It’s also in the nature of corporate interests to seek complete freedom from government regulation. Yet, when left unattended, they’ve brought us S&L crises, WorldComs, Enrons, BP oil spills, credit default swaps and reckless sub-prime mortgage lending followed by illegal mortgage foreclosures. More than once, they’ve brought our economy to the brink of collapse. And after they’ve been propped up and bailed out by government, they complain about overregulation and government intrusion in the marketplace.
No government has ever allowed complete, unregulated, free-market capitalism, including the United States. To the contrary, scholars tell us that after several years of financial and economic chaos under the Articles of Confederation, the framers of our Constitution, including Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, absolutely intended for the new federal government to be directly involved in the economy.
For the last 100 years, Republicans have completely rejected that history and acted as the party of big business. This has prevented them from winning a working majority in Congress for most of those years because the American public, with a large middle class who mostly work for a living, understood that the Republican Party didn’t really represent them.
However, two recent significant transformations have helped the GOP broaden its political base. The first has been the profound technological revolution in public opinion research and communication. Political, governmental and advocacy organizations now have the ability to segment the public like never before; to match carefully-crafted, very specific messages to the specific audience most likely or predisposed to believe it. Republicans do it very well and with great consistency.
And, since about 1994, not coincidentally with the ascendance of Newt Gingrich as a national figure, it’s been okay to lie in political and public policy discourse. Truth can be completely trumped by impact and repetition. In years past, a political figure caught in a lie would shrivel and try to clarify or explain. Today the reaction is defiant: just turn up the volume. Keep repeating the lie and people will begin to believe it, especially those predisposed to believe it.
This strategy leads Republicans to proclaim that the road to fiscal salvation is through massive cuts in federal revenue and federal spending, even though it’s never worked. It didn’t work in the 1930s when Herbert Hoover cut taxes in the face of a serious recession. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Great Depression. It didn’t work in the 1980s for Ronald Reagan. And massive tax cuts certainly didn’t work for George W. Bush ten years ago. Nor have huge revenue and spending cuts done anything to rebuild economies in Europe, and the approach is now being soundly rejected country by country.
Republicans also continue to try to convince the public that economic and job growth is only possible through near total deregulation of U.S. businesses and industries. Dismantle the EPA and its job-killing obsession with breathable air and drinkable water. Do away with the brand new Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before it has a chance to keep banks and other credit providers from screwing the public. Repeal federal and state laws to protect employees’ rights, especially women’s. Repeal Dodd-Frank, which puts burdensome regulations on the financial industry to prevent its excesses from causing another economic meltdown.
So, why do corporate interests put profit before all other considerations? Because they are created to make money. It’s in their nature and it’s not likely to change.
Why do Republicans continue to shill for them? Because it provides them with hundreds of millions of dollars to help win and retain political power. It’s in their political nature and it’s not likely to change.
Why don’t Democrats speak out? Why don’t they make a compelling and logical case that unbridled capitalism would be a disaster?
They try. But they have a systemic inability to develop and disseminate powerful, consistent political messages. They believe in the goodness and common sense of humankind. They trust that, presented with facts and information, the public will see through wildly dishonest Republican claims. They have faith that the public will listen, process, understand, agree and then support their attempts to improve the world for everyone.
There are occasional flashes of Democratic message brilliance, particularly in campaign season. They find creative and powerful ways to tell their story, and as a result, they move people. After election day, though, Democrats go right back to political messages that are chock full of facts and information and would put coffee to sleep.
Why don’t Democrats figure out how to use the same skills so effective in campaigns to tell their story after election day? If they don’t want to become the permanent minority, their kind and trusting nature has to change.
Dave Helfert has been a political and governmental communicator for more than 30 years, writing speeches for elected officials and candidates, creating media in more than 200 political campaigns, working for six years as a Communications Director in the Clinton Administration and then nine years in the U.S. House.