Every once in a while there is a quote that crystallizes the sheer up-is-downism of American politics more perfectly than anything I could ever hope to write. The National Association of Manufacturers has helpfully provided one of those quotes in its response to a lawsuit by five California teenagers who are suing the federal government over carbon emissions:
“At issue is whether a small group of individuals and environmental organizations can dictate through private tort litigation the economic, energy, and environmental policies of the entire nation,” wrote National Association of Manufacturers spokesman Jeff Ostermeyer in an email.
Here we have an organization representing some of the wealthiest companies in America, wringing its hands about the unholy power being wielded against it by a handful of kids using – gasp! – the legal system. So, in other words:
A small group of individuals and corporations using the power of money to subvert democracy and dictate the economic, energy and environmental policies of the entire nation, not to mention the health of the entire planet and everyone on it = The American Way.
Ordinary citizens using the mechanisms of government to oppose unchecked corporate power = Undemocratic Oppression.
This is the core of what bugs me about the pro-corporate strain of conservatism and libertarianism: The claim that all of these immensely wealthy corporations and individuals are helpless little lambs at the mercy of the big bad government wolf. They’re not. They have resources we can only dream of: When they break a law, they can hire all the top attorneys and PR firms they want, then give millions to politicians who will repeal the law or castrate its enforcers. Just because the government can steamroll you and I and Bradley Manning, doesn’t mean it can or will steamroll its sugar daddies.
Moreover, I reject the premise that taking our money and playing God with our lives is somehow the exclusive province of the government. The profit motive drives corporations to gouge as much as they can get away with while providing as little as possible in return, even when they take over schools and prisons and juvenile detention facilities. And who can forget the perverse talk of “death panels” and “bureaucrats between you and your doctor” when private insurance companies with life-and-death power already do the exact same thing?
Like most progressives, I don’t want the government to wield excessive unaccountable power over us – I want it to prevent the moneyed elites from wielding excessive unaccountable power over us. And the number one reason why it doesn’t is that all those one-percenters who pretend to be the government’s victims, are really its owners.