DNC: Corporate Crusaders

Los Angeles -- On Wednesday night, at the House of Blues on Sunset strip, the Edison Electric Institute, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Gas Association, and the National Mining Association put on a Motown bash honoring Representative John Dingell (Democrat of Michigan) under the banner "The Motor City Takes L.A. for a Spin."

While Motown bands warmed up the crowd and the drinks flowed freely at the open bar, a couple of women slipped quietly onto the stage. Standing in front of the mike, they began to chant a protest lyric about nuclear power. Seconds later, a couple of security guards grabbed them around the neck, according to party-goers, and hustled them out of the club. A representative from the nuclear industry took the stage later between bands to thank the sponsors and address the crowd. "Go nuclear!" she yelled. "And if you want to protest, I'll grab you around the neck and throw you out!" The crowd cheered.

"Democratic National Convention. America's Energy Party" the goodie bags handed out to guests declared. Inside each politically correct, recyclable brown paper bag was a foam rubber light bulb, with the Nuclear Energy Institute logo and tag line "nuclear, the clean air energy". There was also a t-shirt, with an American flag on the front, along with the names of the four event sponsors, and "Independence" printed in blue on the back, with a star next to it, and, below, a line thanking three more energy companies for sponsoring the t-shirt: Consumers Energy, Detroit Edison, and Michcon.

It seems like an appropriate icon for the environmentalist candidate. Except Al should wear a t-shirt with the word "environmentalist" on it, with an asterisk and a list of the industry groups he can thank for getting him this far.

Oh, and don't forget, this is also the party of campaign finance reform. As New York Democratic Party fundraiser Toni Goodale put it to a reporter from USA Today, "I think soft money is horrible, and I'm sorry I have to do this. But it's important to me that the Gore-Lieberman ticket win... The Republicans are awash in money. There's no contest unless we do this."

We've got to feed the monster before we can kill it. Look for more such rationalizations as the campaign spirals onward. Perhaps this is Lieberman's attitude toward the Hollywood glitterati he's been schmoozing with this week.

Plenty has been said about how awkward it is for the party of Joe Lieberman and Tipper Gore to hold a convention next door to Hollywood. All that sanctimonious talk about family values and the corrupting influence of the media doesn't go down particularly well here.

Actually, Joe and Tipper can blather on all they want. The bottom line is, they pose no particular threat to industry tycoons in Hollywood or elsewhere. The convention still reached its apex after Al Gore's speech on Thursday with a $5 million Barbara Streisand concert gala. Entertainment figures are still forking over hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Clinton friends like David Geffen have raise the stakes so much with all the money they pour into party coffers, that one big Democratic donor grumbles "I don't have nearly the leverage I did even five years ago!"

Imagine, for a moment, if the Democrats' values crusade were more than just shtick. Instead of invoking God and family at the podium, and then slipping off to a reception at the Regent Beverly Wiltshire Hotel with donors who have given at least $100,000 to the party, Lieberman could use his bully pulpit to talk about the corrupting influence of corporations and the spirit of greed in every aspect of American life. Instead of just throwing a line in his speech saying "No parent should be forced to compete with popular culture to raise their children," he could specifically denounce advertising in schools, targeting American kids. He could join Phyllis Schlafly and Ralph Nader in condemning Channel One, the television news program that makes commercials for junk food, movies, and sneakers mandatory viewing for 40 percent of American teenagers during school. He could call our attention to the soul-destroying effects of the commercialization of everything, including our democracy, and call for a return to old-fashioned community values that put people over corporate profit.

Instead of dealing with the charges of hypocrisy that naturally arise when the Democrats hang out with Hugh Hefner one night, and bash sex and violence in the media the next, they could develop a genuinely progressive, non-censorious message about the real source of our increasingly cynical culture.

Someone could suggest it, but first a whole lot of voters might have to chip in to throw a party or buy a hospitality suite, so we could get access to those crusading Democrats.

Ruth Conniff is Washington Editor of the Progressive Magazine.

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