LOSING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (last 9 paragraphs) - bold emphasis is ours
A profound transformation is occurring in America and those responsible for it don't want you to connect the dots. We are experiencing what has been described as a "fanatical drive to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that have shaped public responsibility for social harms arising from the excesses of private power." From public land to water and other natural resources, from media with their broadcast and digital spectrums to scientific discoveries and medical breakthroughs, a broad range of America's public resources is being shifted to the control of elites and the benefit of the privileged. It all seems so clear now that we wonder how we could have ignored the warning signs at the time. Back in the early 1970s President Nixon's Attorney General, John Mitchell, predicted that "this country is going to go so far to the right that you won't recognize it." A wealthy right-winger of the time, William Simon, President Nixon's Secretary of the Treasury, wrote a polemic declaring that "funds generated by business…must rush by the multimillions" to conservative causes. Said Business Week, bluntly: "Some people will obviously have to do with less…It will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more."
We've seen the strategy play out for years now: to cut workforces and wages, scour the globe in search of cheap labor, trash the social contract and the safety net meant to protect people from hardships beyond their control, make it hard for ordinary citizens to gain redress for the malfeasance and malpractice of corporations, and diminish the ability of government to check and balance "the animal spirits" of economic warfare where the winner takes all. Streams of money flowed into think tanks to shape the agenda, media to promote it, and a political machine to achieve it. What has happened to working Americans is not the result of Adam Smith's benign and invisible hand but the direct consequence of corporate money, ideological propaganda, a partisan political religion, and a string of political decisions favoring the interests of wealthy elites who bought the political system right out from under us.
It's an old story in America. We shouldn't be surprised by it any more. Hold up a mirror to this moment and you will see reflected back to you the first Gilded Age in the last part of the 19th century. Then, as now, the great captains of industry and finance could say, with Frederick Townsend Martin, "We are rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it."
They were deadly serious. Go for the evidence to such magisterial studies of American history as Growth of the American Republic (Morison, Commager, and Leuchtenberg), and you'll read how they did it: They gained control of newspapers and magazines. They subsidized candidates. They bought legislation and even judicial decisions. To justify their greed and power they drew on history, law, economics, and religion to concoct a philosophy that would come to be known as Social Darwinism - "backed up by the quasi religious principle that the acquisition of wealth was a mark of divine favor." One of their favorite apologists, Professor William Graham Sumner of Yale, said: "If we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest. The former is the law of civilization; the latter is the law of anti-civilization."
I'm not making this up. It's right there in the record. The historians tell us that a boundless continent lay open and ready for their exploitation and "all the bounties of nature were allowed to fall into the hands of strong men and powerful corporations." Clever lawyers came up with new devices for the legal aggrandizement of private fortunes (shades of today's Federalist Society!) No labor laws or workingmen's compensation nets interfered with their profits (shades of DeLay's "Petri dish of capitalism!") No public opinion penetrated the walls of their conceit (shades of "The Great Republican Noise Machine.")
They're back, my friends. They're back in full force and their goal is to take America back - to their private Garden of Eden in that first Gilded Age when "the strong take what they wanted and the weak suffer what they must." Look no further than today's news: William Donaldson, who made a decent stab at enforcing post-Enron reform on Wall Street, is out as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; according to USA Today, the President's big donors - the captains of finance - cashed in their IOUs and came away from the White House with his head on a platter. In his place: A right-wing congressman who takes a dim view of shareholder suits and favors eliminating the estate tax, the dividend tax, the - well, there's no tax on wealth he doesn't want to eliminate. Once again the chicken coop is sold to the fox.
Back in the first Gilded Age it was the progressives who took them on, throwing themselves at the juggernaut to try and keep it from rolling over the last vestiges of democracy. They lost the first rounds and only because they kept fighting for many long years did in time America begin to balance the power of concentrated wealth with the claims and needs of ordinary people. Nowadays it's you who stand between that regenerated juggernaut and those families in Milwaukee, those folks in Tamaqua, and the millions like them around the country. You must be like the Irishman coming upon a street brawl who yells in a loud voice: "Is this a private fight, or can anyone get in it?" Not waiting, he wades in.
Wade in! Go home and tell the truth to your neighbors and fight the corruption of the system. But it's not enough just to say how bad the others are. You owe your opponents the compliment of a good argument. Come up with fresh ideas to make capitalism work for all. Ask entrepreneurs to join you - they know how to make things happen. Show us a new vision of globalization with a conscience. Stand up for working people and people in the middle and people who can't stand on their own. Be not cowed, intimidated, or frightened - you may be on the losing side of the moment, as the early progressives were, but you're on the winning side of history. And have some fun when you fight - Americans are more likely to join the party that enjoys a party. Come to think of it, go out and argue that working people should have more time off from the endless hours of tedious work that devours the soul and the long commutes that devastate families and communities.
Above all, know what you believe and why. So I have some homework for you. Here's your summer reading: Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, by Harvey Kaye, soon at your bookstores (along, I might add, with a revised and updated paperback version of Moyers on America.) Thomas Paine was the foremost journalist of the American Revolution who called forth the better angels of our nature, imbued us with our democratic impulse, and articulated our American Identity with its exceptional purpose and promise. It was Paine who argued that America would afford "an asylum for mankind," provide a model to the world, and support the global advance of republican democracy. In these pages is tonic for flagging spirits facing great odds - because it was Thomas Paine who insisted that "it is too soon to write the history of the Revolution." And writing the history of the Revolution is now up to you. That's what truly is at stake.