Corporate Democracy; Civic Disrespect

Corporate Democracy; Civic Disrespect

With the events of late in the year 2000, the United States left behind the era of constitutional republicanism and turned to a different form of government. It is not, however, a new form. It is, rather, a transplant, highly familiar from a different arena of advanced capitalism.

This is corporate democracy. It is a system whereby a board of directors—read Supreme Court—selects the chief executive officer. The CEO in turn appoints new members of the board. The shareholders, owners in title only, are invited to cast their votes in periodic referenda. But their franchise is only symbolic, for management holds a majority of the proxies. On no important issue do the CEO and the board permit themselves to lose.

The Supreme Court clarified this in a way that the Florida courts could not have. The media have accepted it, for it is the form of government to which they are already professionally accustomed. And the shameless attitude of the Bush high command merely illustrates, in unusually visible fashion, the prevalent ethical system of corporate life.

But the post-election crisis was only the capstone of the story. The manipulation of this election extended far back in time, and it is worth reviewing briefly some of its many dimensions.

One strand began with the assault on Bill Clinton, the elevation of his personal flaws to an affair of state, his impeachment, and so the neutralization of Clinton as a political force. This was deliberate, cold-blooded, purposeful. Rightly or wrongly as a political matter, Al Gore accepted it. It certainly affected him in Arkansas, one state where Clinton’s active help might have decided the election.

The second strand was the invention of George W. Bush. A professional front man, Bush’s major credential lies in his willingness to recite, again and again, precisely those lines placed in front of him and no others. Bush was surrounded from the beginning by adept handlers, and by seasoned elders to whom he defers. He had a brand name, one hundred unanswerable millions of dollars to spend, and no liabilities that could not be kept mostly hidden through one election.

The third strand lay in the rearrangement of the political scenery after 1996. Ross Perot’s rebellion was the key to Clinton’s election in 1992, and the Reform Party greatly boosted his margin of reelection. In 2000, with $12.4 million of federal monies to spend, Reform dissolved and disappeared. Pat Buchanan killed it; meanwhile, Perot endorsed Bush. Threequarters of the Reform vote went back to the Republicans. Was this an accident of fate?

The fourth element was Ralph Nader. Nader’s disaffection with the Democrats—on issues from consumer protection, to the media, to the drug war, to the death penalty—was genuine. His judgment, particularly late in the campaign when he went to the swing states, was plainly disastrous. And Nader’s view that there was no significan...

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