Thom Hartmann: The Memo That Started a Corporate Heist of Our Government
Narrated by Thom Hartmann, and produced and directed by Donald Goldmacher and Frances Causey, Heist: Who Stole the American Dream in Broad Daylight? is a comprehensive dissection of the evolution of corporate control over the federal government. Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote that Heist "has the virtue of taking the long view of a crisis that recent films like Inside Job and Too Big to Fail have only sketchily explored. It makes a strong case that government regulation of business is essential for democracy to flourish."
Mark Karlin: What attracted you to narrating the documentary, Heist, which details the increasing corporate control of our national governance over the past half century?
Thom Hartmann: It was such an extraordinary summary of how bad things are and how we got here, that I was very excited to do it.
Mark Karlin: To me there's an interesting irony to the title of the film: Heist: Who Stole the American Dream in Broad Daylight? Progressives come from a position of assuming that oligarchs and white-firsters have stolen the American dream of a Constitution that guarantees (with its amendments) equality and equality of opportunity to all citizens. The likes of Pat Buchanan and the majority of the Republican Party believe that pluralism has stolen the American Dream from the original white patriarchal founding fathers, with the notion of this being a Christian nation to boot. Aren't these two irreconcilable notions of what the American Dream is?
Thom Hartmann: I think one of the big starting points for that conversation is defining the phrase "the American dream" itself. Ever since the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, a large number of Americans - particularly conservatives - have defined the American dream as "the opportunity to get really, really rich." But from the early days of the dirt farmers, through the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the assembly-line working class, the American dream instead has meant making a decent enough living to raise a family, buy a house, take an annual vacation and have a reasonable bit left over for retirement. Conservatives don't like to talk about this because essentially it's a description of a union job. But it really astounds me the number of conservatives who will call into my radio show and in a very casual, almost unconscious way refer to a vision of the American dream that is symbolized by Mitt Romney. It's like we've become a lottery mentality society, and it's really tragic.
Mark Karlin: You're an expert on what the framers of the Constitution thought about entrenched wealth and corporate power. Can you speak a bit to that?
Thom Hartmann: Many of the framers were not what we would call really wealthy people; some may have had a lot of land, but back in those days that didn't mean you were rich. There were conspicuously, mind bogglingly rich people living here at the time of the American Revolution; mansions and castles - literally castles - and local lands that operated in a feudal economy reminiscent of the Middle Ages in Europe. But none of those people were among the authors of the Constitution, and after the Revolutionary War, most of them either returned to England or fled to Canada.
So the framers were pretty wary, by and large, of the danger of aggregated political power that could derive from massive accumulations of wealth. And that's why you don't see any dynasties today left over from that era. The Rockefellers, Morgans, Carnegies and other great fortunes that have spanned centuries were almost, without exception, products of the Gilded Age when government was not so involved in economic and taxation systems that served to promote the interests of average people over those of the very, very wealthy.