John Stauber on Wall Street’s Political Monopoly
This week I spoke with John Stauber, an investigative journalist, author, founder of Center for Media and Democracy, and most recently a self-professed outside agitator, on the benefits of voting two party.
In an article you wrote for CounterPunch back in March, you zeroed in on the “Progressive Movement” a democratic money and propaganda machine/echo chamber run by liberal elites like OFA, Mother Jones, Van Jones, The Nation, and largely MoveOn.org to name a few who sometimes fool progressives into supporting corporate causes and have co-opted messages from OWS to appear populist. Considering the far right has the left beat in the messaging game, how successful has the professional left been at advancing their neoliberal agenda on a larger scale? Are liberals really buying it?
A. These terms — progressives, liberals, left, populist, far right, neo-liberal — have different meanings for different people. I like to keep things simple and get back to basic principles and terms like democracy, individual rights and liberties, corporate power, concentrated wealth. The situation today is this: both the Democratic and Republican Parties represent the interests of the most powerful corporate elite in America. Neither party will ever represent the fundamental radical democratic changes we need to take wealth away from the small percentage who have concentrated it in their hands, and to empower people in a democracy. Let me repeat that: neither party will ever serve economic and political democracy.
The so-called “progressive movement” is made up of corporations run by paid staff and contractors who believe that the key to the future is to defeat the corporate Right, the Republicans, in elections. They believe that their own elite-funded propaganda campaigns on behalf of the environment, social justice, human rights, anti-monopoly politics, unions, can mobilize a public that can move the Democratic Party as a whole in this direction. That’s a farce and a fraud.
The crises facing us — poverty, ecological devastation, increasing concentration and power in the hands of the super rich and their economic institutions — are simply worsened by both corporate Parties, and those Parties run on elite wealth and massive propaganda. They are fully supported by all the established institutions of the society, including the corporate media.
But of course those of us who are radicals outside the corporate political parties are depicted as friends of fascism and the far right when we refuse to lend our support to electing Democrats. That will always be the case. And the extremely articulate and financially well rewarded pundits, flacks, and hacks of the professional “progressive movement” are dependent on the myth of two-party “democracy” to pay their bills, put their kids through school, buy houses, appear on TV, sell their books, and further their careers. They need deeply to believe this myth of American Democracy being advanced best through the Two Party system, because if they didn’t they’d be lousy at their jobs and would have a hard time living with themselves. It’s the cognitive dissonance of the salespeople; if you stop believing in the car or shoes or whatever you are peddling, you won’t be very good at selling it. So, they believe!
The problem we face is simple. It is the capitalist corporate economic system itself that is destroying the very ability of the planet to sustain life. Massive global poverty, super concentrated wealth and power, mindless consumerism, final destruction of the biosphere’s ability to sustain the industrial civilization — these are not issues that will be solved by the “professional progressives” with their clicktivism, talking points, game changing PR campaigns, and their support for reform via the existing political establishment. The evil shit is going to just continue to hit the fan, with no effective mobilized response because the professional reformers and their big NGOs suck all the air out of the room, and pose as a viable path to change. They are not.
Hillary Clinton is playing coy about her eventual presidential run in 2016 by saying, “I will look carefully at what I think I can do and make that decision next year.” Like Obama, she talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk and like Obama’s skin color, her gender is a driving force behind propelling her back into the White House. What can we expect from a female President Clinton?
A. Nothing will come from any Clinton but more of the same concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the corporate elite. Spying, war, destruction of the main street economy is what we can expect. But of course the billion-dollar sales pitch will be, “save our country from the Tea Party extremists, elect the first woman president!” It might work to get her elected, but don’t expect change.
Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton appear to be polar opposites, 99% vs 1%. Can Warren’s passion for economic justice rebrand and revive the long-dead democrat party? She’s got the brains and influence but given her defense of Obama and the Clintons at last year’s DNC, I highly doubt it.
A. Nothing can “revive” the Democratic Party. Democratic “progressives” promote this myth that somehow “we” can “take back” the Party of the people and need saviors like Elizabeth Warren to do it.
Considering the insane sums (billions) of taxpayer money being wasted on wars and corporate bailouts vs spending to curb and eradicate poverty via social programs and implementing a living wage and Medicare for all, why are Americans still convinced the “other” party is the answer rather than a third party? What are they afraid of?
A. Both Wall Street parties spend massively to keep their “base” in line and voting for them. It is fear voting, that’s the main dynamic. The number one tactic is to create massive fear among the Blues for the Reds, and the Reds for the Blues. Half of us don’t vote. The other half that do are voting for what they perceive to be the lesser of the evils, based on the propaganda they receive.
I’m a staunch supporter of third-party candidates so I was disappointed to read your piece for Dissident Voice in which you advocated voting for John Kerry in 2004 as the only solution to rid America of George W. Bush. John Kerry has always been the corporate war-loving puppet that he is now. The way he is representing America abroad has been nothing short of disastrous and dangerous. Looking back, do you still think that was the right call?
A. I never supported John Kerry and I said so at the time. I was promoting a practical way to use the ballot in an extreme situation. I advocated in 2004 that in swing states, where there was the possibility of defeating the warmonger Bush if Kerry received enough votes, that people vote for Kerry rather than a third (or fourth or fifth) party. It was that simple. George Bush and the neoconservatives had just, with the support of Kerry, Clinton and other Dems, launched an attack on Iraq that was illegal under international law going back to the Nuremberg Nazi trials. (In fact, launching an unprovoked offensive war was the main prosecution faced by Hitler’s Nazis.) Probably over a million people have since died as a result the 2003 war on Iraq, which continues with US involvement.
Both political parties and the US media lined up to support a war that those of us paying attention could see was completely based on false pretenses to control the oil rich state of Iraq. It would have sent a tremendous and important signal to the people of the world had the American people not re-elected George Bush, but unfortunately they did. It wasn’t about Kerry or Nader, it was about removing a war criminal from the White House. Had that happened, we would have had the equivalent of the Obama debacle four years earlier, with a Kerry presidency. I said that at the time, that should Kerry be elected, he must be immediately opposed because his policies were fundamentally not better.
With so much lying and deception from both parties flooding every source of news media out there, finding the truth requires a great deal of investigative journalism that most voters don’t have the time or energy for yet education and courage are key to reforming our government. What else can be done to convince voters it’s necessary to take the time to self educate?
A. The American electorate is divided between people who vote, and people who don’t. Half of us don’t vote in any given election. We are people on the left, on the right, in the middle, people who are politically astute and people who couldn’t tell you the name of the Vice President. (I have a hard time remembering that one!) But what non-voters I talk with almost all agree upon is that the system is completely rigged, both the Democrats and Republicans are liars funded by the rich corporate elite, that the big corporations are ruining America and the world, and that we are very screwed whoever sits in office.
I do not believe that “reforming our government” is anywhere on the real political agenda of the Democrats. That’s nice flackery and PR to get people worked up and ultimately voting for the Democrat, maintaining the status quo.
Progressive change is very difficult to come by especially as corporate influence becomes stronger in widening the economic gap and rolling back civil liberties; the chances of a people-powered revolution seems further and further away. What message do you have for those of us losing hope but still hanging in there for a better future and actual democracy?
A. Ditch the hope. “Keep hope a jive!” I say, because that is what it is when it become some nebulous political sentiment that results in voting for the lesser of the evils. Hope is for suckers, and the professionals who run campaigns know that and that’s why they use it to elect presidents. People need to find and execute the work that can really create a better future and real democracy, but the fact is it has little to do with electing members of either the two corporate parties.
Nor do I think that there are any viable third-party strategies. Just that term – third party – assumes that the political playing table can be made level if somehow enough people unite and vote for a Green or Libertarian or some other candidate and Party. Ain’t gonna happen. The Democrats and Republicans have a powerful shared monopoly that has destroyed and taken over democracy in America. A whole lot of even more ugly shit will come down in the years and decades ahead before there are enough pissed off people to really threaten the corporate political establishment of the two party Wall Street state. And then we will see if those eventual movements understand and commit to democracy, or to something ugly and brutal that denies our democratic rights.
Name the two biggest issues Americans need to see fixed now.
A. All the big issues are inter-linked, and they are all about democracy versus concentrated wealth, power and propaganda. The best way for people to make a difference is to personally work in organizations at the grassroots level around the critical local issues that most affect them, where corporate power and political disdain are most running roughshod over people in a precinct, city, county or state. “Don’t mourn, organize,” but organize for real, grassroots power. And reach out to the whole populace, not just the people already in your own comfort zone and echo chamber. Americans look for the savior to come along and fix problems to make America that great democracy we were before. Believe that, and you are just going to keep being played for a sucker every two years. The creation of democratic, powerful, grassroots-based movements and organizatons that unite from the ground up, and that target the powerful to break up concentrated wealth and power, is always the most important work.
After over 40 years of exposing organized propaganda, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about political affluence and the class war it’s breeding and winning against America’s poor?
A. All political propaganda is harmful, including the propaganda for causes, issues and candidates you most support. Democracy is the most radical ideology I know of, and the only one I advocate. Democracy is all but dead, snuffed out by centuries of a corporate economic system that has concentrated wealth and thus political power in the hands of an elite. That elite sits astride a self-destroying economy that is eating up the earth to churn out consumer crap and the vision of a shopping mall utopia. Nothing will get better for the poor or the planet until we individually and collectively come to grips with this reality, and any propaganda that disguises or pretties up this ugly situation is detrimental. We need to democratize both political and economic power.
Where can readers purchase your books to learn more about the alliance between corporate public relations and government?
A. All six books I co-authored while running the Center for Media and Democracy (1993 – 2009) can be found for free through the public library system. Free! Get them there while libraries still exist! And should you want to possess them, all are in print and available through the usual sources.
Thanks very much Joslyn. As you know, my addictive personality finally turned to Twitter (@JohnStauber) this summer, and I appreciate your ‘feed’ and work.
Joslyn Stevens edits Opt Out, where this interview originally appeared.