Last week, we examined the Republican Party’s claims to be the party of small government, personal responsibility, free markets, and strict constitutionalism–and found it wanting.
But the same is true of the Democratic Party’s claims to be the “party of compassion” or to have a special regard for the welfare of “America’s working families.”
The Democratic Party, historically, has represented one faction of the corporate ruling elite. As described by sociologist G. William Domhoff and historian Thomas Ferguson, its primary constituency is large-scale, capital-intensive, high-tech, and export-oriented business. Far from being a “constraint” or “countervailing power” against Big Business, the twentieth century regulatory-welfare state was created primarily to serve corporate capital. As Murray Rothbard put it, “our corporate state uses the coercive taxing power either to accumulate corporate capital or to lower corporate costs.” Or in the equally apropos words of Roy Childs, “liberal intellectuals” have been “the ‘running dogs’ of big businessmen.”
That FDR was hardly the “traitor to his class” of official mythology is suggested by the role of General Electric CEO Gerard Swope in the New Deal economic agenda, and by the army of corporate lawyers and investment bankers in the Roosevelt “brain trust.”
Take, for example, the National Labor Relations (or Wagner) Act. The sectors of the corporate economy that supported FDR were capital-intensive, with long planning horizons that required stability and predictability, and hence extremely vulnerable to disruption. But labor costs were a modest part of the total cost structure of such capital-intensive industry. So the leaders of heavy industry were willing to offer workers significantly improved wages and benefits, in return for coopting the leadership of the labor movement and creating a class of union bureaucrats that would stamp out wildcat strikes and enforce contracts against the rank and file.
If the Republicans were originally the party of protectionism, the Democrats were historically the party of what William Appleman Williams called “Open Door Empire.” That policy led to the creation of a de facto corporate world government under the Bretton Woods institutions, after WWII, with the U.S. military as enforcer. Open Door Empire was the basis for the system of global corporate-state collusion popularly (and wrongly) known today as “free trade,” and more accurately as neoliberalism. The only thing it has in common with genuine free trade is the removal of tariff barriers. But in its reliance on “intellectual property” and other statist measures, it is if anything more genuinely protectionist than anything the GOP was doing a century ago.
The National Security State and permanent war economy were created by good liberal Democrats: FDR and Truman. The archipelago of military bases and garrisons around the world, and the grand tradition of CIA-engineered coups (who was President when Diem and Sukarno were overthrown, I wonder?) , are very much a bipartisan creation.
Much of the legal framework for neoliberalism was constructed in Bill Clinton’s watch (y0u know, that “peace and prosperity” Carville is so partial to). NAFTA, the Uruguay Round of GATT, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act–you’d almost get the idea global corporate rule didn’t start with Bush.
And if that’s not enough to get your head around, the Bush police state didn’t start with Bush, either. Some of Bush’s most objectional dictatorial powers resulted, not from the USA PATRIOT Act, but from “counter-terror” legislation passed under Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing. A good example is the power to declare organizations “terrorist” by executive fiat and seize their assets without due process–thank Clinton for that. And some of the worst stuff in USA PATRIOT was originally proposed–unsuccessfully–in the Clinton legislation. That Chuck Schumer played a major role in crafting both pieces of legislation bears more than passing significance as well, I think.
Today, despite all the soccer mom rhetoric about “working families,” the leopard hasn’t changed its spots. The role of Robert Rubin (he of Goldman-Sachs and Citigroup) in Democratic policy circles should tell you as much. Nancy Pelosi, whose family net worth is $18 million thanks to her marriage to an investment banker, is only the 17th richest member of Congress; that should tell you something.
The Obama-Geithner TARP policy, despite some symbolic tinkering with executive compensation, is in its essentials a direct continuation of the Bush-Paulson version. It’s the ultimate in neo-Hamiltonianism, saddling taxpayers with interest-bearing debt in order to buy up the banks’ bad assets and reinflate them to something approximating their pre-collapse face value, so that just maybe the banks will use some of the resulting liquidity to start lending money back to the public at interest.
The Democrats, if anything, are more in collusion with the Copyright Nazis of the RIAA, MPAA and Microsoft than are the Republicans–and that’s saying a lot.