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In the movie version of the story of Watergate — All the President’s Men – the Nixon administration source who met Bob Woodward in the underground garage to provide him clues — “Deep Throat” — famously tells Woodward to “follow the money.” Apparently those lines were never uttered in real life, but it’s good advice in politics nonetheless.
The other day, California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger — with whom I rarely agree — said something that should be repeated over and over between now and the mid-term elections. Schwarzenegger was referring to oil company financial support for California’s Proposition 23 that would shelve the state’s four-year-old climate legislation until the state’s unemployment rate hits 5.5% when he said:
“Does anyone really believe that these companies, out of the goodness of their black oil hearts, are spending millions and millions of dollars to protect jobs?” He continued. “….It’s not about jobs at all, ladies and gentlemen. It’s about their ability to pollute and thus protect their profits.”
Huge new Republican “issue advocacy” groups are using secret corporate donations throughout the country to savage Democratic candidates. They are joined by the Chamber of Commerce — which is apparently using money from foreign corporations with interests in outsourcing American jobs to run ads that attack Democrats as “job killers.”
By their own admission, eighty-five percent of funds directed to candidates from Wall Street’s major trade group is going to Republicans.
It doesn’t take a great political analysis to understand that these huge corporations aren’t investing millions to attack some candidates and elect others out of some disinterested concern for the public welfare — or out of a concern for the “future of the American economy.” Wall Street has never been concerned with the “overall economy” and certainly not with middle class jobs. It has only one concern: its own ability to make huge amounts of money. It does it by siphoning off what novelist Tom Wolfe called the “golden crumbs.” Wall Street finds scores of innovative ways to shave off slivers of more and more financial transactions. As a result, the financial sector has grown so enormous that has it has fattened like a giant tumor on the American political-economy.
The denizens of Wall Street couldn’t have cared less that by concentrating a bigger and bigger share of the nation’s wealth in fewer and fewer hands they were undermining the foundation of true long-term growth: the economic demand provided by middle class consumers who could afford to buy the economy’s goods and services.
Wall Street — and all of the outsourcers and buy-out artists — have waged relentless war on the American middle class without any concern at all for over all “job creation.” They would just as soon fire you or outsource you as look at you. They had only one thought: stuffing their own pockets.
Now they have the audacity to attack Democrats as “job killers?” If you believe that, I have some very nice swamp land in Florida to sell you.
By electing President Obama and the Democratic Congress, everyday people fought back against this merciless assault on the American middle class. As a result of Democratic victories in 2008, President Obama and the Democrats passed an unprecedented array of legislation to rein in the power of the insurance companies, big Wall Street banks, and oil companies. It is not surprising that they did not willingly accept that kind of attack lying down. They have fought back ferociously — trying in vain to stop health care reform, Wall Street reform, the regulation of oil drilling , investments in clean energy that threatened the oil company’s energy monopoly — and the list goes on. Of course, they actually succeeded at stopping major clean energy legislation — and they want to keep it that way.
Now they have orchestrated a major counter-offensive in an attempt to overthrow Democratic control of the House and Senate and stop the President from continuing the assault on their ability to place their own interests above the interest of ordinary middle class Americans.
The real question before the American people in next week’s mid-terms is whether Wall Street, the Chamber of Commerce, the foreign corporations, the insurance companies and oil industry will be able to put one over on middle class Americans.
Through massive amounts of unregulated advertising once again allowed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case they have tried to convince everyday voters that up is down and black is white. They have argued that government restraints on their recklessness and greed actually costs ordinary people their jobs and livelihood, when it is patently obvious to anyone who looks even casually at the economic history of the last two decades that just the opposite is true.
Their main tool in this mendacious attempt to convince people that what is bad for them is good for them has been simple repetition. If you repeat often enough that health care reform has “death panels” or that preventing Wall Street from running wild will “kill jobs,” some percentage of the population will believe it.
If everyday people pay attention only to the misinformation embedded in their thirty-second spots, they will succeed. They will not succeed if enough everyday Americans are convinced to follow the money.
Most Americans iinstinctively understand one thing very well. There may be some people who actually donate huge sums of money to political candidates for altruistic or purely ideological reasons. But they are the exception. Most big PACs and donors to these new “issue groups” hope to get something very concrete in return.
Of course you might say, what about labor unions, don’t they want something in return too?
Yes they do. Labor unions hope to get outcomes that tend to benefit most Americans — a higher minimum wage, labor law reform that makes it easier for middle class people to organize in the work place, better safety on the job, and health care for everyone. They want those things because they are responsive to the millions of everyday Americans that are their members.
But the interests of Wall Street banks, insurance companies and Big Oil do not flow to such a widespread constituency. In fact, their interests are very particular and often lie in direct opposition to the public welfare. It made a lot of sense for those Wall Street speculators to want to be free to make reckless investment bets, take home millions and lay off the down side to the rest of us. But that wasn’t so good for us.
It makes sense for big oil companies to stop investment in alternative energy sources, since the price we pay them for their oil will go higher and higher the more we are dependent on their scarcer and scarcer fossil fuels.
It makes sense for insurance companies to oppose the new health insurance reform law that requires them to pay 80% to 85% of the premium dollars they receive in medical care, since that will restrict the amounts they can pay to have armies of bureaucrats to reject claims, or CEO salaries or profits to their owners on Wall Street. But from our standpoint, it obviously makes no sense at all that health insurance premiums have been allowed to increase three times faster than wages or that we pay out 50% more per person on health care costs than any other country on earth, and get results that rank 37th internationally.
To find out whether a candidate is for you or against you, all you have to do is follow the money. If candidates are backed by big Wall Street banks, insurance companies and Big Oil they’re not on your side.
If the corporate interests are successful, one of the hardest things to take will be the idea of a bunch of smug CEO’s, Wall Street traders and advertising men, chuckling over their martini’s at their club on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, about what chumps middle class Americans must be — and how easy it was to sell them a bill of goods.
Don’t let a bunch of Wall Street sharpies and corporate CEO’s play you for a chump.
They want to convince you that, since the economy hasn’t yet emerged from the ditch they put it in, you should throw out the incumbents and hand them back control over the American economy.
Better yet, they figure, why not make you so sick of politics that you just stay home so they can make off with everything they want — out of the pockets of middle class Americans — while you sleep through the election and never know what hit you.
Don’t let them.
Go walk precincts for your local Democratic candidates, make phone calls, reach into your jeans and make another donation — and for your own sake, VOTE.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: “Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win,” available on amazon.com.