Progressives in Somerville, as elsewhere, have invested a lot of hope in an Obama presidency. After the Bush administration’s systematic attack on rights, liberties, and the common good, Obama can hardly help doing better! Yet on some of the most basic issues, Obama has been silent.
Issue #1: Corporate power. It’s refreshing that the Obama-Biden campaign pledged to protect consumers. On issues like mortgage fraud, predatory credit card lending, and bankruptcy laws, the new administration has taken positions we should support, and there are plenty of other examples. We have to ask, though: why have Democrats not addressed these issues already? It’s not because they just discovered the issues. It’s because any attempt to help the majority of us runs into the buzzsaw of corporate power.
- Corporate leaders directly intervene in elections by supporting some candidates over others. Obama may be less indebted to corporate funds than most candidates because of his ability to collect small donations in large numbers–but he has to work with Congress, most of which is already bought and paid for.
- Corporate lobbyists have tight relationships of long standing with the Congressional committees that write laws and the bureaucracies that create and enforce policies in that corporation’s line of work. These “iron triangles” are part of the reason the country is in the mortgage/foreclosure/banking crisis we are in right now. Out of sight, they worked in corporate interests and against the public interest.
- Corporate capital often gets what it wants without bribes or explicit threats. They just say that a given policy would not be good for “the economy.” (When I hear “the economy” these days, I think of men in $2,000 suits getting $2,000,000 bonuses for crashing their companies.) Or they say that if a certain policy were passed, it would “cost jobs.” This is a threat in disguise. Jobs don’t just disappear. Corporate leaders slash positions when they are not making the profits they want–which are much higher now than corporate profits have ever been!
The whole liberal idea is to use government power to rein in corporate power. Unfortunately, and especially in the era of globalization, corporate power has been stronger. Barack Obama shows no signs of recognizing this problem, let alone using people power as the solution. So, it’s up to us.