Progressives Need Their Own “Powell Memo”

Photograph Source: Library of Congress – Public Domain

The context:

Progressive politics and policy have been supplanted by identity politics and the culture wars.

The Democratic Party is corrupted and captured by corporate money. Democrats abandoned the New Deal coalition back in the Bill Clinton years (arguably before that under Jimmy Carter).

The Republicans have embraced full on fascist politics, from denying women the right to choose, to banning books, demonizing “the other”, and openly advocating a straight up White Christian Nationalist program that rejects liberal democratic institutions and values.

Republicans have linked this culture war fascist politics to a corporate agenda that seeks to dismantle the New Deal “administrative state”, restore laissez-faire deregulated crony capitalism, cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, slash the social safety net even further, and take us back to the 19th century practices of child labor, private charity, and the poor house.

Trump has called for concentration camps for the homeless, involuntary institutionalization of the mentally ill, and execution of drug dealers.

But recently, there have been glimmers of light in this darkness.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. announced his campaign for President with a refreshingly radical pledge:

to end the corrupt merger of state and corporate power that is threatening now to impose a new kind of corporate feudalism in our country.

Kennedy pledged to establish “honest government”.

Longtime public intellectual Dr. Cornel West declared his candidacy for President. According to Chris Hedges:

Cornel said he seeks “a paradigm shift,” a realignment of “the ideological landscape.” He calls on us to redirect the focus of governing institutions from the demands of markets and corporations, the military machine, empire and the ruling oligarchs, to poor and working people.

He is calling, in short, for a political revolution and the overthrow of the ruling corporate class.

With that context in mind, consider concrete specifics outlined by Thom Hartman on abuse of corporate power: “The Unlimited Campaign Spending by Corporations and Billionaires Has Destroyed Democracy,”

Hartmann’s highlighted two important facts:  1) the Maine Ballot initiative to establish public power in The Pine Tree State; and 2) the Powell Memo.

It is impossible to over-state the significance of the Powell Memo. It was a reaction to the “excess of democracy” , e.g. the various Movements (civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war, anti-nuclear, environmental) and the cultural counter-revolution of the 1960’s.

The Powell Memo served as the intellectual framework and strategic plan for the corporate long game that has gotten us to where we are. The corporatists did this largely by blaming government and progressives – instead of corporations and capitalism – for people’s problems. That strategy has generated a shift in power to corporations and away from democratic institutions, as well as expansion of the huge gap in income and wealth inequality, destruction of the public sphere, and the onset of cultural wars that mask and displace the substance of public policy.

Hartmann’s emphasis on the Maine public power ballot question reminds that public power was a key feature of Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal.

Sanders proposed to implement public power via repurposing the existing Federal Power Marketing Administrations. (GND)

Build enough renewable energy generation capacity for the nation’s growing needs. Currently, four federal Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) and the Tennessee Valley Authority generate and transmit power to distribution utilities in 33 states.We will create one more PMA to cover the remaining states and territories and expand the existing PMAs to build more than enough wind, solar, energy storage and geothermal power plants.

The Green New Deal is politically dead, but the policy ideas, technical merits, and political strategy are more relevant now than ever.

So, it’s a time to craft a progressive “Powell Memo” and movement.

It could provide a narrative to focus and organize the kind of coalition that was able to make the New Deal a reality.

It could be a legitimate “bridge” to approach those sometimes described as “right wing populists”. Cornel West recently stated that 1 in 9 Trump voters supported Bernie Sanders.

It could cut though the identity politics and dampen the culture wars.

So, the challenge is out there – will the West and Kennedy campaigns craft a real “paradigm shift,” that leads to a realignment of “the ideological landscape.”?

The whole world is watching!