Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Conservatism: The 5th Estate Chapter Two

Chapter Two
The Second Estate: The Nobility

In at least two major ways, the Republican Party throwing in their lot with corporations is the perfect analogue of its slightly loosening grip on the poor and middle class of rural America: The more ironic of the two analogues being that, while the GOP hasn’t materially improved conditions in the South, the alliance between corporations and the GOP has certainly been mutually beneficial. And while cynical liberals and even some Democrats such as Sen. Dick Durbin say that corporations “run the place”, the fact is that neither our political nor corporate leaders do. It’s a cozy, rotten, endlessly corrupt co-dependent symbiosis, in which one faction needs the other to realize their own aims.

While some Republicans in the federal government came from the corporate world (most notoriously Sen. Prescott Bush of Connecticut, who before FDR’s inauguration tried to woo penurious WW I veterans out of retirement to bring about a fascist coup before Gen. Smedley Butler, the man who was to lead these troops, blew the whistle), Republicans in generations past didn’t have the symbiotic relationship with Corporate America to the degree we see today.

Three days before leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the nation with concerns that are more relevant and dire today than they were in 1961.

The 34th President and five star general, very much a product of it, warned about the rise of “the military/industrial complex.” It was, along with George Washington’s in 1797, the most prescient farewell address ever given by a departing Chief Executive. Most relevant to today’s trends are these words:
“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military/industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together…

“As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Even though Eisenhower’s address needs to be taken in its proper historical context (of course, militant Islamic terrorism was virtually nonexistent and the bad guys were the “atheistic” Communists), Eisenhower’s warning to future generations of citizens and statesmen take on the chilling weight of prescience of disaster to come. Eisenhower’s Cassandra-like quasi-predictions (in particular the insolvency of our grandchildren who are even now already mortgaged to two wars and counting) are vitally important to dust off and re-examine because he stresses the importance of an informed and vigilant citizenry that’s still in a position to halt the spread of the emerging military/industrial complex. Eisenhower never forgot the power of the electorate and that all politicians, including the presidency, are merely civil service positions to serve the will of the people.

What Eisenhower didn’t count on was that many of the corporations whose annual revenues were far below what the government then spent on national defense would become a huge part of the Pentagon’s bottom line and that an informed citizenry would become virtually powerless when those forces were turned on us simply for taking his advice. Eisenhower never foresaw that a certain administration would be acting on both mandates from God and the whims of corporate interests who thrive on war and fear of terrorism.

Yet he’d seen the potential (or maybe evidence of) abuse and corruption between Big Government and Big Business and called our attention to it (reportedly angering Prescott Bush, who already knew firsthand what it felt like to have the whistle blown on him by a highly-decorated war general).

One could easily make a case that Eisenhower and his generation’s Republicans marked the last time in American history that the GOP was a populist party with a real populist, if not progressive, agenda. During Eisenhower’s eight years, we’d avoided major military engagements, continued the post-war economic boom that saw the revival of a powerful and growing middle class, the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes and we’d adopted and maintained a strong and respected foreign policy. Essentially, nothing happened during Eisenhower’s stewardship and that’s how many people liked it. Except, perhaps, for the rising military/industrial complex.

40 years later, Donald Rumsfeld stood in the briefing room of the Pentagon and told America that the government, particularly the Defense Department, was going to outsource every conceivable job under the sun and that we, the taxpayers who’d have to foot the bill, wouldn’t have a Goddamned say in the matter. In fact, Rumsfeld’s presser that day stood in opposition to every lesson and warning given to us by President Eisenhower.

24 hours later, a projectile believed to be Flight 77 struck that same building on September 11th. Switchboards at all of our major defense contractors from GE and Boeing to Halliburton to Blackwater, from the Carlyle Group to Bechtel began lighting up like Christmas trees.

And under George W. Bush, a man who outsourced even the presidency from time to time, a man who let Jack Abramoff pimp access to him for $100,000 a pop, every day was Christmas if you were a Republican war profiteer. While many of the countless contractor abuses in Iraq alone bear repeating (whole books have been devoted to the subject, in particular Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army), the aim of this book is to show how, in a manner very akin to if not identical to the German Nazi Party, the Republican Party has climbed into bed and elevated its own political and social standing with Big Industry.

Sadly, the outsourcing of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the entire so-called War on Terror and the abuses arising from said collusion are just a few examples of the GOP working hand in hand with Big Business to a wildly inappropriate degree. But Iraq and Afghanistan provide a good jumping off point.


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