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Corporatism and the Art of Political Code

Today in America, getting elected—and re-elected—to a powerful political office requires two things: big corporate money, and the average person’s vote. And what’s good for one is usually not good for the other.

Average people want choice and price competition. Big corporations want to be a monopoly, or at least a cartel. People want to be fairly compensated, receive benefits and retirement security. Big corporations want to pay the lowest wage possible and be free to move anywhere in the world to cut their overhead. People want to know that the products they buy are safe. Corporations want to remove regulatory barriers and consumer recourse. And so on, and so on.

With so much money and power at stake, making both Corporate America and Average America happy has become a very important political skill. And talking to voters in language that appeals to their values while sending coded messages to their corporate masters has become a very refined art form. Here are some examples:

What they say to the people:
Government is broken, it doesn’t work any more.

What big corporate hears:
If elected I will appoint unqualified crony hacks who will prove my point about government not working.
Rather than “fixing” government because that’s “too expensive,” they want to break it, thus creating the rationale and the demand for privatization. Bush crony Michael Brown was famous for knowing nothing about disaster relief. As he saw it, his job as head of FEMA was to move money and contracts to companies that he had ties with. None of these companies had disaster relief experience either, and when the flood hit New Orleans, they couldn’t even get bottled water to evacuees. Thousands of black people suffered for months, and others died so that a few white guys could make millions.

What they say to the people:
We don’t need the government controlling every part of our lives.

What big corporate hears:
I intend to move chunks of the national treasury over to corporations on my watch, so that when I leave office, we can all be rich beyond our wildest dreams.
From health care, to education, to private armies who answer to no one, the US has dismantled parts of the government that no sane country would dare to, and handed it over to big corporations. Each time this happens, a handful of well-connected people and “public servants” capture that wealth for themselves. But for the rest of us, it results in a lower standard of living. Remember how badly Bush wanted to privatize Social Security during his second term? That’s because it was supposed to be his retirement. Screw the rest of us. He probably had his crony finance partners all lined up and waiting. But sadly, Bush wasn’t able to break Social Security badly enough for ordinary people to dislike it enough.

What they say to the people:
Small businesses that are trying to create jobs don’t need a lot of government regulation getting in their way.

What big corporate hears:
I’m going to fight for the deregulation you paid for.
Here, the elected official just wants to make certain that on the way to the bank his or her corporate masters are not hindered by some public interest nonsense like safety regulations, fair wages or destroying the environment. When Representative Joe Barton of Texas apologized to BP, you could hear the money talking. Yes Joe, how dare the government "shake down" BP. That’s your job. Who will pay millions to your campaign if BP is out of gas? And using small business as bait to push big corporate’s agenda is especially cruel because the kind of deregulation they advocate actually inhibits new entries into the marketplace.

What they say to the people:
I believe we are a Christian nation. And I intend to let my Christian values guide me in office. God bless America!

What big corporate hears:
I am willing to link your corporate agenda to the things that make people submissive and unquestioning.
This is where politicians become indispensable to big business by literally working magic. Lest anyone figures out the shell game and facts start to seep out, what’s needed is a dose of faith. It’s the one thing corporate America can’t do. And if you think for one minute that politicians would do what Jesus would do while no one’s looking, remember that Tom Delay, William Jefferson, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Duke Cunningham, and Mark Sanford were all self-proclaimed Christians who prayed to God for strength— immediately after they got caught.

When political code is used effectively, it results in ordinary people fighting on behalf of big corporations. From the Tea Party on the right to the Hope and Change crowd on the left, voters are helping to maintain the corporate status quo, and hurt their own self-interest in the process. Labels like Democrat and Republican are just consumer brands, and an election between the two is like choosing between Coke and Pepsi based on which is more nutritious.

If anything good has come from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the mining disaster in West Virginia, it’s that it has exposed the relationship between big corporations and elected officials. Like never before, voters see that with precious few exceptions, politicians really don’t give a goddamn about average people. But corporations on the other hand have a vested interest in people being uninformed, unorganized and trapped in a cycle of poverty because that’s the source of cheap, exploitable labor (as in, no respirators for oil spill workers).

This election season when politicians conjure up their best political code and plea for your vote, follow the money. See what big corporations they are funded by and what they stand to gain. You won’t find this information on Fox News, but it’s not hard to find on the Internet. Then you’ll see that most Republicans and Democrats have already made their campaign promises to Corporate America long before they asked for your vote.

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