Friday, February 13, 2009

The corporatists

Though a proud and lifelong Democrat, there's a point where I begin to feel just as out of step with the left as I do with the right. That point occurs when people start using the word corporate with a conspiratorial tone.

For example, I was recently in the library and saw a book on Barack Obama that didn't seem to be either attacking or praising him. I assumed it was a detached journalistic analysis, an approach I haven't seen much of these days. My interest piqued, I took it out.

I should have noticed the back-cover endorsement by Noam Chomsky.

The book was called Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics. I didn't read the whole thing, but I did happen to glance at an appendix in which the author referred to Obama's "corporate- and Empire-friendly" views on capital punishment, gun control, and civil liberties, as well as his "conservative and imperial positions on Iraq, Iran, or Israel."

These characterizations may raise the eyebrows of those who think of Obama as the latest incarnation of Karl Marx, but they are frequent in hard-left publications such as The Nation, where the U.S. Democratic Party is considered "center-right." That isn't as absurd as it sounds if you take an international perspective. As Nation writer Eric Alterman argues in his 2003 book What Liberal Media?,
The entire context of American politics exists on a spectrum that is itself well to the right of that in most industrialized democracies. During the 1990s, Bill Clinton was probably further to the right than most ruling West European conservatives, such as Germany's Helmut Kohl and France's Jacques Chirac. Indeed, virtually the entire axis of political conversation in the United States takes place on ideological ground that would be considered conservative in just about every nation in democratic Western Europe.
The 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate was a paranoid right-wing thriller about communist takeover. The 2004 remake is a paranoid left-wing thriller about corporate takeover. In the new version, Meryl Streep plays a senator and Hillary lookalike who, aided by a Halliburton-esque corporation with family connections, instigates a plot to make her son president through blackmail, murder, and brainwashing, in which a Gulf War platoon have devices implanted in their bodies making them "remember" her son as a war hero. Throughout the movie, a sinister cable news network is seen in the background in various public places (and the anchor is played by Al Franken, no less).

Hey, I'm not saying critics like Ralph Nader don't have a point about corporate influence in society. But when they start to sound like left-wing versions of the old John Birchers seeing communist infiltration in every corner, I have to jump ship. The nice thing about being a non-ideological Democrat, by far the most common variety, is the relative freedom from paranoia. You can just sit comfortably on the left of the good old fuzzy middle.