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The Politics of Avoidance


The “politics of avoidance” is receiving a great deal of media attention during this period of national political conventions. Unfortunately, the newspapers and television programs do not use the phrase: “the politics of avoidance.” Together with John McCain and Barack Obama, members of the press have become used to living the “politics of avoidance” every day by not asking, talking or reporting about the essential core of what politics should be about—power!

Power! Who has it? Who doesn’t have it? Who should have less of it and who should have more of it? What does concentrated power do to the everyday life of the people as workers, patients, consumers, taxpayers, voters, shareholders and citizens?

Just use these and other power yardsticks and watch how thin and how superficial daily political reporting, even by the best of the press, can become.

In the August 25th edition of The New York Times, a long analysis by Michael Powell is titled “Tracing the Disparate Threads in Obama’s Political Philosophy.” There was no mention of corporate misbehavior—as in corporate crime, corporate corruption, corporate governance, corporate accountability, or cracking down on corporate abuses from the contractors in Iraq to the speculators on Wall Street.

Bear in mind, The New York Times and other newspapers often report about corporate crime and misdeeds. Sometimes reporters do such a good job that they win the Pulitzer and other prizes. Yet, strangely, these reporters do not carry over the reporting of their own paper to their questioning of the Presidential candidates.

Since there is no challenging of the candidates by the reporters about what the candidates would do about this continual corporate crime wave and the miniscule prosecution budgets, or the limited enforcement and regulatory efforts, the candidates can remain mum, very mum.

In Powell’s article, Obama’s economics are described as “a redistributionist liberalism but [he] is skeptical of too much government tinkering. His most influential advisors hail from the University of Chicago, a bastion of free-marketers.” This is Obama’s way of saying to corporations that he is a safe bet not to trouble them with his earlier experience as a community organizer in neighborhoods that were up against a variety of corporate predators, including redlining banks and insurance companies, supermarkets that dumped contaminated food products, landlords who rented apartments with asbestos and lead contaminations and established pay-day lending sharks.

The same day—August 25, 2008, the Wall Street Journal had an entire special section devoted to “Debating the Issues” described as ‘Health Care,’ ‘Energy & the Environment,’ ‘The Economy’ and ‘Trade.’ The Health Care headline is sub-titled: “How Involved Should the Government Be?

Once again the same paradox. The Journal prints some of the best exposes of corporate greed and power in all of mainstream journalism. Yet one strains to detect any of this power analysis when it comes to the paper’s political coverage or campaign features.

Conventional political journalism is all about palliative descriptions, the question of governmental involvement primarily as an issuer of dollars to the recipients in presumed need. It is about symptoms, rarely about causes, and even less often about the need to curb or displace corporate control.

About 75 percent of the American people believe corporations have too much control over their lives. Yet reducing such control or holding it accountable is not part of electoral or political discourse.

A majority of the American people, and fifty-nine percent of physicians in an April poll, favor single payer or full government health insurance (as in full Medicare for all) with free choice of hospital and doctor, private delivery of care, and far less administrative costs and billing fraud. The health insurance companies would be displaced.

John McCain and Barack Obama have never had to debate this majoritarian preference along with their piecemeal, concessionary heathcare plans that please these same insurance companies.

The pollsters also reflect, embody and are saturated with this politics of avoidance. They do not poll the various impacts of concentrated corporate power on the various roles people play in the workplace, marketplace, and their communities.

The New York Times/CBS News Poll of delegates to the Democratic Convention asked about the condition of the economy, health care, going into Iraq, energy, abortion and gay marriage.

Not one question was asked about the most dominant power over government, elections, politics, the federal operating budget, and our political economy.

Whoever asks the questions, whoever controls the yardsticks controls the agenda of public dialogue. The politics of avoidance is designed to avoid the politics of corporate power.

Presidents Jefferson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and leading Supreme Court Justices, Louis Brandeis and William Douglas understood and warned about the menace of unbridled corporate domination.

Today multinational corporations are more powerful then ever, especially over workers and the government. And politics is more about avoiding this central topic than ever before. Discussions about corporate power are off the table.

So much for the Preamble to our Constitution which reads, “We the People…”

RALPH NADER is running for president as an independent.


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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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