One of the things I see all over the liberal sites is long-winded complaints about “corporatists” and how corporations “rule the party.” I’d gather from their attacks on corporations that none of them work for one. Now, I can (and d0) complain about corporate behavior on specific incidents, and I’m more than willing to admit that the mentality of focusing on short term gains has taken over to the detriment of both corporations and the public. I also think Citizens United was a terrible decision, and yes, we do need to think of ways to limit or overturn that. That said, the phrase “corporatist” gets thrown around way too much, and often ignores some very important things.
Let’s make up a hypothetical “Super Liberal” Congressman Jack Smith, representing the First District of Big Blue State. It’s a solidly Democratic district, with a +8 Democratic margin. Basically, the sort of district where all you have to do is put the (D) after your name, and you’re elected. He’s a relentless advocate in Congress for progressive causes, always out in public promoting them, and all the liberal blogs can’t say enough great things about him and wish all Democrats could be just like him.
Then comes the day when Congresswoman June Jones introduces a bill to fund universal pre-K education. It’s a great idea, popular, all the liberal blogs line up behind it, and she’s got a lot of co-sponsors jumping on board. She’s going to pay for that with a big tax on widgets, and that’s when Jack Smith starts to push against it. He wants that tax removed, and some other funding method used. He’s out lobbying his fellow lawmakers on it. He will not vote for that bill as it stands, and he’s going to fight tooth and nail to kill it if it does. Of course, the liberal blogs hear about it, and start screaming “Betrayal!” and “He sold us out!” and “Corporate shill!” He’s Not A Real Progressive! Why would he do something so “not progressive?”
Here’s why: In his district, there are two companies, General Widget and Widget International. General Widget has its headquarters in his district, along with a major factory, and Widget International has a big factory in another part of the district. Together with their suppliers who are located there, they employ thousands of people. Both factories are “union shops,” so the pay is pretty good. The moment that tax was written into the proposed bill, Congressman Smith heard about it. Yes, of course both corporations contacted his office. But so did the union, all the suppliers, every elected and party official in his district, and a lot of the people employed by those companies and the ones depending on those businesses. All of them saying they were against it. Now, Congressman Smith has a choice. He can “stand up for progressive values” in this instance and say goodbye to any chance of reelection, or he can do what all of his constituents say they want him to do. Congressman Smith may very well be – and most likely is – in favor of universal pre-K education. If that tax weren’t in it, he’d have been one of the representatives signing on as a co-sponsor. But because it’s impacting a major part of his district’s economy, he’s going to be against it.
This example is based on a number of real incidents. It’s easy to scream “corporate shill!” when your area isn’t impacted in the least. What none of the people screaming the loudest ever ask is “What is the major player in that area’s economy?” That, more than “corporate money” often determines what a Senator or a Representative is going to do, and sometimes fail to be a “true progressive” or a “real Democrat.” In my post last year about “your issues are not my issues,” I touched on this. Issues that are incredibly important to you may not matter to me, and vice versa. As I’ve said, it’s a big country, and there are times when you will find progressives in one area actively opposing you. It’s because of the truth of an old saying: All politics are local. The industry that’s incredibly important to Congressman Smith’s constituents means that he will oppose anything that might hurt it. You would expect no less of your congressional representatives if it’s something important in your area, whether or not it’s considered “really progressive.”
If you go through any politician’s record, it’ll turn out there will be at least one, and more likely numerous times when they came out against something that was a “liberal ideal.” Oh, they might stand up to their constituents if they aren’t going to run again, but in general politicians want to be reelected. If their offices are getting flooded with missives from their constituents about a course of action, they’re going to listen. How can you change that? You can’t. “Representing” means just that, representing the people who elected you. My Congressional representatives really don’t care what someone in California thinks. If you’re in California, your representatives don’t care what I think. I’m not their constituent, just as you are not my representatives constituent.
This is not to say that there aren’t “bought and sold” politicians. Of course there are, there always has been. I can be – and am – against the amount of money being thrown around by businesses to influence political decisions. But I before I start making blanket accusations about various politicians, I should take a look at what their area’s major interests are. You see, they may not be corporatist sell outs, they might just be representing their constituents.