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The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America

Author and public intellectual Colin Greer tells us how we got where we are today. It's not a pretty picture, but hope is on the way.

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A million people on the street didn't get listened to over the Iraq invasion, or the defeat of Kerry through usurping of the public stage by Swift Boat in 2000. Then the inability of Gore to fight for his election followed by the Supreme Court decision which gave us eight years of Bush. The choice to fight or not is rarely a popularly held prerogative until the public bursts forth as perhaps in the Arab Spring. Until such moments, leadership is top down, especially in the electoral arena, where money and incumbency determine authority and good judgment. 

The Tea Party is the latest in a series of experiments -- remember the Promise Keepers and the Christian Coalition back in the '80s -- to advance right-wing politics from the margins to a new center. We've been holding them off time and time again but not by producing anything for the future. Instead we have benefitted from the cultural victories of the '70s and '80s that have become enshrined in entertainment conventions and interpersonal lifestyles. In both realms we have taken great strides to persuade Americans that young people should have the vote at 18, that women are equal, that abortion is pretty much something you can argue rhetorically but hard to lose practically, but now we're losing ground on everything. The death penalty for a while looked like we were humane, we don't just kill people -- we've lost ground on that. We didn't go to war casually -- we've lost ground on that pretty disastrously.

DH: Without tension of competing systems, is there an inevitable march to the extreme? Is there a theory that most extreme seems to always win out?

CG: The fact is, a society grows into tyranny over time as the most powerful cultivate extreme crowd behavior, which, unless resisted can have a contagion effect into the public at large, paralyzing resistance and recruiting frightened supporters. While clearly minority politics, the Tea Party zealots who cheered at death and execution in the Republican debates much as Sarah Palin once called on us to “Drill, baby, drill!”ought to be a reminder and a warning. But I don’t know any mainstream media that treated the cheers for the death penalty and barbarous inhumanity to the sick as a story truly worth engaging. The crowd is the critical thing that tyranny requires eventually -- the mobilization of the crowd. With recessions every 10 years, the circumstances periodically creates the possibility for angry people to be organized into a crowd. Progressives did that. The New Deal was about using the circumstance of the depression to organize a progressive crowd. 

DH: Mostly organized by the Communist Party. But we have no capacity to do that now?  

CG: and the Socialist party. But there was a plethora of organizations. And no, we have no apparent capacity do that now, although we desperately need it. New protests and organizing efforts are definitely sparks of hope. But that kind of action is primarily on the right. 

DH: It's a resource question, too? 

CG: Yes, and it's also a planning and leadership question. The Socialist party, Catholic Workers, Communists -- they were planners, they had an agenda not limited by electoral and legislative politics, and not dependent on foundation resources for scale. Forty years ago a dozen small progressive foundations could help support strong action and analysis. The big checks now come from professionalized, very mainstream foundations that do not, as was the case with the earlier funders, institutionally identify with a progressive world view. 

DH: The Kochs write the big checks for the right today. So is the weakness primarily an issue of class -- resources staying in the educated class? 

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