By Chris Hedges
The corporate state is our shadow government. Candidates who aspire to higher office get corporate money if they promote corporate interests. They are shut out of the national debate—look at Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader—if they do not. Defy the corporate state and you get handed a ticket to oblivion. You become invisible. Work for it and you are showered with tens of millions of dollars and the possibility of political power.
Barack Obama’s campaign message, filled with lofty promises of change and hope, is also filled with repeated reassurances to the corporate elite. Pick up a copy of Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope.” The subtext is clear. It is a steady reminder to corporate America, a reminder bolstered by Obama’s voting record, that corporations would have nothing to fear from an Obama presidency.
“Of course,” he writes, “there are those within the Democratic Party who tend toward similar zealotry. But those who do have never come close to possessing the power of a Rove or a DeLay, the power to take over the party, fill it with loyalists, and enshrine some of their more radical ideas into law. The prevalence of regional, ethnic, and economic differences within the party, the electoral map and the structure of the Senate, the need to raise money from economic elites to finance elections—all these things tend to prevent Democrats in office from straying too far from the center. In fact, I know very few elected Democrats who neatly fit the liberal caricature; the last I checked, John Kerry believes in maintaining the superiority of the U.S. military, Hillary Clinton believes in the virtues of capitalism, and just about every member of the Congressional Black Caucus believes Jesus Christ died for his or her sins.”
He praises the “recognizably progressive” Bill Clinton, whose disastrous welfare reform he lauds, for showing that “government spending and regulation could, if properly designed, serve as vital ingredients and not inhibitors to economic growth, and how markets and fiscal discipline could help promote social justice. He recognized that not only societal responsibility but personal responsibility was needed to combat poverty.” Obama excoriates “those who still champion the old-time religion, defending every New Deal and Great Society program from Republican encroachment, achieving ratings of 100 percent from the liberal interest groups. But these efforts seem exhausted, a constant game of defense, bereft of energy and new ideas needed to address the changing circumstances of globalization or a stubbornly isolated inner city.”
“Our Constitution places the ownership of private property at the very heart of our system of liberty,” he writes. “Our religious traditions celebrate the value of hard work and express the conviction that a virtuous life will result in material reward. Rather than vilify the rich, we hold them up as role models, and our mythology is steeped in stories of men on the make—the immigrant who comes to this country with nothing and strikes it big, the young man who heads West in search of his fortune. As Ted Turner famously said, in America money is how we keep score.”
The corporations have gotten the message. The same Beltway lobbyists, corporate donors and public relations firms, the same weapons manufacturers, defense contractors, nuclear power companies and Wall Street interests that give Clinton and John McCain money, give Obama money. They happen, in fact, to give Obama more. And the corporate state, which is carrying out a coup d’état in slow motion, believes it will prosper in Obama’s hands. If not, he would not be a viable candidate. We have come full circle, back to the age of the robber barons and railroad magnates of the late 19th century who selected members of corrupt state assemblies to be their pliable senators and congressmen and sent them off to Washington to do their bidding.
There have been some important investigations into Obama’s links with major corporations, including Ken Silverstein’s November 2006 article “Barack Obama Inc: The Birth of a Washington Machine” in Harper’s magazine. Newsweek has also detailed many of Obama’s major corporate contributors. Obama’s Leadership PAC includes John Gorman of Texas-based Tejas Securities, a major supporter of Senate Democrats as well as the Bush presidential campaigns. It includes Winston & Strawn, the Chicago-based law and lobbying firm. It also includes the corporate law firms Kirkland & Ellis, and Skadden, Arps, where four attorneys are fundraisers for Obama as well as donors. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Henry Crown and Co., an investment firm that has stakes in industries ranging from telecommunications to defense, are all funding the Illinois senator.
Individual contributors to Obama come from major lobbyist groups such as those of Jeffrey Peck (whose clients include MasterCard, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and Rich Tarplin (Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers). Exelon, a leading nuclear plant operator, based in Illinois, is a long-time donor to the Obama campaign. Exelon executives and employees have contributed at least $227,000 to Obama’s campaigns for the United States Senate and for president. Two top Exelon officials, Frank M. Clark, executive vice president, and John W. Rogers Jr., a director, are among his largest fundraisers. Obama has also accepted more than $213,000 from individuals (and their spouses) who work for companies in the oil and gas industry, and two of Obama’s bundlers are senior oil company executives who have raised between $50,000 and $100,000. I could go on, but you get the point.
Obama, as you will see if you examine his voting record, has repeatedly rewarded those who reward him. As a senator he has promoted nuclear energy as “green.” He has been lauded by the nuclear power industry, which is determined to resume building nuclear power plants across the country. He has voted to continue to fund the Iraq war. He opposed Rep. John Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal. He refused to join the 13 senators who voted against confirming Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. He voted in July 2005 to reauthorize the Patriot Act. He did not support an amendment that was part of a bankruptcy bill that would have capped credit card interest rates at 30 percent. He opposed a bill that would have reformed the notorious Mining Law of 1872. He did not support the single-payer health care bill HR676, sponsored by Reps. Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers. He supports the death penalty. He worked tirelessly in the Senate in 2005 to pass a class-action “reform” bill that was part of a large lobbying effort by financial firms, which make up Obama’s second-biggest single bloc of donors. The law, with the Orwellian title the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), would effectively shut down state courts as a venue to hear most class-action lawsuits. This has long been a cherished goal of large corporations as well as the Bush administration. It effectively denies redress in many of the courts where these cases have a chance of defying powerful corporate challenges. It moves these cases into corporate-friendly federal courts dominated by Republican judges. Even Hillary Clinton voted against this naked effort to allow corporations to carry out flagrant discrimination, consumer fraud and wage-and-hour violations.
Obama likes to paint himself as an opponent of the war. He reminds voters of his one—and only one—speech opposing it. But he swiftly changed his mind. Obama told the Chicago Tribune on July 27, 2004, that “there’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.” Obama added that he “now believes U.S. forces must remain to stabilize the war-ravaged nation, a policy not dissimilar to the current approach of the Bush administration.” Obama wants to leave an estimated 50,000 troops in Iraq to protect our superbases and the Green Zone, our imperial city, to fight terrorism, and to train Iraqi forces. He traveled to Connecticut to campaign on behalf of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a leading proponent of the war and an advocate of airstrikes against Iran, when Lieberman was challenged by the anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. And when Obama talks about the Palestinians he reads dutifully from the script handed to him by Lieberman and the Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Obama’s policy director is Karen Kornbluh, who as a senior aide to Robert Rubin, the head of the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration, pushed through NAFTA and other free-trade policies that unleashed the assault on organized labor and devastated the country’s manufacturing sector. And Obama’s senior economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, who teaches economics at the University of Chicago, privately assured Canada’s consul general in Chicago in February that Obama’s NAFTA-bashing “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans,” according to a leaked memo of the meeting. Most of Obama’s senior advisers, including Penny Pritzker, a member of one of America’s richest families and the current finance chair of the campaign, have a long history of oiling the government apparatus for corporate interests and personal enrichment. Pritzker was the chair of Superior Bank of Chicago. The bank collapsed in 2001 with over $1 billion in insured and uninsured deposits, and 1,406 people lost nearly all their savings. The bank owners, who fabricated profit reports, made much of their money promoting risky subprime home mortgages. Those around Obama are as wedded to corporate interests as those around Clinton and McCain.
Obama is an articulate, intelligent and attractive politician, but he is also a corporate figurehead. A vote for Obama is a vote for the corporate state. Under an Obama administration, the corporations would continue their ruthless drive to disempower the citizens, to protect an entrenched American oligarchy and to subvert what is left of our faltering democracy.
Flickr / Joe Crimmings Photography