Windows of Opportunity for Progressives: Includes CORPORATIONS! [draft]

bill_gates1THOMAS FRANK

One of the themes of this book is going to be: areas where what might be called Obama Clinton Democrats can pick some ripe fruit from places in the American polity and electorate thus far not fully accomplished. We offer first a draft list of both obvious and less obvious supporters whose help should be easy to get, at least at the margins, and I whose self interest backing  the progressive agenda should be clear:


  1. Corporations/Business– already a source of some      support for Democrats, this largest and most amorphous interest group has      traditionally been the core of Republican financial and voting support;      the GOP has been seen as the party of business, yet Business is so      diverse, ranging from Silicon Valley internet giants to huge retailers      like Wal-Mart to the main street pizza parlor owner to Big Oil, etc., that      the Democrats should always be looking for a bigger piece of the more      progressive “winnable” elements of these groups…


This would probably include corporations with highly educated and more socially conscious executives thinking past the bottom line and  (exclusively) shareholder concerns, to Image—like Novartis’s free pharmaceuticals for selected unable-pay-patients, useful for advertising, but also generated, very likely, by some genuine human concerns… it would be useful to scan literature on mixed motives of businesses, which stress the do-good impulses that move many of us and probe into a less mechanistic more nuanced view of corporate behavior


  1. The non voter– Comb the literature for      studies on why people do not vote (multiple reasons: apathy, busy-ness,      disillusionment with the system, lack of interest in politics, feeling      their single vote will not make a difference)—these voters may well yield      more progressive votes that reactionary… Obama did well with bringing the      votes of his established base, but he also reached for some adults,      perhaps especially in 2008, who did not normally go to the polls… these      voters are, again, “ripe fruit,” and changing their behavior has in all      likelihood been studied and with some conclusions
  2. Older voters– these will become more      numerous and will increasingly be made up of baby boomers and eventually      post baby boom people.. Note that the last birth year for Boomers is 1964,      and that in 2014, people born after that year will be entering their 50s,      and in 2024 their 60’s etc.  Obama’s      performance among, especially, white above-55 voters could have been      stronger, given the 1960’s-70’s influences on such voters… Right-wing      scare tactics on threats to Medicare from Obama-care may have worked      (check lit.) but in many ways, it is in the interest of these voters to      consider the advantages of progressivism: attention to the needs of the      elders in the electorate: medical care, continuing education, public      services (say libraries)  for the      large group of ‘living on a fixed, lowered budget’ Americans


  1. Not quite parallel, but a      central almost haunting question is why voters (sounds like Thomas Frank      here) who are middle class, seeing their standard of living stagnate or      decline or flatline, so much more numerous than the  wealthiest 1-percenters or even 5      percenters, do not come out in droves for Obama-Clinton progressives,      should be answered—maybe in this book, especially voters from more      struggling heartland states such as Frank’s Kansas, Nebraska, south      Dakota, states that are theoretically winnable, but whose gun use, church      affiliation, and rural values make them reflexively republican in most      instances: we      need to find out why Tom Harkin, George McGovern and Frank Church won      elections in such states and the potential for this type re-emerging      (probably by building a support base in Wichita, Lincoln, Boise,      university towns, and bringing home acceptable amounts of “legitimate pork      to their constituents…We now turn to a consideration of how an alliance of      progressives with some more of Business/Corporate America might work:




The dominant wisdom about corporate capitalism is that its lifeblood is ultimately the return on investment to the shareholders. As corporations multiplied and increased in complexity in the 20th C., it  is a commonplace that they have moved from manufacturing and transportation to finance to finance, retailing and information. It is true that manufacturing, especially in the area of transpiration  in the USA have remained strong to some extent in the aircraft and automotive industries.


Both major parties of received corporate largesse and money from individuals enriched by corporate leadership and investment. But the Republican party clearly stands as the corporate, private sector favoring party and has done so for decades. As Noam Chomsky noted—not far off from the Left and center, the Democrats have depended on “everybody else”, while certainly getting substantial, though less, corporate support.  Chomsky, in the same interview, November, 1988, noted that in fact the United States could be said to have only one party, The Business Party, with two wings, Republican and Democrat. Overall the Republicans are much purer in there support of and benefits from corporations, and the Democrats must compensate for lesser corporate support, but appealing to “all of the other groups.” Democrats do get reliably more support from most other groups, but Chomsky’s point is that the resources of the business sector are vaster than those of almost all of the others combined. These statements, of course, refer to gross aggregates and are hard to measure quantitatively….


Historically, whether one sees the party system as 2 sides of a corporate coin, or as 2 evolving discreet “brands”, there is broad agreement that about every 30-40 years, there is a national election that shifts the political geology dramatically than is normally the case. What are called critical or realigning elections occurred, moving back in time, in 1932, 1896, 1860, 1828 and 1800. A snapshot description of each of these elections would go something like this, referring only to the winner and his party: 1932, F. Roosevelt (Dem.) Great Depression; 1896, W. McKinley, Urban, industrial, Gold Standard; 1860, A. Lincoln (Rep.), Union and end of any expansion of Southern slavery; 1828,

Andrew Jackson (Dem.) , anti-elite, anti-Federal government, pro-Southern and Western interests; 1800, T. Jefferson, (Dem.-Republican) anti-Federalist agenda. The p[icture blurs after 1932 as independent voters became more numerous, and the parties became more competitive in electing presidents.


Some would cite either 1968, or more often, 1980, with Nixon and Reagan coming into power with increasingly conservative coalitions as roughly “critical,” and perhaps Obama’s two victories after almost 30 years of more Republican strength in the White House as a “harbionger election. But the old models of long fairly dtable periods of one party dominance do not hold up well after 1950. If one measures presidential party years in power since Truman in 1948 and move to the present 2013, we see 25 years of Democratic presidents and 29 years of Republicans, a remarkable balance when you consider A. that Democrats were in power for 24 of the 32 years between Jackson and Lincoln, 1829-1861 and the Republicans occupied the White House for 58 of the 72 years between 1861 and 1933 (Lincoln to F. Roosevelt) and B. If you add the remaining 3 years of Obama’s 2nd term the party Balance in the White House becomes almost exactly even from 1949 to 2017.

1 thought on “Windows of Opportunity for Progressives: Includes CORPORATIONS! [draft]

  1. Yes, of course, partnerships with private business to advance otherwise unmet social needs should always be part of the progressive policy mix. But let’s be aware of the dangers along that route to be watched for and guarded against.

    For example, here is a caution from Paul C. Light:

    After listing the many and massive achievements of the federal government “over the past half century,” Light notes that just about all of them “are under siege.” And one angle of attack is the temptation to turn over social programs to “private philanthropy or private businesses.” Here’s his admonition:

    “Moreover, as budget cutting sweeps across the world, Americans have become enchanted with the promise of achievement on the cheap. There is nothing quite so alluring in Washington and state capitols today than replacing expensive social initiatives with innovative alternatives, especially if those alternatives are funded by private philanthropy or adopted as profit makers by private businesses.“

    From his article “Endeavor to Achievement and Back Again: Government’s Greatest Hits in Peril,” in “To Promote the General Welfare: The Case for Big Government,” ed. by Steven Conn, NY, Oxford U. Pr., 2012, p, 177.

    Art Lerman


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