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Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer who sits on the boards of 11 corporations, writes a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor Jr., the director of the US Chamber of Commerce. The memo, titled “Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” posits that the US business culture “is under broad attack” from a number of venues. (Reclaim Democracy 4/3/2004) Powell is a conservative Southern Democrat and former American Bar Association president who turned down a 1969 offer to sit on the Supreme Court. (Landay 8/20/2002)
Corporate Capitalism under Broad Attack - Powell is worried about “attacks” from left-wing political and social interests and organizations, whom he says want to institutionalize “socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism)” in the stead of US capitalism, but is more concerned with a few “extremist” critics who strive for many of the same goals as the “statists.” “We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre,” he writes. “Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.” Powell points to a “varied and diffused” number of attackers, including “not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists, and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority and are not yet the principal cause for concern. The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.” Television gives these voices a prominence that their numbers and ideologies should not have, he says. Powell cites university campuses and the national news media as the most troublesome and “dangerous” sources of anti-business sentiment. He cites consumer advocate Ralph Nader as “[p]erhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business,” a “legend in his own time” who, Powell writes, wants to “smash… utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power.” Nader and his colleagues want to radically revamp the corporate tax system, Powell says, to gut tax loopholes and “incentives” that keep corporate profits high and tax burdens relatively low; the same tax revisions would harshly impact America’s wealthy. Powell calls these effots “either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy,” and warns, “This setting of the ‘rich’ against the ‘poor,’ of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.” Most corporate entities and personnel have paid little to no attention to these attacks, Powell says; he acknowledges that “businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it.” But, he says, this training must commence, for the survival of America’s corporate business culture.
Fighting Back - Individual businesses must designate senior executives “whose responsibility is to counter—on the broadest front—the attack on the enterprise system,” perhaps through the various corporations’ public relations departments. The Chamber of Commerce, both the national entity and its local affiliates, must take a leadership role in organizing, streamlining, and effecting these countering activities.
Countering University Opposition - American college campuses must be targeted, Powell writes, with a particular eye to social science departments, whose members “tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present. This is not a criticism per se, as the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint. The difficulty is that ‘balance’ is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservatives or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” Attacking academic freedom itself would be a “fatal” mistake, Powell notes, but the “liberal” and “anti-business” voices on university faculties must be “balanced” by Chamber of Commerce speakers and scholars who challenge the rhetoric coming from the universities. College textbooks must be “evaluated” by these Chamber-employed scholars to ensure that they reflect “balance,” in many instances challenging what Powell calls the rewriting of textbooks by scholars affiliated with the civil rights movement. “If the authors, publishers, and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected—honestly, fairly, and thoroughly—to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected,” he writes. Powell says that “avowed Communists” make a large number of speeches and presentations on college campuses every year—over 100 in 1970 alone—and are augmented by “many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra-liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum.” Such presentations must be “balanced” by pro-business, pro-conservative speakers, put forth “aggressively” by the Chamber and other organizations. College faculties must be “balanced” by the hiring of pro-business professors. One venue that entities such as the Chamber could successfully work through is a university’s graduate school of business. And the Chamber scholars must publish in academic journals and consumer publications such as Life and Reader’s Digest.
High School Efforts - Such efforts must be tailored and implemented on a high school level also, Powell writes.
Public Outreach - The public must be reeducated, Powell writes, to see business and corporate interests as inherently good for America. The obvious and most effective venue, he says, should be through the means of television, using educational programs, paid news analysts, and advertising as much as possible—“[i]f American business devoted only 10 percent of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure,” he writes. News forums such as Meet the Press should be constantly urged to provide “equal time” for pro-business analysts. Radio and newspaper outlets are also important for promulgating the message. Books and pamphlets made widely available are quite necessary, Powell notes.
Political Arena - Only “Marxists” insist that “capitalist” countries such as the US are controlled by big business. Indeed, Powell says, “leftist” and “socialist” interests control much of American politics, particularly in the area of messaging. “One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the ‘forgotten man,’” he writes. Advocates of “consumerism” or the “environment” dominate the political discussion, Powell states. This dominance must be challenged, and Americans must be “enlightened” as to the positive role of a powerful business culture in US politics. Business must adopt some of the more direct tactics now used by US labor groups.
The Judiciary - The US judicial system, he writes, “may be the most important instrument for social, economic, and political change.” Left-wing groups have long “exploited” the judiciary for their own ends, he says; it is time for business to exert some of the same influence in the courts and fight for its own prerogatives. “This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds,” he says. A large and competent cadre of lawyers is necessary to this end, trained to argue pro-business viewpoints in front of “activist” judges, and carefully selected cases should be advanced in the judicial system.
Neglected Stockholder Power - Powell continues: “The average member of the public thinks of ‘business’ as an impersonal corporate entity, owned by the very rich and managed by over-paid executives. There is an almost total failure to appreciate that ‘business’ actually embraces—in one way or another—most Americans. Those for whom business provides jobs, constitute a fairly obvious class. But the 20 million stockholders—most of whom are of modest means—are the real owners, the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists under our system. They provide the capital which fuels the economic system which has produced the highest standard of living in all history. Yet, stockholders have been as ineffectual as business executives in promoting a genuine understanding of our system or in exercising political influence.”
The Influence of the Stockholder - Twenty million voters are stockholders, Powell says. These people can be a powerful force for pro-business change, if educated and mobilized. Individual corporations can reach out to their stockholders through their stock reports and news publications.
A New Aggression - Corporate interests must, Powell says, “attack [those] who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.” The AFL-CIO labor union is a past master of using this kind of political pressure, Powell writes. Its practices and techniques can be adapted to serve business ends.
Relationship to Freedom - All of this must be characterized as an essential “return” to the fundamental tenets of American freedom, Powell writes. “The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom. It is this great truth—now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals—that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful. There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom—ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.” America is well on its way to institutionalized socialism, Powell warns. It is up to American business interests to counter that shift. (Powell 8/23/1971)
Effects - Powell’s memo triggers a seismic shift in the way business and corporate interests function, though the Chamber of Commerce proceeds more cautiously than Powell may hope. As a result of Powell’s memo and other influences, the Chamber, wealthy businessmen such as beer magnate Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife, and an array of corporate activists create, among other entities: the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Analysis and Research Association (ARA), Accuracy in Academe, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and other powerful organizations. When Ronald Reagan takes the presidency in 1981, they will begin to solidfy and extend the reach of their efforts. In 2002, progressive journalist Jerry Landay will write that Powell’s memo will spawn “a well-paid activist apparatus of idea merchants and marketeers—scholars, writers, journalists, publishers, and critics—to sell policies whose intent was to ratchet wealth upward. They have intimidated the mainstream media, and filled the vacuum with editors, columnists, talk-show hosts, and pundits who have turned conservatism into a career tool. They have waged a culture war to reduce the rich social heritage of liberalism to a pejorative. And they have propagated a mythic set of faux-economic values that have largely served those who financed the movement in the first place.” Landay calls Powell’s language and proposals “baldly militant” with “authoritarian overtones.”
Powell Joins Supreme Court - In January 1972, Powell will join the Supreme Court, where he will become regarded as a moderate-to-conservative justice, sympathetic to business interests but not unwilling to consider other points of view. (Though the press will subsequently publish leaked copies of the memo, no senator will ask Powell about his memo or his business interests in his confirmation hearings.) One of his most pro-business decisions is his majority opinion in 1978’s First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, in which Powell will create a First Amendment “right” for corporations to influence ballot questions. (Landay 8/20/2002; Reclaim Democracy 4/3/2004)
Elizabeth “Betsy” McCaughey (R-NY), a lawyer and future lieutenant governor of New York, writes a scathing analysis of the Clinton administration’s health care reform plan. The article, “No Exit,” is published in the New Republic, and sparks not only a detailed rebuttal from the Clinton administration, but numerous editorials and responses praising the article and joining in the attack. Echoing McCaughey’s arguments, Newsweek writes, “The plan would reduce the quantity and quality of health care and medical technologies by vastly expanding government’s coercive role.” McCaughey and Newsweek question the proposed creation of a seven-member “National Health Board” which will, she claims, “guess the nation’s health care needs and decree how much the nation may spend meeting them.” According to Newsweek: “Everyone would be locked into one system of low-budget health plans picked by the government. Fifteen presidential appointees, the National Quality Management Council, not you and your doctor, would define the ‘medically necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ care a doctor could give you. Escaping government control to choose your doctor or buy other care would be virtually impossible. Doctors could be paid only by the government-approved plans, at rates set by the government. It would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem ‘necessary.’ Government would define a minimum level of care and herd people in particular regions into dependence on the lowest-cost organization able to deliver that level. Doctors would be driven into organizations in which they would be punished financially for giving more treatment than the organizations’ budget targets permit. The primary care physician assigned to you would be, McCaughey notes, a gatekeeper with an incentive to limit your access to specialists and high-tech medicine. The premise of the Clintons’ plan is not just that government knows best, but that government knows everything relevant, including how many specialists there should be no more than 45 percent of all doctors [sic]. McCaughey says many medical students will be told that the specialties they prefer are closed, or closed to them because they are not the right race or ethnicity. Yes, the plan subordinates medical values to ‘diversity.’” Prescription drug prices would be controlled through the Department of Health and Human Services, and, McCaughey and Newsweek claim, would “certainly suppress research” that might benefit patients of incurable diseases and disorders. (Newsweek 2/7/1994)
Refuting McCaughey - The Clinton administration details the “numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” contained in McCaughey’s article. The administration’s response says that doctors and patients, not “government bureaucrats” or a board of governors, will decide what treatments are “necessary and appropriate.” The government will not decide what treatments are, and are not, provided: “If anything, the ‘necessary and appropriate’ care provision in the bill delegates authority to the medical profession—rather than imposing further government bureaucracy between the patient and the doctor.” The plan will not block Americans from opting into private health care plans just as they do now, nor will it block doctors and hospitals from accepting payments from “non-approved” health care plans. Nor does the plan require doctors and hospitals “to report your visit to a national data bank containing the medical histories of all Americans,” as McCaughey writes. And the so-called “National Health Board” will not “decide how much the nation can spend on health care beginning in 1996,” as McCaughey claims. The plan will not seek to reduce quality of care in the interest of saving money, and it does not contain price controls. (White House 1/31/1994) A year later, author and columnist James Fallows will call the article “a triumph of misinformation,” and refutes McCaughey’s (and others’) claims point by point. (Fallows 1/1995)
Instrumental in Derailing Reform - The article will later be cited by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as “the first decisive breaking point” in the plan’s initial support; the plan will never be implemented. The article itself will spark tremendous controversy, winning the National Magazine Award while being attacked for being fundamentally inaccurate. (In 2006, the new editor of the New Republic, Franklin Foer, will apologize for his magazine having run the article.) In 2009 McCaughey will be a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and will soon join the equally conservative Hudson Institute. Both are heavily funded by health care corporations. (Sarlin 5/15/2009)
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