KIMBERLY ENGLISH melting-pot phase of our electoral history. Perhaps more revealing is a comparison of the treatments given the political upheavals in this country at the end of the last century. Schneider characterizes this period as the last gasp of the rural electorate as voting power was shifting to the cities. But as Ferguson and, before him, former Observer editor Larry Goodwyn, tell it, the Populist revolt from the Midwest to Texas was an attempt to organize politically and economically to counter the tyrannical power of banks and railroads. Small, local manufacturers and processors were also struggling against the increasing market domination by several large manufacturers, and urban union activity was on the rise. By 1896, Ferguson writes, bankers and large manufacturers had remade the Republican Party in their image, paving the way for mergers, protective tariffs, union busting and the crushing of local or collective economic initiative. Meanwhile, silver interests, including Anaconda and Hearst, delivered the final blow to the Populists operating within the Democratic Party by nominating one of their own, a silver advocate cum populist, William Jennings Bryan. Ferguson cites the defeat of the People’s Party as a key indicator of the barriers to true political participation by ordinary people, no matter how well organized: “The largest, best-organized, and most cohesive mass political movement in American history could not compete with even a part of the business community.” Ferguson’s work is replete with examples of how investor interest overwhelms voter interest in the making of public policy, including Clinton’s nearly instantaneous reversal on large political promises: “By deciding to make the bond market the supreme auditor of economic policy, by ostentatiously refraining from jawboning the Federal Reserve to restrain rises in interest rates, by abandoning his much-touted plan for an economic stimulus and instead bringing in a budget that was contractionary over the medium term, the president embraced precisely the program of continuing austerity that the electorate elected him to break with.” \(In his essay on the 1992 election, Ferguson includes a particularly interesting discussion of the evolution of the single-person major Writing in the September 24, 1995, New York Times, David Sanger echoes Ferguson’s argument: “More than ever the struggles between Democrats and Republicans…have far more to do with the divergent interests of big and small busi ness….Ever since Bill Clinton came to office, he has done more for the Fortune 500 than virtually any other President in this century….That hardly means that big business is suddenly the Democratic Party’s best friend…. `It’s incredible,’ said a Clinton political adviser. ‘They all tell us we’ve done a great job, understood their problems in a way Bush and Reagan never did. And yet the money goes to Newt….” What is the role of the voter, the citizen, in all this? Money is not the only form of investment in this political system: “…political action should be analyzed as investment, with ‘the simple act of voting’ requiring at least an investment of time and attention as a limiting case.” It is a mistake, Ferguson says, to assume “most individuals can normally afford to contest outcomes that are products of a whole system whose scale is many times that of the average voter.” The choices individual voters are given, and the information that is available, according to Ferguson, are tightly circumscribed. On the policy matters on which the major investors agree, there is no party competition. Where they may disagree on tariffs and international trade, interest rates and the price of moneythe parties battle for the allegiance of the small world of major investors. Electoral competition, however, is rarely waged on large economic issues that may pit average voters against these powerful investors; it is waged on social issues. “This does not mean,” Ferguson writes, “that voters never influence public policy or even that they do not constantly do so… [but] their influence on state policy is highly variable and uncertain. In a political system like that of the United States, the costs associated with control of the state effectively screen out the bulk of the electorate from sustained political intervention… [and] power passes ineluctably to relatively small groups of major investors.” The sheer costs of being a constant political force with access to information and the ability to distribute it in a timely way are beyond the means of ordinary working people, in terms of both time and income. Corporations and their associations, on the other hand, are structured in such a way that they can be a constant presence in the political world. “The electorate is not too stupid or too tired to control the political system,” says Ferguson. “It is merely too poor.” LOSING GROUND In Losing Ground, Mark Dowie reports that U.S. corporations spent 500 million dollars in 1990 on anti-environmental public relations campaigns, which included Mobil “public interest” ads, Shell’s “People Do” ads, as well as front organizations, such as the National Wetlands Coalitions \(representing oil and gas industry Energy Awareness \(nuclear America \(timber, mining and catcorporations spent on behalf of anti-environmental interests was ten times the money spent by environmental interests. Energy and mining companies alone donated 21.3 million dollars to Congressional candidates during the 1991-92 Congressional session, the same year all pro-environmental organizations together contributed 1.3 million dollars to Congressional candidates. Dowie’s book hits full stride as he reports on the roles played by large Washington-based environmental organizations during the 1980sin narrowing the U.S. public policy choices on the environment. The Conservation Foundation, for instance, joined Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, General Electric, Union Carbide and their insurance companies in the Superfund Coalition, put together in 1987 to convince the public and Congress to shift part of the burden for cleanup back to the taxpayer. Jay Hair of the National Wildlife Federation became a leader in the effort to substitute market-based incentives for regulation in an attempt to reduce pollution. “Our arguments,” Hair said, “must translate into profits, earnings,, productivity and economic incentives for industry.” Dowie emphasizes, however, that these Continued on p. 1 2. 10 OCTOBER 27, 1995
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