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October 10, 2012

Political aftermath of JFK assassination

By Arthur Kane Scott

All of these events beginning with the JFK assassination lay the basis for a profound political shift to the “Right” leading first to the Reagan presidency in 1980, accompanied by a resurgence of the “Religious Right” that pointed to the emergence of the Tea Party in 2010 which looked upon the changing demographics of America as threatening to their socio-economic position and disdainfully viewed centrist politics as compromise, as a betrayal of their heritage. But above all else, the last thirty years has seen the ascendancy of Corporate America to such heights that it threatens what President Lincoln at Gettysburg described “as government of the people, by the people shall not perish from the face of the earth.”  Wall Street has become the head and Washington the tale of power in the United States. This shift to the Right is largely grounded in fear as eloquently expressed by Aung San Suu Kyi when she said: “it is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” The next article will study these matters more closely.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan trounced Jimmy Carter in the race for the White House. Carter’s defeat was more than just the result of the international fiasco centering on Tehran in which the Mullahs under Ayatollah Khomeini came into power marking the advent of Shiia Fundamentalism. In America it symbolized a deepening shift to the Right (Wall Street, the banking Industry, the Religious Right, Big Oil, and the “hard hatters”, primarily white males consisting of first responders/ patriotic union members, and the National Rifle Association members), began to add their voices to the conservative tide that surged during the Presidency of Richard Millhouse Nixon, but which had been temporarily derailed by the Watergate scandal of 1965.

Reagan was the perfect conservative icon: he came from a small town in Middle America, Tampico, Illinois which was traditional, conservative, white and Protestant. His family then moved to Dixon where he went to high school becoming interested in sports, acting and being Irish and narrating stories. Later he went to Eureka College where he was very popular, having being elected student president and captain of the swim team. Soon afterwards he became a sports announcer for the Chicago Cubs in Iowa eventually working his way to Hollywood where he was signed by Warner Brothers and played in a number of B movies. One of his favorite films was playing “Knut Rockne” where the famous line “win one for the Gripper” comes. During World War II, he made training films for the Air force and following it he became President of the Screen Actors Guild from 1947-1952. This period is important because he learned to hone his personal communications style which was at once charming, affable and homely making him the darling of diverse constituencies. As US President he was often tagged the “Great Communicator.” Reagan’s contention was he received this moniker because he “communicated great things.” At this time, his politics shift from Democrat to Republican as he got caught in the Cold War frenzy about the “Red Scare” in Hollywood. As head of the Screen Actors Guild’s he worked with the FBI in identifying  actors, producers, directors who might be communist sympathizers or ”fellow travelers.”(http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/opinion/sunday/reagans-personal-spying-machine.html?_r=2&ref=ro. His move to the Right continued as he became host to General Electric Hour from 1953 -1962 using this position to gain a considerable conservative following of deep pocketed businessmen leading to his two term governorship of California from 1967-75 where he unleashed his conservative philosophy particularly directed at Berkeley students, hippies, free speech advocates, the poor, law and order as well as closing down mental facilities for the sick and becoming a strong pro-life advocate.

By 1980, Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy had emerged. The center piece of Reagan’s presidency “was that government was the problem”, and to rid America of its interference, America needed to return to ”laissez-faire”, supply side economics, sometimes called Reaganomics, to restore freedom to the market place. Its core doctrine consisted of extending tax breaks to the “One Percenters” or the very rich as the best way to stimulate the economy. This was popularly called “trickle down economics”, problem was it had no real trickle as the tax breaks for the rich went into off shore accounts or into paper investment, stocks and bonds, that did very little to create new manufacturing  - jobs or opportunities for the vast majority of American workers. Making life even more difficult for the American worker was Reagan’s war on Unions. In August, 1981, he took on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization by firing over 12 thousand air traffic controllers for striking. This action sent out a clear message to Corporate America that it had a friend in the White House. It marked the beginning of the decline of Unions in America.  These policies won the approval of Wall Street Banks, Corporate America, Big Oil, Pharmaceuticals, as well as the Military-Industrial Complex which saw a tremendous increase in its budget with the Stars War Initiative being touted as an effective vehicle to end the Cold War.

Even though divorced, Reagan was a strong Christian who supported the institution of marriage and what became known as “family values”. He saw the world in black /white, apocalyptical terms, and declared the Soviet Union at a National Association of Evangelicals in 1983 as the “evil empire”. "The Battle of the Evil Empire," by Frank Warner,ᅠThe Morning Call,ᅠAllentown, Pa., March 5, 2000. Rallying to his conservative banner came many fundamentalist Christian groups that were concerned about where America was going including Billy Graham, Southern Baptist Convention, Gerry Falwell, Moral Majority, Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, and Bob Jones’ University.  According to them, “the end days” were upon us as reflected by the women’s movement, mounting sexuality, gay rights, abortion, “death of god”, assault on prayer in schools and pornography. To offset these destructive trends to national identity, Christians had to mobilize and become politically active. The Geographic center of Christian Fundamentalism centered primarily on the Bible belt area of American which encompassed the Appalachian Mountains, most of the southern states spilling into West and Rocky Mountain States. It parallels to a large degree the current “Red States” configuration that comprises today’s Republican strongholds. Major denominations are Southern Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Conservative Catholic and Mormons. This coalition has profound effect on elections not only at the national level, but the state and local levels. Fundamentalists are primarily white who emphasized an older American culture grounded in the Puritan ethic of hard work, patriotism, respect for authority and competition, sanctity of marriage. They believe in a hierarchal American of talent and ability that naturally rises to the top through competition. Women are to listen to their husbands, stay at home and primary be responsible for the moral training of their children through home schooling. This coalition of Fundamentalists played a significant role in the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. In the 2000 election, Bush received 78% of the Evangelical vote which constitutes 20% of the electorate. Bush unabashedly presented himself as a “born-again Christian” who believed that he was destined by God to be president. Cf, http://www.politicususa.com/the-rise-of-american-fundamentalism-1998-2001.html“Nine/eleven” brought Bush and the Christian Religious Right even closer as it centered on the Middle East and became a metaphor for launching a “Crusade” against radical Islam, protecting the Holy Lands and Israel. Simultaneously it saw the conflict as an opportunity to spread the seeds of democracy into the Middle East through regime/cultural change, and as a way to solidify strategic interests of the American Empire through militarization of the region better known as the “Bush Doctrine”.

By 2010, the Religious Right morphed into the “Tea Bagger Party” with essentially the same Reagan message of smaller government, deficit control, balance budget, God, no governmental regulations on Wall Street, industry, climate or health, or national defense. It was anti – feminine, immigrant and poor with a whole host of proposals to reduce or eliminate entitlements. These political and political reforms were to be done at the expense of the middle class and to the largess of the rich. Leading spokesmen are Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, Scott Walker, Rick Sanatorium and Rick Perry.  The Bloomberg National Poll conducted on adults 18 and over showed that 40% of Tea Party supporters are 55 or older, compared with 32% of all poll respondents; 79% are white, 61% are men and 44% identify as "born-again Christians",] compared with 75%, 48.5%, and 34% for the general population. (Cf, Przybyla, Heidi (March 26, 2010); "Tea Party Advocates Who Scorn Socialism Want a Government Job". Bloomberg News, Retrieved March 28, 2010.)  The Tea Baggers are richly supported by Fox News, by Koch Industries, which has funneled millions into their campaigns under “Americans for Prosperity”, and Grover Norquist who has locked Republican Congressman into agreeing formally not to raise taxes under any circumstances undermining the possibility of compromise between Democrats /Republicans on budget matters.

Another major player in the resurgence of the Far Right is Karl Rove who applauded the decision of the Supreme Court‘s to allow corporations to use their vast resources in political campaigning.(Cf, http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/09/karl-rove-gop-craig-unge. Under Rove’s leadership the Republican Party through “American Crossroads” now has millions of dollars that it can funnel into state gubernatorial and Congressional elections with the goal of creating  a permanent conservative /Far Right majority in Congress. The Robert’s Court, too, is another ingredient in the political narrative to the Right beginning with the Supreme Court’s intervention in the Gore/ Bush election of 2000 in which the Court ruled against Gore in Florida costing him the Presidency. Under the presidencies of George H. Bush and George W. Bush three conservative Supreme Court Justices were appointed: Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alioto, flanked by Anthony Kennedy and Antonio Scalia giving to the conservatives a 5/4 majority. This judicial shift began with Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr who urged in 1970 that the Chamber of Commerce become the legal defense voice for Corporate America to defend the free enterprise system which he saw was under attack. It was the Chamber of Commerce which in 2010 submitted the “Citizens United” brief to the Supreme Court which opened up the floodgate of corporate money into political campaigning. This judicial decision represented a serious blow to democracy in America dramatically tilting the playing field to Corporations. According to “NY Times”, “the Roberts court, which has completed five judicial terms, has  ruled in behalf of business  61 percent of the time, compared with 46 percent in the last five years of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who died in 2005, and 42 percent by all courts since 1953 (Cf, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/us/19roberts.html?pagewanted=all)

The other major factor that has played into the hands of the Far Right is  that the demographics of America has changed significantly over the last twenty years with an explosion in Hispanics and Asians. By 2050, it is estimated that the ethnicity of America will look like this: Hispanic 24.3, Asian 9.3, and Blacks 14.7. Whites in 2050 will represent only 51.7 percent of the Total population. (Cf. http://cber.cba.ua.edu/rbriefs/uspoppro.html) In 2011 California today there are more people of color than Whites; 57.7% to 42.3% 9 Cf, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000.html).Similar shifts are taking place in other regions of America that historically had been predominant white like Texas and New Mexico. Different parts of the country have different Hispanic representation: in the Northeast you have a strong Puerto Rican presence, in Florida a strong Cuban presence centering on Miami, and throughout the Southwest, a Mexican presence that is a result of history, the Mexican- American War of 1846-48, and the labor needs of agricultural business in the fertile valleys of California/Arizona. What bothers many Whites is that the Hispanic population is spreading out into areas where they were never been present before, in particular, the South and Mid- west. The Far Right’s criticism of Latinos is that they are inassimilable or even un-American as they insist on speaking Spanish, are clannish, transform neighborhoods into barrios, and represent a heavy burden to school systems because of their need to take courses on “English as a Second Language”. Further, their communities are rife with gangs, drugs and high school drop outs. The other hot button is the large number of Hispanics who are here illegally and the drain they pose on human/social services, from education to health. According to Pew in 2005, of 12.5 million undocumented, 56% were Mexican and 22% from other Latin American countries.  (Passel, Jeffrey (2005-03-21). "Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Undocumented Population" (PDF). Pew Hispanic Center.) Ironically, this White backlash over foreigners and jobs has been fueled primarily by the economic downturn of 2008 which was created by Wall Street wheelers /dealers and not by Latinos or Blacks or Asian Americans. This white back lash exists in Congress where there is a solid Republican opposition to the “Dream Act” which simply provides a rather complicated process by which Latino youth can come out of the shadows and ultimately become citizens.(Cf, http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/ad-lib/2012/sep/21/dream-act-president-obama-reaffirms-unwavering-sup/)

Lastly is the growing dominance of Corporate America over America which has increased exponentially since the Reagan Presidency with its “trickle down”, Wall Street economics and its largess to the Military –Industrial complex “to bring down this Wall Mr. Gorbachev”. Intensifying Corporate Power has been globalization which has transformed American Companies from national to global entities driven primarily by profit in which ironically China has become the major winner emerging with the second strongest economy in the world. Silicon Valley is a major example of this phenomenon. It has emerged over the last twenty-five years as the leading US economic sector even surpassing oil with Apple being poised to be the First Corporation in the world to be worth a trillion dollars. Larry Ellison of Oracle, for instance, is worth 41 billion dollars and the sixth wealthiest man in the world. (Cf., “Sunday Times”, Sept. 30, 2012) Even though Silicon Valley is known for being more democratic in its management style than the older industrial sector, it still is primarily driven by profits as exemplified by establishing inexpensive manufacturing networks foremost in China while doing absolutely nothing to revitalize the American middle class. This corporate outsourcing decision by Steve Jobs and others in the semi-conductor/computer/ electronics industry has had a devastating impact on the future of American manufacturing.

Corporations historically are essentially legal fictions that responded primarily to the financial investments of stockholders and mangers, but ignored the legitimate needs of workers or the stakeholders. They operate off the Darwinian ethic that life is a struggle, and in the struggle for existence, only the strong survive. How does a corporation become strong? Strength came from eliminating competition and establishing vertical and horizontal integration -- by which the corporation controlled everything -- from the raw materials to the finished product, and by eliminating rivals by any means necessary. Corporations, too, strengthen their market position through economy of scale/Bigness -- buying in large bulk and producing in large quantities leading to Cartels and Monopolies. If anything the story of American capitalism has been more about a history of monopolization than marketplace freedom

The wealthy, at times, exhibited a terrible public arrogance going back to Rockefeller who was fond of saying that his talent for making money was "God given", and that this ability put him outside or above the law. Rockefeller often used questionable methods to gain control of the petroleum (kerosene) industry and to eliminate competitors. He forced the railroads to provide unfair discounts for shipping his oil, and he often took over rival petroleum companies through "blind tigers" -- companies that secretly worked for Standard Oil. By 1881, Rockefeller controlled 90 percent of the country's oil manufacturing and refining, and could crush any competitor at will.

The attitude of the wealthy toward government is that it exists to serve the needs of corporate America. Property is their personal god, and anything which impinged on its growth was considered "bad business" and therefore bad for America. In the presidential campaign of 2012 it’s estimated that total electioneering costs will come to 6 billion dollars, twice that of presidential campaign of 2000. A major source of these revenues comes from the emergence of super-PACS (Political Action Groups) which are weighed very heavily in favor of corporations that are sitting on trillions of dollars as compared to the meager resources of Unions.. PACS contributed more than 400 million to Congressional races in 2010 and who knows what the dollar amount will finally be for 2012. What it means in light of the Supreme Court ruling is that corporations were given a blank check to make even larger contributions in campaign advertising to candidates of their choice. Given the great wealth of Corporate America this Supreme Court decision furthers the corporatization of the political system which is already fragile and rigged against the economic interest of the 99%. (http://span.state.gov/sept-oct2012/eng/follow-the-money.html).

Prominent families and corporation executives have, throughout the twentieth century, exercised tremendous influence on governments. The DuPont’s of Delaware actually control ten corporations valued at billions each including GM, Coca-Cola, United Brands, and Conoco. The Rockefeller family, despite anti-trust, controls five of the largest oil companies as well as Chase Manhattan, the fourth largest bank in America.  Mitt Romney net worth today stands at $250 million which gives him a tremendous advantage over most politicians. Mitt besides benefiting from the enormous wealth of his father,(http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-politicians/republicans/mitt-romney-net-worth/), has augmented his personal fortune  through his investments in Bain Capital where he harvested profits at the expense of companies and of course employees. (Cf, http://go.bloomberg.com/political-capital/2012-09-28/romney-bain-harvested-profits-seen-in-newly-unearthed-video/)His attitude toward working America came to light in a recent secret video released through “Mother Jones” Magazine. This video is indicative of not only Mitt Romney’s  attitude towards at least “47 %” of the population , but is representative of Corporate America in general, which like Mitt  sees middle class America as being nothing more than freeloaders,” “who are dependent upon government”, who see themselves as “victims” and “pay no income tax.”. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/secret-video-romney-private-fundraiser).

Banks too exercise enormous political influence in America. The house of Morgan controls American Express. Similarly, corporations own and direct the media. Sony controls Columbia Pictures, CBS is owned by Westinghouse, NBC is owned by Comcast, Disney controls ABC, Rupert Murdoch owns Fox, and even PBS depends on the largesse of private and corporate foundations. The result is that, although most Americans pay lip service to "freedom," their freedom is really set by the millions of sound bites and images that constantly bombard their every waking hour. "Buy, buy, and buy more" is one of the constant refrains burned into the consumer's subconscious mind -- a refrain that makes stockholders and corporations fabulously wealthy. By controlling the media, corporate America has a commanding presence in shaping American thought and behavior.

The Wall Street financial and industrial oligarchy similarly exercises tremendous political clout, both directly and indirectly. The cost of electioneering has become so expensive that the two percenters (persons whose annual income is $50 million a year and who control 80 percent of American resources) can easily influence Washington through a wide variety of campaign contributions, lobbying firms, and special interests agents. Besides that, the super-rich actually dominate the halls of Congress. All too often, to be a senator requires one to be a “millionaire”, or at least a spokesperson for a powerful segment of American industry like the food, drug, tobacco, or insurance industries. For example, Meg Whitman -- the former CEO of eBay -- spent $140 million most of which was her own money in the 2010 gubernatorial election in California, although she lost to Jerry Brown.

The other way that the two percenters direct the national and global agenda is through a series of informal organizations and groups that exist outside of constitutional provision but nonetheless exercise tremendous leverage on the domestic and foreign policy goals of America. These include, among others, the Tri-Lateral Commission, founded by David Rockefeller, the Conference Board, Council of Foreign Relations, Business Round Table, Advertising Council, and ET. Al. All of these organizations are staffed by spokesmen who represent or promote the interests of the ruling corporate oligarchy at the public's expense. The irony is that these bodies are not elected, nor are they responsive to the people. Rather they are driven by the financial goals of their class, and promote the interests of Big Business. (Cf, James Perloff, The Shadows of Power).

In conclusion, according to Naomi Kline, America has been “shocked” by Corporate America ( cf., Naomi Kline, The Shock Doctrine )since the Reagan Years- “shocked” by a trillion dollar war in the Middle East that has made the military –industrial rich as exemplified by Halliburton Industries (http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?list=type&type=15); “shocked” by the Patriot Act which give intelligence /police agencies the right to violate privacy. In the bargain: the  middle class has become the anxious class caught between stagnating wages and limited career options,  college students struggle with a  trillion dollar student debt, 50 million American, one/fourth children, go hungry at night, (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/16/AR2009111601598.html), America once the global educational leader now ranks 14th in the world, and has fallen to 92 in the distribution of wealth.( Cf, http://www.skeptically.org/economics/id21.html).  You might ask what happen. The answer is the rise of the Far Right which has been implementing a clever political coup d’état against the 99 percenters since 1980. The time has come to harness Corporate growth, to take back government, or else succumb to Paraphrasing John Donne’s warning: “Behold for whom the bells toll, they toll for us”. 

Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies of the Dominican University of California and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies.