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An End to Corporate Welfare as We Know It
John Kerry's policy proposal to end corporate welfare addresses the issue of responsibility so popular with commentators on the right.
One of the conservative reactions to John Kerry's speech at the Democratic convention has been to ask "how will he pay for it?" How will he pay for his policy proposals for health care and jobs and schools? It's a valid question, of course, but it would be good if these commentators would give some evidence of having done what Kerry in his speech asked them to do, go to his website. There can be found details of his proposals. And there you will find one of his proposals to pay for new programs: "end corporate welfare as we know it".
The form of the phrase refers, of course, to the successful Clinton proposal to end welfare for families and children. That program had been the source of constant attacks from the conservatives. And they justified those attacks on the basis of one of their favorite themes, personal responsibility. Now Kerry is saying that we should be also focusing on corporate responsibility.
When I said above that personal responsibility is one of the right's primary themes I should have said it is their central theme. I hear it time and again on right wing radio. And watching President Bush on C-Span in his first campaign speech after the Democratic convention I heard it again. The president said that if you don't like the quality of the schools in your community then you are responsible to get involved to change them.
Now, I agree completely with that statement. However, to say that and not say other things is irresponsible political leadership. The very term responsibility has become a code word on the right.
Eating lunch in my car a couple weeks ago I was listening to Rush Limbaugh. A young woman called in saying her new boyfriend listened to him so she started to do so. She wanted to know what it meant to be a conservative. Rush responded that the one key thing that separates conservatives and liberals is that conservatives believe people should be responsible for themselves and liberals believe that government should provide handouts to people. I could hardly enjoy my lunch. But I hear that again and again.
I only listen to right wing radio as I drive here and there, it's not a good sampling probably. But, even so, if I had to choose one most dominate theme I hear it is just this kind of thing that Rush Limbaugh said to the young woman. And I have come to think this is a sort of public lying; Rush claims to be a thinker, to tell the truth; no, by repeating these worn out cliches he is engaging in public lying, and he is attributing to liberals beliefs that no serious liberal person promotes. No one wants people to have to live on government handouts.
In my area we have a local talk show host, Dori Monson, who yesterday raised the same issue. He said tax payers should not be expected to support drug users, people have to be responsible for their own choices. That's what "conservatives" believe. Well, what this really is about is code words; notice that there is usually a specific group in mind as those who act irresponsibly, in this case those terrible drug users. Well, Rush Limbaugh may not want to talk about those folks now that he has had his own episode with drug usage.
Welfare mothers were the favorite conservative target of criticism in the past. And, of course, the primary image of the welfare mother was that she was black. It is so easy to attack the weakest members of society, the least powerful, and accuse them of irresponsible behavior. The fact is, such conservative views are completely irresponsible themselves.
Just think about it a little bit. Human beings are individuals, of course. And in this country we are able to make many choices for ourselves and we, indeed, are responsible for our choices. But we also live in families and communities where we face conditions not of our own choosing. It is not an either/or. Conservatives like to blame everything on individuals and they claim liberals do not believe in personal responsibility. That is completely wrong. The question is how can communities be governed in such a way as to contribute to the welfare of all. Should government favor the few who are wealthy? Have they really "earned" all that they have? Have the rules by which wealth is gained been fair for all? These are important questions to ask in a democracy.
When conservatives simplistically boil everything down to blaming the weakest members of society they are not telling the truth. They should rather address the question of who is in power in this society, which people and institutions have the most power to establish the rules all of us have to live by, have the most power to distribute the goods and benefits of the society.
In our society the most powerful institution is the modern business corporation. That is a fact. If you don't like the way things are then you need to address the actual people and institutions who decide things in this society. That's what John Kerry is beginning to do with his emphasis on corporate welfare. In that effort, I might add, he has a lot of support from conservatives in congress who do not believe that government should give handouts to businesses. But the corporate lobbiests have become so powerful in Washington D.C. that congresspersons of both parties have a difficult time addressing issues such as corporate responsibility.
If right wing talk show hosts would show a little more backbone themselves and speak more truthfully about who controls things in this society then their audiences would be better informed and may be able to make political decisions more to their economic benefit so that they could, indeed, be in a position to be more responsible.
Below is a quote from Abraham Lincoln in corporate power and then some links if you would like to learn more about efforts to end corporate welfare as we know it.
"I see in the near future a crisis approaching. It unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. The money powers preys upon the nation in times of peace and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes. I have two great enemies, the Southern Army in front of me & the financial institutions at the rear, the latter is my greatest foe. Corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in the hands of a few, and the Republic is destroyed."
-Abraham Lincoln, letter to William Elkins, Nov 21, 1864 (just after the passage of the debt causing National Bank Act [June 3, 1864], right before assassination)
A Plan To Restore Fiscal Responsibility
The Kerry-Edwards Framework to Cut the Deficit in Half and Invest in Affordable Health Care and Better Schools
Corporate Welfare Reform Commission Act of 2003
Corporate Welfare Information Center
Corporate Welfare: The Shame Page
The Export-Import Bank: Corporate Welfare At Its Worst, by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Cato Handbook for Congress: Corporate Welfare. The Cato Institute is usually called "conservative" but its position on corporate welfare is at least consistent with its libertarian philosophy. See also this article from 1995 by Stephen Moore and Dean Stansel which quotes then labor secretary Robert Reich using the term "corporate welfare".
List of Corporate Welfare web links
The Corporate Welfare Reform Commission Act: hearing before the Committee on the Budget, House of Representatives, One Hundred Sixth Congress, second session, hearing held in Washington, DC, June 8, 2000
McCain News Release on Corporate Subsidy Bill
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