It is not often that you see a politician put a stake in the ground, run a big bright flag up it, and declare that this is where I stand, dammit. This is what Senator Professor Warren, a daughter of Oklahoma, did on the national political landscape Wednesday morning. She announced an ambitious, and characteristically comprehensive, plan to change the relationship between the American corporate class, the American government, and the individual American citizen. It does nothing less than junk the Milton Friedman-designed paradigm within which corporations' only responsibility is to their shareholders. This has been a dreadful system for average working people.
Moreover, in a clever bit of political ju-jitsu, SPW turns back upon the corporations the absurd notion-central to, among other atrocities, the ghastly Citizens United Supreme Court decision-that they have the rights of human beings. Alright, her plan argues, if a corporation has the rights of a citizen, it also has the responsibility to the political commons that goes along with those rights.
As she wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday:
Corporations sought to succeed in the marketplace, but they also recognized their obligations to employees, customers and the community.
To that end, Warren has introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act. Matt Yglesias at Vox jumped in first on Wednesday morning with a first-class explainer of what this act is all about. As he wrote:
The conceit tying together Warren’s ideas is that if corporations are going to have the legal rights of persons, they should be expected to act like decent citizens who uphold their fair share of the social contract and not act like sociopaths whose sole obligation is profitability-as is currently conventional in American business thinking. Warren wants to create an Office of United States Corporations inside the Department of Commerce and require any corporation with revenue over $1 billion-only a few thousand companies, but a large share of overall employment and economic activity-to obtain a federal charter of corporate citizenship.
But the single best assessment of what Warren is about here comes from Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, who not only sees the clear evidence that SPW is trying to save capitalism from its own excesses-an impression about SPW that is more widespread than you might think, and one that she constantly reinforces in her speeches-but also pre-empts the argument that inevitably will come from the leftier-than-thou precincts that Warren is somehow selling out The Socialist Moment. As Loomis writes, The Socialist Moment is less socialism than it is a Moment.
In short, Ocasio-Cortez has the domestic politics of Hubert Humphrey or Ed Muskie, updated for modern progressive beliefs about race and gender. The supposedly socialist ideas of today that right-wingers are freaking out about are basically reiterations of the standard liberal policy agenda of the 1970s. All of this is a sign of how far right politics moved in this nation after 1981.
For example, there is this:
Good health is the least this society should promise its citizens. The state of health services in this country indicates the failure of government to respond to this fundamental need. Costs skyrocket while the availability of services for all but the rich steadily declines. We endorse the principle that good health is a right of all Americans.
America has a responsibility to offer to every American family the best in health care whenever they need it, regardless of income or where they live or any other fact. To achieve this goal the next Democratic Administration should: Establish a system of universal National Health Insurance which covers all Americans with a comprehensive set of benefits including preventive medicine, mental and emotional disorders, and complete protection against catastrophic costs, and in which the rule of free choice for both provider and consumer is protected. The program should be federally-financed and federally-administered. Every American must know he can afford the cost of health care whether given in a hospital or a doctor's office.
That is not from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or from Bernie Sanders. It's from the 1972 Democratic Party platform. George McGovern ran on that platform, and he was no socialist, regardless of what your drunk conservative uncle says about him. He was a decent old prairie populist of a sort you don't see any more. Eight years later, the country embarked on the Reagan Revolution, and thereby hangs the deepest lesson about the patch of political ground on which SPW has planted the flag.
This is one of the first complete frontal assaults on the economic theories that have ruled American politics in one form or another for the past four decades. It is one of the first substantial efforts to treat the ascendancy of conservative economic ideas as a thoroughgoing blight that must be reversed, and it does so by turning the achievements of which conservative economic ideologues are proudest back on them. Corporate personhood? OK, then we're going to have corporate jail, too. A rising tide lifts all boats? We're going to be sure everyone has a seat.
As Erik Loomis points out, Warren's plan owes a great deal to the spirit that drove Franklin Roosevelt into office and, in case you missed the point, SPW makes it plain.
For the past 30 years we have put the American stamp of approval on giant corporations, even as they have ignored the interests of all but a tiny slice of Americans. We should insist on a new deal.
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