. Even though the banks’ "toxic assents" have been purchased by the government, the government does not exert control over the functioning of these institutions as it would if the banks were really being nationalized. Moreover, the administration has also said that the public option, arguably the most threatening aspect of the healthcare proposal, is "not the essential element." Instead, "what’s important is choice and competition." As one Democratic fundraiser noted, Obama is cautious and responsive to public outrage in his efforts to "save the capitalist system."

It is difficult to imagine that the Obama administration consists of socialists. Both of the mainstream political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are representatives of business interests. The dominant internal forces in the United States are concentrations of private wealth, particularly large corporations. The interests of private wealth and big business shape political discussion in the United States, and Obama’s policies are designed to satisfy his constituents — his business backing.

 During the Constitutional Convention, it was made explicit by the Founding Fathers that the "landed interests" would be in danger in a republican society too open to the "wants and feelings of the day laborer" because propertied gentlemen would simply have fewer votes than the laborers. James Madison, one of the chief architects of the American political system, proposed that government should be so constructed as to prevent innovations in agrarian law that would call for a redistribution in property: "if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure… [The State] ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." Hamilton added to this, "Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments." While the "landed proprietors" of 1780 have since been replaced by corporate firms, the overall framework of American politics remains the same.

 

 This de facto business rule comes into remarkable focus in a recent piece in the New York Times, reporting that statements made by over a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten by Genentech lobbyists. Even more picked up "talking points" from Genentech, whose lobbyists were supposed to "conduct aggressive outreach to your contacts on the Hill to see if their bosses would offer the attached statements (or an edited version) for the record." One Genentech lobbyist dismissively commented about elected representatives of the public becoming a mouthpiece for business, "This happens all the time. There was nothing nefarious about it."

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