Aug 15, 2011

Lessons From Powell's Manifesto

by Margarita Mercure Hibbs

One of the troubles within the Democratic Party (DNC) is that often, we can’t be counted on to focus on 5 main goals, primarily because we don’t even have the attention span of 5 year olds.  We can’t even agree about the 5 goals. How can anyone forget the notion that organizing the Democratic Party is like herding cats?  Every single interest group can make cogent and sustained arguments about the legitimacy of their cause, but fail in one key aspect; consistent cooperation and collaboration.

For purposes of illustration, let us look at the labor community.  Aside from being the historical and present fighters for worker’s rights and employment justice, labor unions will always be strong proponents for the working man.  Another portion of their regard for Labor Unions is the big money that they represent to political campaigns.  Reality is that it takes a great deal of money to run for political office. The sad part is that Labor Unions at times, appear to exhibit the barest concern for interests held by other members of the DNC family.  Is this perception correct?  Obviously, this is not always true.  Why is this important?  Appearances and perception matter.

There is a wonderful book called, “All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum, that speaks about the fact that everything you ever need to know about life, you learned in kindergarten.  Or how can anyone forget the teacher commentary on report cards “Does not play well with others.” Most of these principles in early learning were focused on fairness and kindness. We are now faced with an epidemic of self-absorbed communities within the Democratic family.  If we are to succeed in propagating worthy Democratic principles in our country, we must return to the basics of caring.  The basics are really the foundation of who we are as a Party.  Ultimately, if rural America votes against their own best interests, due to ignorance or misinformation, Labor and other communities within the DNC will lose as well. If there is any doubt about this challenge, one only need look at the election results of 2010.

The fact is that the Republican Party (RNC) has been a perfect case study in cooperation and collaboration.  What’s The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank, tells the story of how simple the core or foundation of the RNC has become.  We can argue over the character, integrity, content and hypocrisy of their organization and their individual people, but one can’t argue over the effectiveness of their ability to create a “Horizon Vision Plan” and then stick to it like Gorilla Glue for nearly 40 years.  The DNC began to get traction during the two-year cycle that Howard Dean’s leadership provided.  For example, the “50 State Strategy” is a perfect demonstration of this kind of focus and agenda.

After the success of 2008, funding sources backed organizations that did little of the actual work during those previous 2 to 4 years, and were little more than data aggregation organizations. As a result, many of the competent organizations that actually did the work of voter trend influence no longer exist.  This outcome left talented grassroots’ organizers despondent and rudderless.  The failure of campaigns to listen to these discouraged sages resulted in huge election losses.  As a Rural Advocate, being right about our predictions and rural America’s importance to the DNC, gives me no pleasure, when faced with the devastating political losses of 2010, throughout our country.

Five key points is all that is required for a long-term plan and the RNC has adopted this concept exceedingly well.  Of course we will argue about these 5 keys, after this election, we need to call out the false issues, identify and acknowledge the fact that the DNC, after a fairly successful 2 year cycle in collaboration with the Obama campaign, dropped their entire “Rural Initiative”. The RNC has never dropped their “Rural Initiative” element.  Granted, the initiative is largely lip service efforts constituting community parade participation and special interest help to the elite within the rural region they are cultivating through certain farming legislation aimed at special subsidies for larger farm interests and NRA gun legislation fear mongering.

The constant narrative in rural America, on the part of the Republican Party is that they represent family values.  One of those narratives is that the wealthy are the creators of all jobs and businesses and therefore must be given great latitude regarding taxes and business creation. After all, there must always be gratitude for these job sources; job sources that are largely menial and low paying.  In Torrance County, New Mexico, the average median income for a family of four is less than $22,000 per year. This is well below the national poverty line. Food production at the farm and ranch level is still tremendously hard and physically risky work.  The conservative politician’s job is to hit on a speech speaking to the manufactured social anxieties of rural people, like gun control or gay marriage rights or abortion rights, while never addressing the issue of job creation or business development or improved government services to under served rural regions.

After reading the remainder of this analysis it will be evident that while the traditional labor movements have been divided from an appreciation by rural Americans. In fact, it is easy to see that the demonization of the Unions in the eyes of our target population, rural Americans, was germinated in the precepts of the Lewis Manifesto.  While reading this it is important to remember that this manifesto was written in 1971, after the protests against the Vietnam War and other movements that were carried out by extreme Left Wing organizations.  It is important to note that these extreme Left Wing organizations did not represent the larger Democratic Party or liberal movement of political dialogue. Even Powell acknowledges this reality in the manifesto.

Since that time, the GOP and the Right have promoted the myth that the entire Democratic Party and left in general are extreme and dangerous to America.  In the memo, he believes that corporations were at the mercy of forces, such as unions and leftist public opinion coming from liberal voices in the universities and colleges.   In his view, they were caving to appeasement. For example, in the actual text, Powell makes the following assertions by citing an article from the Wall Street Journal.

“A column recently carried by the Wall Street Journal was entitled: “Memo to GM: Why Not Fight Back?”9 Although addressed to GM by name, the article was a warning to all American business. Columnist St. John said:
“General Motors, like American business in general, is ‘plainly in trouble’ because intellectual bromides have been substituted for a sound intellectual exposition of its point of view.”

So what do we need to learn from the Republican Party?  Where are the roots of their determination?  They are not hard to find.  Look at the Lewis F. Powell Memorandum sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in 1971, and there you will find the genesis of this reverence for the very wealthy and in particular the businesses and corporations that create the jobs.  Clearly, there is an assumption of inherent class superiority within the corporate world.  Herein is evidence of the class struggle, as defined indirectly by Mr. Powell himself.

While many in the judicial community regard Lewis F. Powell as a moderate Supreme Court Justice, his memo reflects an extreme Right perspective and contrast to his legal reputation.  Clearly, one can see the roots of the Corporatism of which the RNC committed their hearts and souls to as one of their key principles.  This has been their greatest success.  Corporate interest above human interest is the letter of the day for them. This reverence for corporatism is well established in rural regions where you hear low-income Republicans parroting statements like, “I never heard of a poor man creating jobs.”  Where do we go from here?

Below this narrative are article links on the Lewis F. Powell Memorandum, also known as the Powell Manifesto.  The actual text is also provided in the last link.  Read the major points, as defined by these three articles and see the foundation of a well learned script about the free market system as viewed by Corporatists that insist on being completely unencumbered by any regulation of any kind.  Hence the tremendous amount of money paid out to Lobbyists focused on ensuring that laws and policies are enacted by our politicians in Washington, D.C. and our State legislatures everywhere that aid and abet the corporate agenda.

Labor and the human considerations of fair working conditions and the improvements derived by unions are viewed as necessary obstacles and costs of doing business.  Is it any wonder that big business then continues to move manufacturing where labor is cheap, desperate and willing to accept whatever big business is willing to provide?  When the Labor Movement through its unions and other organizations understand this, they will see the value in collaboration.  The negativity and lack of understanding in rural America regarding the value of Labor Unions is rooted in the Powell Memorandum. The principles of that memorandum have been trumpeted and pounded into the psyche of the working man for the last 40 years.  It is time to dismantle this fallacy in thinking.

Here are a few of the focuses of the Lewis Memorandum of 1971:
  1. Identify the dangerous elements in society that present obstacles to Corporate and free market business,
  2. Be vigilant of elements, people and influences within the educational system through issues like the instructors, textbooks and funding
  3. Maintain Conservative parity, if not dominance in collegiate and university environments to maintain focus on Free Market Ideals that provide political and social imperatives throughout academia, the business construct and society.
  4. Adopt aggressive public relations warfare campaigns focused on swaying through advertising and lobbying public opinion regarding the value of big business
  5. Aggressively support lobbying efforts to improve the tax laws to benefit the corporations and owners of the corporations.
 In the process of telling the story, corporations have become larger economic units than some of the worlds’ most affluent nations.   Along with that reality, corporations and their owners have taken ownership of media sources and during that evolution, we have allowed the media community to define the meaning and results.  Some of the definitions are correct, but some are merely convenient fallacies of corporate interests and in the case of political parties, there is a necessity to see the forest for the trees.
A party in denial of certain realities must wake up and return to an understanding that all things are related when it comes to the working man, business and job creation for urban and rural regions equally.  The Democratic Party and Labor Unions have much more to gain by a consistent collaboration with our rural American communities. When all within the DNC family can create five focused tenets of positive collaboration that aids in the transformation of rural America’s ability to thrive, election results in rural America will be vastly improved and different.