Weeks before his nomination to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, corporate tobacco lawyer and right-wing business extremist Lewis F. Powell took a break from golf and his boardroom duties at 11 of America’s biggest corporations to write a manifesto against the then-vibrant American left. His detailed plan, delivered in the form of a memo he predictively titled “Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” was addressed to the corporate criminals at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and used as a blueprint for the whole twisted panoply of today’s fascist propaganda factory: The Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Accuracy in Academe, Ronald Reagan’s presidency and Fox News can all be traced directly to the full-spectrum methods outlined in the Powell Memo. But because Lewis Powell wasn’t overtly racist and apparently had little interest in abortion and religious fundamentalists, he is remembered not as the father of the right’s repugnant corporate worship but as a “liberal moderate justice.” Let’s learn about what this Liberal Moderate planned for America, 40 years ago this week.
The core philosophy of Lewis F. Powell was that humans were getting in the way of corporate profits. Everywhere he looked in 1971, he saw people rising up on behalf of racial equality and peace and ecology and justice. From the huge population of educated youth, he heard increasingly angry distrust of corporate media and its war propaganda. From “consumer activists” such as Ralph Nader, he heard intense suspicion of the corporate agenda — from the dangerous cars it produced to the poisonous cigarettes it manufactured while lobbying hard against any “health warnings.” (Powell was counsel for the cigarette industry’s lobbying arm, the Tobacco Institute, before he was put on the Supreme Court by Nixon.)
His driving vision is terrifyingly real today, as the default position in the wars against the middle class that is even specifically proclaimed by particularly clumsy operators like Mitt Romney. Powell’s goal was “changing how individuals and society think about the corporation, the government, the law, the culture, and the individual.” His outlined methods of warfare were front organizations and constant propaganda funded by the biggest corporations in the world.
It has been almost completely successful. The biggest corporations no longer pay taxes at all, while the personal income tax rates on the very richest have plunged since Powell’s policies became the platform of the corporate-controlled Republican and Democrat political parties. In 1971, the richest .01% paid a top income tax rate of more than 70%, while the federal rate for the richest 1% was nearly 50%. Today, neither group of the ultra rich pays more than 35% and tax on long-term investment earnings is capped at 15%, while the burden on the squeezed middle class and working class has risen. (Only the poorest — the most likely to revolt — have seen their federal tax burden decline. Of course, they’ve also seen a dramatic reeling in of the social safety net during this same period, and they are walloped with an ever-growing series of use taxes, user fees and sales tax.)
Lewis F. Powell’s Call For Corporate Action Against America is long and detailed and occasionally even apologetic — the extremism of Powell’s views are tempered by his genteel Virginia gentleman’s personality. But the following section is a good (if too polite for the phony Tea Party) summary of what has happened to America, by design:
Business has shunted confrontation politics. Business, quite understandably, has been repelled by the multiplicity of non-negotiable “demands” made constantly by self-interest groups of all kinds. While neither responsible business interests, nor the United States Chamber of Commerce, would engage in the irresponsible tactics of some pressure groups, it is essential that spokesmen for the enterprise system — at all levels and at every opportunity — be far more aggressive than in the past.
There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others 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.
Lessons can be learned from organized labor in this respect. The head of the AFL-CIO may not appeal to businessmen as the most endearing or public-minded of citizens. Yet, over many years the heads of national labor organizations have done what they were paid to do very effectively. They may not have been beloved, but they have been respected — where it counts the most — by politicians, on the campus, and among the media.
It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.
The type of program described above (which includes a broadly based combination of education and political action), if undertaken long term and adequately staffed, would require far more generous financial support from American corporations than the Chamber has ever received in the past. High level management participation in Chamber affairs also would be required.
Haha, even in 1971 the top union leaders were seen by supposed anti-labor business interests as having “done what they were paid to do very effectively.” And what was that? To moderate the laboring class and its natural tendency to revolution. If not for the creation of politically sanctioned national labor unions during the New Deal era of the Great Depression, Fox News would be in Russian today. (Wait, what?)
Anyway, happy 40th birthday to “corporations are people, my friends.” [Powell Memo]