The political marketplace

Siegel, Fred

GOING BULLISH ON INFLUENCE The political marketplace FRED SIEGEL Even before the Iragua scandal it was very likely that the Democrats were going to regain the White House in 1988. Ronald...

...There was in the seventies an inverse relationship between the rapid growth of a purely academic Marxism and the real life of the country...
...The key element was the capital intensive firms which were relatively unthreatened by labor turbulence in the 1930s...
...Far from worshipping at the altar of supposedly self-adjusting markets, businesses and workers displaced by the effects-of America's huge trade deficits are looking to government action for redress...
...His brief account of this pivotal thinker seems to simply be cribbed from George Nash's history of postwar conservatism...
...Friedman's monetarism, for instance, is something to be explained away as a product of his peculiar childhood...
...But it has created a new situation liberal activists will have to face from now on...
...But if the book avoids subtlety it doesn't escape confusion...
...Sidney Blumenthal's The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power (Time* Books, $19.95, 369 pp...
...and Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers's Right Turn: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics (Hill and Wang, $19.95, 276 pp...
...116: Commonweal...
...chronicle the 1970s movement of business into the marketplace of ideas and the political marketplace respectively...
...Carter, however, did more than undercut the economic cornerstone of his party's political success...
...The Republicans are on the wane, but the power of business is not...
...They are right to see that poll results show that there wasn't a great deal of ideological opposition to government activism...
...That is, the public wanted the government to do more, not less, in these areas...
...Ferguson and Rogers argue that despite all appearances there "has been no right turn in public opinion corresponding to the right turn in public policy...
...Pressures are mounting for new forms of government activism to deal with the problems of deindustrialization, the homeless, the environment, and education...
...Proctor and Gamble," he told an Australian audience in 1985, "does not sell Crest toothpaste by taking out one ad or running one television commercial...
...In other words, as we learned in Watergate days, if you want to understand political power "follow the money...
...The counterestablishment Blumenthal has described has not, as he suggests, gained a permanent lock on Washington policy...
...His brief accounts of how they grew to power are unexceptional as far as they go, though a good deal of the material, particularly the numerous potted biographies of leading conservative intellectuals, is likely to be familiar to newspaper readers...
...For that matter, neither is concerned with voters or the political process as it's traditionally understood...
...Mondale twenty years ago," he said, "would have been unacceptable to business...
...He opened the door for business's political resurgence...
...The sellers are the political parties whose products include licensing privileges and import quotas...
...The Social Scientist as Confuser" read the 1976 headlines in a Washington Post article after a new study by sociologist James Coleman undercut the conclusion of his own 1965 report used to justify forced busing...
...Feulner admiringly compares the selling of supply-side economics to a corporate ad campaign...
...What's missing throughout, however, are the liberal policies and the liberal establishment the conservatives are...
...Broadly speaking, academia turned away from the dross of the empirical world to pursue the joys, such as they are, of Pure Theory...
...Asked what was needed to improve his business, the fellow replied, "Another lawyer...
...But he went on, "Look at Mondale as vice-president...
...They define the New Deal, for instance, as' 'a new power bloc of capital-intensive industries, investment banks," and Europeanoriented commercial banks...
...Short of the unlikely revival of Keynesian ideas, we can expect business to do the same in any future Democratic administration...
...He seems wholly innocent of the intellectual kinship between Friedrich Hayek, the giant of conservative thought, and liberal critics of the New Deal's moral disarray like Theodore Lowi and John Rawls...
...Mondale's 19S4 failure, they argue, came from the "fatal bargain" he made with the business community to abandon Key nesianism and instead concentrate on the deficit issue...
...There is, however, less to this argument than meets the eye...
...Labor intensive industries were and are at the very heart of the Republican party...
...It was redolent of the joke about the poor lone lawyer in a small town...
...Thus the academic novel the esoteric fiction written by English professors almost solely for other English professors...
...Reagan's policies, in short, have been far less popular than Reagan...
...WKM f Blumenthal's The Rise of the ICounter-Establishment is a thin broth that leaves the reader hungry for insights, Ferguson and Rogers's Right Turn is a meaty, if barely digestible, stew of minutiae mixed with overarching interpretation...
...They are an invincible intellectual juggernaut methodically mowing down an invisible opposition...
...Democratic party mechanisms that Tony Coehlo, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, describes himself as "an entrepreneur in politics...
...On a variety of issues Ferguson and Rogers don't mention, such as school prayer, the death penalty, and busing, support for Reagan's position was stronger than support for the president himself...
...Ronald Reagan has been the North Star of Republicanism, all the party factions have been forced to align themselves with him...
...In '84 as in '76 and '80, the Democrats campaigned against the Keynesian politics which had made them the majority party without having anything to replace Keynesianism but the "Old Time" castor oil of Republican austerity...
...It is as if someone tried to write a history of the New Deal without discussing the economic and intellectual collapse of Republicanism between 1929 and 1933 and instead attributed the Roosevelt era solely to the influences of Herbert Croly and The New Republic...
...Blumenthal walks the reader through a Sunday supplement discussion of the major conservative jntellectual and political institutions like the American Enterprise Institute (known as AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the (Big) Business Roundtable which were either created or revivified in the mid-1970s...
...For the most au courant, the very idea of progress was rejected in favor of one variety or another of French structuralist theory which saw humanity as trapped in the prison house of language...
...For the authors, "what properly defines American party systems is not blocs of voters but patterns of interest-group alignment and coalitions among major investors...
...Further, they note that "Democratic party identification with 'traditional' positions on New Deal issues was a major party strength, not weakness" over the last decade...
...In the case of the left- wing IPS (the Institute for Policy Studies), a frequent target of right-wing demonology strikingly parallel to Blumenthal's, there was no need for a bombing: IPS, like so many leftliberal institutions, largely selfdestructed during the 1970s...
...Try building a party platform around that...
...It's a style likely to dominate both sides of the ideological aisle in the coming years...
...The success of the Heritage style of openly partisan "research" was made possible by one of the great unnoticed developments of the mid-1970s, the collapse of university-based "objective" social science as a source of policy prescriptions...
...If Keynesian demand-management could no longer drive the economy, profits and the spokesmen for profit would once again have to lead the way...
...The two have a great deal in common...
...The one vital intellectual influence in the Democratic party of the period, neoliberalism, was largely 114: Commonweal the creation of Washington journalists and only marginally influenced by academia...
...But reading it is like watching a chess game with only one set of pieces on the board...
...This extraordinary growth meant that by the mid-seventies academia was so large as to constitute an audience for its own work...
...Mondale's 1984 race with its emphasis on the deficit can best be understood as the third Carter campaign...
...unlike in the sixties, they can expect to have any and all of their proposals vigorously contested by the conservative policy shops created in the seventies...
...It was a party-wide dependence whose source can be traced less to the political activism of business than to the Democrats' abandonment of Keynesianism by the neo-liberal avant la lettre, Jimmy Carter...
...Why do some prominent Democrats support arms control...
...But Blumenthal gives no indication here of the political and intellectual difficulties liberalism faced with the crisis of Keynesianism and the growth of the special interest state...
...Yes, the public supports it, if it simply means more help for the disadvantaged...
...The problem, in part, is that Blumenthal seems uncomfortable with ideas...
...There is a more fundamental policy disarray as the once refreshing rhetoric of free market solutions hardens into self-defeating ideology...
...When Mondale's rhetoric strayed into populist talk of economic redistribution, he was rebuked by his financial backers and responded oh-so-meekly explaining: "I'm sorry...
...There's nothing wrong with wanting to be rich...
...AEI very nearly went bankrupt in 1986 and Heritage has been torn with internal strife over tax reform, which it supported ideologically but which was opposed by some of its key business donors...
...Without Reagan the compass of Republican politics will swing wildly...
...They show, for instance, that on questions of environmental protection, federal lands, the minimum wage, regulatory policy, and affirmative action, public opinion moved in a liberal direction...
...The answer according to Ferguson and Rogers is in the parentheses of this typical sentence: Several leading multinational Democrats joined the board of the elite Arms Control Association, including Robert McNamara (former Secretary of Defense and president of the World Bank, and now a director of Shell and many other multinationals and a trustee of the Ford Foundation) and Admiral Bobby Inman (formerly Deputy Director of the CIA under Carter, and by then the head of MCC, the computer consortium whose moving spirit was William Norris, the longtime Democratic head of Control Data, close friend of Walter Mondale, and a champion of U.S.-USSR trade...
...To be sure, business interests had an inordinate influence on the Mondale campaign...
...For what follows from their denial of what most Americans have experienced over the past decade, is a discussion, at times fascinating, although difficult to follow, of how business, faced with foreign competition, mobilized its political resources to change the shape of American government...
...They sell it and resell it everyday by keeping the product fresh in the consumer's mind...
...The elaborate business of elections and electioneering is, as they see it, simply a Punch and Judy Show, which masks the real politics of corporate manipulation...
...When ^liberals protested Carter budget cuts for social spending, it was Mondale who faced them down...
...Responsibility and leadership were for the makers of government policy...
...Heritage's President Ed Feulner prides himself on providing "quick response research," executive memos, of one page (both sides) which supply harried House members or their aides with a quick fix of facts to justify already preconceived opinions...
...Without a sense of government as an effective instrument of public purpose, a sense that ironically may have been restored by Ronald Reagan,"the polls they cite are little more than wish lists...
...But their approach is like a bright searchlight which brilliantly illuminates everything in its path only to deepen the darkness surrounding everything outside its ambit...
...There is something about the pretensions of the studentless colleges we call think tanks that generate a hostility far out of proportion to their power...
...But let's push these problems aside for sake of Ferguson and Rogers's argument...
...By painstakingly linking every twist and turn of policy with the shifting needs of the business interests policymakers are associated with, they try to show that American politics has little to do with voters or popular sentiment...
...But there is more than the coming promise of Republican disarray to cheer liberals...
...In fact, Blumenthal doesn't even appear to have read Hayek...
...Ferguson and Rogers never ask whether the public thought that government could actually deliver the goods in the areas where, like the Democrats, people wanted more government action...
...Until the mid-1970s, social "scientists" called to testify before Congress predictably gave support to the liberal reform tradition...
...The business interests moving into the political marketplace have to pay for the 27 February 1987: 115 privileges they seek with what the parties are buying, money, and to a lesser extent voters...
...He failed, but not for lack of effort on either his or Mondale's part...
...There is an important insight here...
...Irving Shapiro, CEO of Dupont, summed up what had become of the Democrats in commenting on the 1984 election...
...But in the wake of the Naderite wave of regulatory legislation in the early 1970s and the economic slowdown of the mid-1970s, business large and small plunged into Washington politics with an unprecedented commitment of resources and energy...
...Their aim, he says, was to systematically "increase their market share of policy...
...The liberal activism of the sixties took hold on a political playing field in which business interests never felt it necessary to deploy their full arsenal of weapons...
...Take affirmative action, for instance...
...Charles Colson and Nixon's plumbers, you may remember, planned on bombing Brookings, the leading liberal think tank...
...While Heritage was providing a constant flow of relevant information for Washington politicians, the universities, long the seedbed of liberal inspiration, turned inward...
...It's an effort that has paid off famously...
...But if Ferguson and Rogers had looked at public sentiment on racial quotas, which was the issue as most people saw it, they would have gotten a very different answer...
...There is no pretense of academic detachment...
...The "hottest" university thinker of the lateseventies, Michel Foucault, called for the forthright acceptance of "the disappearance of man" and the linked notions of selfhood, individuality, action, and responsibility...
...In the late 1930s, the introduction of Keynesianism removed businessmen from what had been their central role in determining the nation's economic wellbeing...
...In order to explain conservatism's triumph without, for instance, detailing the failures of the Carter administration, Blumenthal describes the conservative think tanks much as a hawk might describe the Soviet army...
...Insofar as the Keynesian framework of demandmanagement and deficits held sway, the political power of business was kept in check...
...In a story Blumenthal doesn't tell because it would detract from the drama of his demonology, Heritage mastered the mechanics of using forensic social science as no other think tank ever has...
...I want to be rich...
...Both ignore the divisive social issues of the past fifteen years such as abortion or racial quotas...
...Elections are outside mat ambit as demonstrated by their earlier book on the 19S0 election which explained how the corporate investors' choice, John Connally, became the fortieth president of the United States...
...Time and again the book jumps from a discussion of the early postwar development of conservative intellectual institutions like William Buckley's National Review to Reagan's 1980 triumph with nary a mention of the civil war fought out between conventional New Dealers and their New 27 February 1987: 113 Politics rivals, a contest which shattered American liberalism between 1968 and 1980...
...The idea of the political marketplace, known academically as "public choice theory," is largely the brainchild of free marketeers such as James Buchanan, the recent Nobel prize winner in economics, but Ferguson and Rogers give the argument a left-wing twist...
...on the other hand, he argues that those ideas were transparently false...
...The title of Blumenthal's book, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, suggests that his will be a study of move and counter move on the political chessboard...
...The investors they refer to are not businessmen buying shares in an enterprise but businesses investing in the political marketplace...
...The business community lived in his office...
...Perhaps the most successful of the new liberal think tanks springing up in the twilight of the Reagan years, the Center for National Policy, has engaged in Heritage-like two-fisted advocacy research...
...The traditional image of social scientific research as a ladder with each study building on, amplifying, or qualifying earlier research was replaced with the more fitting image of a widening puddle...
...And while the prestige of social science took a nose dive, the hiring of social scientists in Washington didn't, because if a rival PAC had a hired academic gun then you certainly needed one, too...
...In the self-serving words of a spokesman for the American Enterprise Institute, a leading conservative think tank: "Without AEI, Reagan never would have been elected...
...They note, for instance, that while Naderites led the charge, it was the makers of catalytic converters who helped finance the fight for clean air...
...Smarting from the reelection of Richard Nixon, university leftists of the period seemed convinced that it was immoral to care about how the world really works since that could be taken as a rejection of their commitment to how it ought to work...
...AEI made conservatism intellectually respectable...
...But by the mid-1970s almost every lobbying group learned the game of packaging its interests in the language of social "scientific" studies carried out by house academics...
...But Mondale's dependence on business was not his alone, nor did it begin with the campaign...
...Between 1965 and 1975 as many Ph.D.s were produced as in the previous sixty-iive years...
...Any new wave of liberal activism will have to come to grips with the Democrats' increasing dependence not on trade unions or rank and file party members but business contributors...
...In Keynes's system," as Herbert Stein points out, "businessmen were a passive element, sometimes erratic and unpredictable, but not responsible...
...Ferguson and Rogers's single-minded pursuit of the money trail leads mem to some other less crucial but nonetheless important aperqus...
...It was the loss of faith in government action more than anything else which made the rightward drift into Reaganism possible...
...On the one hand, Blumenthal asserts that the conservative victory was a triumph of ideas...
...It's the labor intensive industries which have an interest, in part, in the success of Asian competition as a way to discipline their own workers...
...If elected, Carter promised a balanced budget by 1981...
...Filling the vacuum created by the decline of traditional party organizations, business PACs have so insinuated themselves into the very heart of the FRED SIEGEL is the author o/Troubled Journey: From Pearl Harbor to Ronald Reagan...
...There was, however, a practical opposition...
...Similarly, it was Northeast real estate interests, whose investments in the older cities were being undercut by Reagan policies, who helped lead the charge against budget cuts for urban programs...
...they have at times run directly counter to public desires...
...Unlike the more cautious AEI, modeled after the academically measured liberalism of Brookings, Heritage, "the cutting edge" of the Reagan revolution, frankly patterned itself after IPS's style of unabashed ideological advocacy...
...Heritage's hucksterism couldn't have sold nearly so much snake oil, however, if the rival "products," to use Feulner's term, weren't so poor...
...Whatever they are, the authors are not glib...
...Instead, their common and somewhat conspiratorial theme is that the so-called Reagan "revolution" has been solely the work of right-wing elites, funded by business, who have seized control of American political life...
...Success has spoiled the conservative think tanks...
...This is a point well taken, and though they don't note it, it's a point often made about the Roosevelt presidency as well...
...They were like cows which might or might not give milk, and were valuable if they did, but they had no particular moral qualities...
...said to be "countering...
...The buyers in the political marketplace are those industries seeking political advantage, say oil import quotas or regulation favorable to aluminum as opposed to steel manufacturers...
...The authors' neo-Beardianism, in which policy choices are reduced to the narrow interests policymakers are said to serve, produces sentences literally overflowing with factual nuggets...
...But beginning in the 1976 presidential primaries, when Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown competed to see who could be most outraged by what were then the record $65 billion dollar deficits of the Ford administration, the Democrats began to pull the rug out from under their own feet...
...Heritage sells "ideas in much the same manner...
...By and large the public was doubtful...

Vol. 114 • February 1987 • No. 4


 
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