There were the Teamsters and the "turtles," who met and mated at
the WTO protests in Seattle last year. Now there's a new, even more
freakish duo: the reactionaries and the reformers.
Just take a look at the news and the spectacle of conservative GOP
Whip Tom "The Hammer" DeLay linking up with the man he vowed to oust from
office, President Clinton, all in support of the White House push to
extend permanent normal trade status to China. Also on board: the
entirety of the right-wing GOP congressional leadership and a broad swath
of liberal and moderate Democrats.
What's going on here? It's one of those rare freeze-frames that
sharply reveal the authentic and deeply cynical nature of American
politics. It reveals that the supposed divide between official liberals
and conservatives is mostly an electoral ruse. The real gap in American
politics is between corporatists--the overwhelming majority of
legislators who respond to and defend the corporate special interests who
underwrite their campaigns--and a small minority of populists who
actually care what their citizen-constituents want.
Corporate America is investing multimillions in a lobbying push to
pass the China deal through Congress. Visions not of democracy but of
huge profits dance in the minds of the business lobby as they eye the
cheap, government-repressed Chinese work force. Permanent trade status
for China would remove the few remaining roadblocks preventing the full
exploitation of that labor force by corporations now embarked in a global
race to the bottom of the international wage market.
That's why those same business interests have poured millions into the
pockets of liberals and conservatives alike. And that's why politicians
usually at each others' throats over secondary issues like guns,
abortions or school prayer find it so easy to hold hands and intone
"Kumbaya" as they do the political bidding for their shared big-money
Rather than two vigorously different major parties that offer
fundamental alternatives, we have two corporate parties: a pro-life,
pro-gun corporate party and a pro-choice, anti-gun corporate party. On
the other side of this China issue, administration propaganda aside, is a
citizens' coalition not of isolationist flat-Earth protectionists, but
rather of labor, environmental and human rights advocates whose view is
the one shared by an overwhelming majority of the American people. They
argue that giving China a blank check on trade will lower living
standards for both American and Chinese workers and simultaneously
relieve the Beijing gerontocracy of any shard of international
accountability. Yet while this citizen lobby has the backing of popular
opinion, it has little money or clout compared to its corporate rivals.
Organized labor has stretched its resources in opposing the measure,
but its efforts pale in contrast to the counter-pressure exerted by the
deep-pockets Business Roundtable. Money talks. The people walk.
Consequently, on Capitol Hill, there is a beleaguered band of a few
score of populists who dare to listen to and fight for the wishes and
interests of the people they are elected to represent. They are mostly
progressive Democrats, like the courageous Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and a
sprinkling of highly principled Republicans who resist--at a high
price--the hammerings of DeLay and the rest of their leadership.
More important, these populists keep alive at least the faint memory
of what a functioning democracy used to look like by rejecting the
entreaties and threats of the big-money power brokers who have become our
permanent and invisible government.
In this past few weeks, a lot of lip service has been paid to the
notion of using trade to promote democracy in China. A nice idea. But as
we watch DeLay/Clinton, Bush/Gore and the Business Roundtable glad-hand
each other and chuckle over their agreement on China, we might be better
served figuring out a way to, first, secure a whole lot more democracy
here at home.
Marc Cooper Is a Los Angeles-based Contributing Editor to the Nation.
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times