With an election nigh and war in the Middle East on the table, a familiar chorus of complaints resounds in the land. Ralph Nader sings it. So does the New York Times‘s Paul Krugman. So do “peace activists” on parade in a variety of granola-friendly venues, like San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
The song goes like this: The United States government does what big business tells it to. (So do the other governments of the world, say the anti-globalist types, but the U.S. draws most of the fire nowadays.) “The automobile companies now regulate our government rather than the government regulating the automobile industry,” as the old maestro, Nader himself, said at rally at Ithaca College last spring.
The current critique gets more specific to contemporary situations. At a “teach-in” on the Cornell University campus, according to an October 24 account on Frontpagemag.com by a graduate student there, Joseph A. Sabia, “Dr. Chip Gagnon, assistant professor of politics at Ithaca College … charged that the Gulf War was fought so that Dick Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton, could get rich off … oil deals.” Actress Susan Sarandon brings the whole thing up to date with charges at a demonstration late last month, summarized in a Media Research Center Cyber-Alert.
“She castigated the ‘oil men’ who are setting (U.S.) policy,” wrote Bozell & Co. “‘Oil men more interested in a financial bottom line than a moral bottom line. Oil men ready to expand their influence with new contracts on the soil our bombers have plowed.'”
“No blood for oil,” to reduce the argument to a slogan.
These assertions express a couple of presumed conflations: (a) Big business is conservative, i.e., “right-wing,” militaristic, militant, and politically aggressive; and (b) big business tells government what to do. If, like me, you have worked in corporate America, these assertions, if they weren’t so tragically wrong and so earnestly believed, would be funnier than anything on Comedy Central.
Yes, big businesses are conservative, but not in the “right-wing” sense. Instead, they hate disturbances or trouble or noise or attention, and will do anything — anything! — to avoid making a scene or a headline. Why do you think dozens of them rolled over for Jesse Jackson’s shakedowns? Because they felt guilty? Hell, no, they just wanted to avoid trouble — and were willing to pay a bribe to do it.
Here, check out the latest example. Harry Belafonte repeatedly, on national media, calls Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice “house slaves,” a vile, headline-grabbing insult. Belafonte had an invitation pending, at the time of his rants, to give the “keynote address” at a conference of Charles Schwab investment advisers – in the nation’s capital. Did Schwab cancel the Belafonte appearance? No. As reported by the Washington Times’s “Inside Politics” column October 25:
“Lance Berg, a Schwab spokesman, told reporter Marc Morano at www.CNSNews.com that Mr. Belafonte’s speech is ‘intended to be light and inspirational’ and ‘will provide value to our adviser clients on human conditions.'”
Day-oh! As an experienced writer of corporate press releases, I can assure you that that piece of pabulum is absolutely typical. And this wasn’t just Schwab alone ducking an unpleasantness. “Inside Politics” goes on:
“The event … includes major co-sponsors such as BN Amro Asset Management, ProFunds, Heartland Funds, Morgan Stanley, Scudder Investments, JP Morgan, Fleming Asset Management and Oppenheimer Funds, Inc.”
Senate majority and minority leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, also invited to the Schwab do, decided not to go. That’s right: Trent Lott was bolder than the Charles Schwab Corporation.
Companies established no-smoking policies long before required to do so by law. Companies instituted affirmative action hiring a decade in advance of being forced to do so. Businesses hire “diversity” and “sensitivity” consultants for no other reason than to stay off the radar screen of the Office of Civil Rights at the Justice Department. Companies all over America have IRS offices on their very premises, beavering into their affairs every day of the week. And, with fairly predictable breakouts, Democrat vs. Republican, companies give large amounts of money to candidates in both parties, not so they can tell them what to do if elected, but so as to keep those elected officials off their backs.
When was the last time you heard about a company breaking a government? It works the other way around. Dow Corning, anyone? R.J. Reynolds? Smith & Wesson? Microsoft?
No, our hardy demonstrators chanting in the streets have been watching the wrong movies. Big business is no Godzilla. It’s more like the Cowardly Lion.