John Carney touches briefly on an idea that’s been gnawing at me the last few weeks: the brewing anti-corporate sentiment on the right. For a long time now, the Republican party has been the party of business, but I’m not sure that’s bound to last forever. In fact I wonder if the right won’t revive itself to some significant extent on a tide of anti-corporate sentiment. Sounds nuts, right? Permit me to try to sketch out this (admittedly half-baked) idea.
This opens up the opportunity for the right to exploit the anti-corporate outrage in Middle-America--outrage we can already see boiling up in the crusades against earmarks, (hand-outs to donors and corporate interests), against CEO pay, against hedge fund tax rates and oil company profits. But instead of running the traditional anti-corporate campaigns, which mainly focus on taxing and regulating big-business, the right runs against the way liberal politicians have gotten into bed with corporations. It’s against the Washington favor-racket, against back-room politics, against collusion between business and government. This pleases libertarians somewhat and, if done properly, keeps low-taxers in the fold.
Of course, some will turn the message into a purely anti-corporate one, but if done with a bit of skill, it uses anger at the way corporations influence the government to fuel a separation of the two rather than additional layers of easily gamed regulation. Maybe you even end up with corporations trying to distinguish themselves as good citizens by publicly refusing to have lobbyists or to take subsidies, regulatory favors, etc — starting, obviously, with Whole Foods, run by the self-proclaimed libertarian, John Mackey.
The result is that you end up with a weird sort of libertarian populism, and maybe, just maybe, you trace it back to the (presumably failed) McCain campaign, arguing that McCain’s honor economics — for low taxes but also deeply set against corporate influence and sleazy government deal-making — is what got it all started. The time is obviously not right for this. But five years down the road, or ten, if the GOP is still struggling and business has largely left them anyway, why wouldn’t they abandon their corporate wing and try something crazy? The sentiment is there for anyone who can figure out how to tap into it.
Later Suderman again discusses tying Democrats to lobbyists to achieve this goal.
Corporate capture of the GOP is a real problem at times, but that doesn’t mean that conservative activists should never make strategic alliances with the business world. If a conservative political organization finds itself in support of similar legislation as some major industry, isn’t it smart politics to work that industry’s policy wing to pass that legislation? The problem begins, I think, when conservative groups become indistinguishable from an industry’s paid lobbyists.
Still, it’s crucial for the right to defend itself against accusations of wholesale capture by the corporate-lobbying complex (and release itself if and where that capture exists). Part of that might mean, as [David] Frum seems to imply, severing some existing corporate ties. Part of that might mean tactical redirection of the anti-corporate sentiment that has come as a natural result of the recent string of bailouts. It will definitely mean highlighting stories like this one, which showcase the ways that, far from reducing corporate influence on government, a Democratic Washington has in many ways been a boon to the lobbying world. My good friend Tim Carney, newly of the DC Examiner, does this more consistently than just about anyone. I continue to foresee (and hope!) that his ideas, and hopefully his work, become a major strain of thinking on the right.
And thus a tea-bagging was born. Or rather, thus a lobbying campaign paid for by corporations disguising itself as a grass-roots uprising was disseminated. As we all know, Suderman used to work for Dick Armey and Steve Forbes' flat tax "grassworks" lobbying organization, FreedomWorks. The tea-bagging parties are an advertising campaign designed to steer middle-class rage at the Democrats instead of the Republicans. They hope that by the time the next election comes around the middle class will have forgotten to blame the Republicans and will simply blame the Democrats instead. Suderman discusses tying Democrats to lobbyists but when Obama decided to prop up the failing banks FreedomWorks simply changed tactics, tying Democrats to spending. This will probably work since the right is thoroughly accustomed to being gratefully led around by the nose, but eventually even the right will notice that they are not doing better under Republicans presidents. Of course it will be too late by then. It's too late now.