“All Decked Out,”continued from p.10. large environmental organizations are in no way shaping the political debate around the environment. The anti-environmental lobby, writes Dowie, lobbies against legislation, then lobbies to weaken legislation it does not like, then works to subvert its implementation. It’s a game only the deeppocketed corpoprationswho claim environmental regulations cost them 125 billion dollars a yearcan play. “The truth is that industry only approaches environmentalists when they believe they can get a better deal than they might from a regulatory agency, a judge, or a legislature,” Dowie writes. Even though major corporate polluters did not seem to have difficulty gaining access to some of these organizations, Hair made it easier by creating the Corporate Conservation Council. “DuPont, Monsanto, ARCO, Ciba Geigy, and others pay tenthousand-dollar annual membership fees for the right to attend occasional off-the-record enviro-seminars….” While public opinion favoring environmental regulation remained high throughout the 1980s, the public policy debate, driven by polluter interests, narrowed to discussions of pollution credits, comparative risk assessment, and acceptable levels of death. Death and environmental degradation became givens. The only questions were who and where. Enter Bill Clinton, and we immediately were treated to proposals to retreat on the Delaney amendment, which bans all carcinogens from food; to delay the end of chlorofluorocarbons after a request from auto makers; to expand grazing, logging and mining on public lands; and to approve NAFTA. Not surprisingly, Dowie also reports that in recent years the so-called grassroots movements against environmental regulation, particularly in the West, were funded and organized by major corporate interests. The Wise Use movement, while talking about private property rights, is funded by resource extraction giants, including Exxon, Louisiana Pacific, Champion Paper and Coors, which has extensive mining interests. The takings movement was not the brainchild of Hill Country ranchers. It was spawned by the American Mining Congress, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Farm Bureau and the National Association of Realtors. VIRTUAL ELECTORAL INTELLIGENCE Which returns us, by commodius vicus, to our earlier discussion. What drove the takings movement and other anti-environmental legislation through the Texas Legislature? The full-time work and considerable money of major corporate investors. Does takings legislation represent the best interests of homeowners, suburban and otherwise? Not necessarily. Were suburban homeowners convinced that it was in their best interest? Among the small subset of those who were aware of the debate, some certainly equated the property rights legislation with homeowners’ rights. But a recent poll cited on National Public Radio \(“Living on percentage of suburban women putting environmental protection at the top of their list of campaign issues for the 1996 elections. \(And so, not surprisingly, on the eve of re-election, Clinton is begin ning to circle back to a seeming interest in This is not to say that suburbanites voting in legislative races and the gubernatorial election were not voicing their fears about security and control, a general feeling about the role of government, and the individual tax burden. But their choices were limited. Campaigns talked about prisons and property rights. Voters were told they were either more or less safe than they had been four years earlier. Discussions of fairer and more effective systems of taxation, for instance, were off the table. Media coverage and campaign public relations both emphasized personality over policy, and it was difficult to tell if either regarded this as a problem. And so, given their options, many voters, particularly suburban voters, probably voted in ways predicted by Schneider. But the game was already over. The system, says Tom Ferguson, promotes irrational behavior by voters: “…many mistakes voters make are luxuriantly encouraged by the very process of social deliberation that they are attempting to master.” Writing about the 1994 Congressional elections, Ferguson says, “The 1994 elections essentially suggest that the party that commands by far the most money is now succeeding by mobilizing increasing numbers of disenchanted poor and middle-class voters against their traditional champions. This is a voting pattern more reminiscent of some European elections in the 1930s than most American elections.” And by attacking big government, big corporations strike a chord with the electorate. Ferguson writes: “Given that the Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress [prior to the 1994 election], it is scarcely surprising that so many Americans are fed up with them. Or that substantial numbers of citizens should be increasingly attracted to the only public criticisms of the system that they are consistently allowed to hear…that their real problem is the bell curve, immigrants, welfare, or indeed, the very notion of government action itself, which does inevitably cost money.” Given this depressing landscape, we have encouragement from some political scien tists, that the median voter determines the major issues governing the economic and “To effectively control govern ments,” writes Ferguson, “ordi nary voters require strong chan nels that directly facilitate mass deliberation and expression. That is, they must have available to them a resilient network of sec ondary organizations capable of spreading costs and concentrat ing small contributions….” City dwellers and suburbanites breathe the same air. Many have children in public schools. Many are working people who shoulder an inequitable part of the tax burden. The links between them can be as strong as the lines dividing them. As for the shift in political power in this “suburban century,” suburbanites vote as suburbanites because that’s the only option they’ve got. They can’t respond as workers or parents, organized in any broadly effective way. They can’t respond as members of larger communities or community organizations. They don’t belong to a collective intelligence, taking in and distributing information, as some unions once did in their prime and as Industrial Areas Foundation organizations do for some urban communities. The effectiveness of religious right organizations in some suburban communities stems in large part from their ability to operate as a collective intelligence in this vacuum. Generally, the capacity for an active, collective intelligence has been supplanted by the mind-numbing reach of television. Communities and neighborhoods have been replaced by networks. Reality and action have become virtual. Don’t worry about your neighbors in the suburbs. They don’t set the larger economic agenda from.which all other policy derives. They merely ratify it. As Joe Hill might have said, “Don’t mow; organize.” PAC and lobby money from corporations spent on behalf of anti-environmental interests was ten times the money spent by environmental interests. 12 OCTOBER 27, 1995
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