Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:08 am

PART 1 OF 2

3. BAIT AND SWITCH

The political drama of taxation provides what is probably the best measure of democracy's condition, the clearest evidence of where power truly resides in the society. Aside from sending someone to war or to prison, government's ability to make people involuntarily give over their money is its strongest exercise of authority over private citizens and their institutions.

Indeed, the classical case against democracy has always been a theoretical supposition that, sooner or later, the many would use their democratic control of government to violate the property rights of the few. The mob's insatiable appetites would be fed by unscrupulous. politicians, who would use the tax system to confiscate the incomes and wealth of those who have more.

This has not been the case in America, to put it mildly. On the contrary, during the past fifteen years, the monied interests and allied governing elites have used their political power to accomplish the opposite result: Federal tax burdens were steadily shifted from them to everyone else. Clearly, governing power does not reside with the people.

From 1977 to 1990, Congress enacted seven major tax bills and many other minor ones, raising or lowering tax liabilities for individuals and corporations. The results of this legislative torrent are startlingly one-sided. Citizens for Tax Justice, a labor-supported advocacy group, calculated the cumulative effects:

If Congress had done nothing since 1977 to alter the U.S. tax code, passed no new legislation at all, nine out of ten American families would be paying less. That is, a smaller share of their incomes would be devoted to federal taxes.

Yet, paradoxically, the government would be collecting more revenue each year -- almost $70 billion more -- if none of those tax bills had been enacted.

How to explain this? Where did all that money go? Roughly speaking, it went to corporations and to the one in ten families at the top of the income ladder. Their taxes were cut by spectacular dimensions. [1]

The tax burden on the richest 1 percent of the population fell cumulatively by a staggering 36 percent, compared to what they would have owed under the 1977 tax code. As politicians from both parties congratulated themselves on delivering one tax cut after another, families in the very middle of the income ladder experienced a 7 percent increase in their federal tax burden.

Nothing demonstrates the atrophied condition of modern democracy more starkly than those facts. Behind all of the confusion and complexity of the tax debate, democracy's natural inclinations were literally thrown into reverse -- rewarding the few at the expense of the many.

For those who blame Republicans for what has happened and believe that equitable taxation will be restored if only the Democrats can win back the White House, there is this disquieting fact: The turning point on tax politics, when the monied elites first began to win big, occurred in 1978 with the Democratic party fully in power and well before Ronald Reagan came to Washington. Democratic majorities have supported this great shift in tax burden every step of the way. [2]

The politics of taxes pulls together everything that has been described thus far about the deformed power relationships in government. While the preceding chapters focused mainly on the losers -- the ranks of citizens displaced from politics -- this chapter concentrates on the winners, the people and institutions that hold the high ground of power. Though a small minority of the population, they accomplished hegemony on taxation by exploiting all of the systemic weaknesses described in earlier chapters -- from the warped social sensibilities in affluent Washington to the special-interest clientism to the vast resources that monied interests deploy for scholarly expertise and manufactured "opinions."

Those are the common ingredients of the power relationships, but the issue of taxes involves more sophisticated elements as well. After all, this is not an obscure issue like savings and loan regulation or junk bonds that affects people in unseen ways. Everyone cares about taxes and most everyone has strong opinions on the subject.

Therefore, in order to accomplish such distorted outcomes, the governing elites and monied interests are required to create a series of elaborate screens around the subject of taxes -- a moving tableau of convincing illusions that distracts the public from the real content and gives politicians a place to hide. Meanwhile, behind the screens, the action proceeds toward the results they seek. In public, the two major parties struggle contentiously over tax issues. Yet the reality is the collaboration between them. Expert opinion is marshaled in behalf of broad economic goals that seem desirable to everyone -- economic growth and jobs. Meanwhile, elites work out among themselves how these broad goals can be translated into reducing their own tax burdens.

Given the fundamental nature of tax politics, the powerful economic interests have a large and continuing advantage over unorganized citizens at large. The tax contest plays out in the news as dramatic climax -- a tax bill is passed, the president signs it. The real drama, however, continues, year after year, and no outcome is ever permanently decided. Thus, the monied interests are always mobilized and working toward better results, knowing that the continuum of legislative action does not stop with one victory or one setback. Citizens may grow weary and move on to something else, but for obvious reasons, the wealthy are always on the case.

Over a period of some years, the politics of taxation degenerated into what looks like a running game of bait and switch -- a hustle in which the governing system plays the clever salesman while the taxpayers are the mark. The bait is the continuing political rhetoric that seems to promise tax cuts. The sleight-of-hand involves switching this promise for something else.

***

During the 1988 presidential campaign, George Bush comforted voters with a manly promise to enact "no new taxes," and his pledge resonated profitably with popular opinion. If voters had wished to know what George Bush would actually do as president, they should have been listening to other voices.

An elite consensus of opinion leaders from both political parties -- economic policy gurus, financial and business leaders, strategic lobbyists and, more discreetly, some prominent politicians -- had already developed an agenda for what the next president should do to correct the economic imbalances created by the Reagan era. The next president, they declared more or less openly, should reduce both the federal budget deficit and the trade deficit by first slowing the economy and suppressing personal consumption, perhaps even accepting a recession, and then raising taxes on consumers. Americans, it was said, had been on an irresponsible binge of buying and borrowing during the 1980s and now it was time to sober up.

This could be accomplished, these thinkers explained, by raising taxes on consumption -- on gasoline and other staples -- as well as by cutting back on government benefits such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, assistance to veterans, and civil-service and military retirement. Their logic, roughly speaking, was that if families had less to spend on things, they would buy fewer foreign goods and thus shrink the trade deficit. To encourage savings, they added, the investor classes should be given additional tax relief -- a reduction in the taxes on their capital.

The most influential (and most radical) articulation of this case was made by a prestigious Republican investment banker, Peter G. Peterson, in a magazine article, "The Morning After," published in The Atlantic in October 1987. Peterson, who served as secretary of commerce in the Nixon administration, delivered a scary sermon on what would unfold if Americans did not swiftly rediscover self-discipline. His painful remedies, however, were entirely directed at the population at large, while shielding his own class, the wealth holders, from sacrifice. Peterson suggested, for instance, repealing the tax deduction for interest on home mortgages that is so important to the middle class and imposing a national sales tax of 5 percent on all goods.

Savings, he declared, could be encouraged "by trading off increases in consumption-based taxes for reductions in investment-based taxes." All Americans consume, of course, but only a relative few have the surplus income and wealth to be investors. Eighty-six percent of the individual net financial wealth in America is owned by 10 percent of the people. [3]

In less extreme form, the same general argument was voiced so frequently by other influential voices that it became something of a cliche among the well-informed minority who listen to elite channels of discourse. The shorthand label given this strategy was" austerity" and its appeal seemed bipartisan. Peterson's partner in investment banking, Roger Altman, a Democrat, served as policy advisor and Wall Street fundraiser for Bush's opponent, Michael Dukakis, and echoed the same ideas. Lawrence H. Summers, a Harvard economist who was the principal economics advisor to Dukakis, coauthored a study making similar recommendations.

C. Fred Bergsten, a former Carter advisor who heads the Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank funded by major foreign and U.S. financial institutions, prescribed a "consumption recession" for the next three or four years. The Cuomo Commission, a committee of notables assembled by the New York governor to study the nation's economic condition, recommended a more moderate version of the same approach -- a gasoline tax, a national sales tax or perhaps higher income taxes on the Social Security benefits of the elderly.

Some analysts at Wall Street brokerages were more blunt: What the country needed was a government-induced recession to clear away the excesses of the eighties and shrink the trade deficit. [4]

Though little noted at the time, the most influential endorsement of this economic strategy came from the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan. Greenspan did not, of course, call openly for an "austerity" regime but he agreed with the others that domestic consumption must be suppressed by government policy, both budget cuts and higher interest rates. "Domestic absorption has to be restrained by macroeconomic policy," he told the Senate Banking Committee in early 1988. [5]

Unlike the other voices, Greenspan had the independent power to carry forward this strategy, regardless of the promises of "prosperity" that both presidential candidates were simultaneously making to the voters. In the summer of 1988, while the two major parties were in noisy convention nominating their candidates for president, the Federal Reserve initiated its own campaign to discourage consumption -- by raising interest rates and retarding the pace of economic growth.

The government's campaign to suppress consumption was conducted by the Federal Reserve with the president's acquiescence and occasional kibitzing for two years. By 1990, it was obvious that the Fed had done its job too well: The nation was in recession. Bankruptcies were multiplying and, as many important borrowers failed, major financial institutions fell into trouble themselves.

"Elite debate" is one of the screens that conceals decision making on the largest economic questions -- taxes and recession -- from the clear view of the general public. The elite discourse goes on more or less in public (though much more explicitly in private), but the talk is disconnected from the formal politics of parties and candidates covered by the press. Ordinary voters are not tuned in (nor are political reporters), since the opinions of various notables have no explicit connection to the candidates.

Neither presidential nominee would address these economic prospects candidly during their campaigns in 1988. Nor were they pressed to do so by the press. The candidates are free to offer woolly platitudes about economic growth and brisk slogans -- "read my lips: no new taxes" -- while serious men in other places are left to discuss the real terms of governing among themselves.

In early 1988 only sophisticated observers could discern that the two major parties were maneuvering toward another compact on taxes of the sort they had entered into many times before. For obvious reasons, they did not wish to share this postelection surprise with the voters.

Democrats in Congress created a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission -- grandly titled the National Economic Commission and composed of "party elders" like corporate lawyer- lobbyist Robert S. Strauss -- which was designed to provide political cover for the next president when he had to undertake such unpopular measures as raising taxes and cutting government benefits. The NEC intended to announce its bipartisan recommendations right after the 1988 election. In the meantime, it kept its mouth shut.

"The White House is putting horrendous pressure on the commission to make no public statements on anything substantive before the election," a staff aide to one commission member told me during the campaign summer. "Their logic is that if the commission positions are aired now, the candidates will have to lock themselves into positions of denial -- no tax increases, no gas tax, no entitlement cuts. It could be counterproductive."

George Bush seized that ground anyway. As a candidate, he accused the Democrats, accurately enough, of plotting to raise taxes if they won back the White House. What Bush did not say was that many influential Republicans were in on the plot too. While the Republican candidate exploited the antitax posture, Richard G. Darman was privately advising key players in both parties not to worry. Darman was then a partner in a major Wall Street brokerage, . Shearson Lehman Brothers, but insiders assumed he would become budget director if George Bush became president.

Never mind the campaign rhetoric, they were told. At the appropriate political moment, a grand bipartisan deal would still be doable. If the Democrats were there on spending cuts, Darman confided, George Bush would be there on raising taxes. This scenario, widely heralded among Washington insiders, became known as the "Big Bang" strategy.

There was only one problem: This elite bipartisan consensus was promoting a policy agenda directly counter to what voters at large wanted. Raising taxes and cutting benefits would be poison for any presidential candidate who touched the subject, which is why such conversations are necessarily private.

"The elite view of what should be done is completely different from everybody else's," said Stephen E. Bell of Salomon Brothers, who had formerly served as Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee. "Opinion leaders strongly support a big increase in the gasoline tax. They want big cuts in Social Security and Medicare or higher taxes on the elderly. The public is against all those."

Bell's analysis was confirmed in a Gallup Poll survey, conducted for the Times Mirror Company, which found opinion leaders from finance, business and government aligned against public opinion on these tax questions and 'many others. Only 10 percent of the people favored higher taxes on Social Security benefits; 66 percent opposed higher gasoline taxes; 69 percent opposed a national sales tax. If there must be a tax increase, the citizens said, tax the upper-income brackets. Raising income taxes on those earning more than $80,000 a year was favored by 82 percent of the public. Neither Dukakis nor Bush seemed interested in that solution. Business and financial leaders were, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly opposed, for it meant taxing them. [6]

Thus, the only suspenseful political question, as George Bush took office in 1989, was how the elite consensus might work its will in the face of the stubborn resistance of the citizenry. This is usually the core of the action on taxes: how to distract public anger while things get done. The feat had been accomplished many times during the previous decade, but Steve Bell was dubious that it would succeed again.

"Why can't elites do this deal? Because they won't have the votes," Bell predicted. "The elites understand the precariousness of their situation, not just the financial elites, but the governing elites in this town. The alienation between the governed and the governors is starting to have palpable consequences. The politicians no longer have the ability to go home and persuade their folks to follow when they lead. They know the response will be: Fuck you."

***

The distorted federal tax code is, as Bell suggested, a central element feeding the popular disenchantment with government and politics. For well over a decade, ordinary voters had heard the perennial chatter from Washington about tax cuts.
While they might not know any of the statistics, they knew at least that their own taxes had not been cut. The public's fierce resistance to new taxes, derided by elites as selfish and short-sighted, is firmly grounded in the facts of their own experience.

Popular anger toward the federal tax system was not always the case, as some assume. In the early postwar years, when income-tax rates were steeply progressive, the public overwhelmingly described the federal tax code as "fair" -- 85 percent, according to the Gallup Poll. By 1984, according to an opinion survey conducted for the Internal Revenue Service, 80 percent believed the contrary: "The present tax system benefits the rich and is unfair to the ordinary working man and woman." [7]

Among the "benefits" reserved for the rich is the fact that even the enforcement of the tax laws was seriously compromised during the Reagan era. The Internal Revenue Service reported that, as of September 1989, the government was owed $87 billion by taxpayers who had underreported or simply not paid their admitted obligations (compared to $5 billion in 1973 and $18 billion in 1981). The chance of getting caught at grand-scale tax evasion was reduced substantially because the sample of income-tax returns that are closely examined by the IRS has been shrunk by 42 percent, thanks to Reagan's severe cuts in the IRS enforcement budget.

The "tax cheats" are not, on the whole, "little guys" who depend on wages and salaries. Most citizens pay their federal income taxes involuntarily through payroll deductions and they file the simplified reporting form that leaves little opportunity for evasive tactics. Only $1.4 billion of the missing $87 billion was attributed to wage earners.

Among the delinquents were 17 taxpayers who owed more than $100 million each and 3,335 taxpayers who each owed more than $1 million. About $10 billion of the uncollected taxes involved income from invested capital, stocks and bonds and capital gains. About one fourth of the missing revenue, $21 billion, was owed by business -- mostly major corporations."

Washington insiders were not unaware of the public anger that had accumulated on these matters. "The American people didn't understand what was happening at first, but now they are beginning to get it," Charls Walker, the premier tax lobbyist for corporate interests, acknowledged in early 1990. "This is an explosive situation we've got here. The political leaders may be able to stanch it this time, but it could blow up if Tom Foley and George Mitchell [the Democratic leaders in Congress] aren't sufficiently responsible."

Something much more complicated than greed is driving the modern tax contest -- an economy that no longer produces enough returns to provide ample shares for everyone. In this economic environment, tax politics is a way to protect oneself or to stick someone else with the loss. For nearly thirty years following World War II, the growth and distribution of incomes in American society had been fairly constant (though grossly unequal). Economic expansion was widely shared among citizens of all classes.

Since 1973, however, wages in real terms, discounted for inflation, have been stagnant or declining. Factory workers in Italy now earn more per hour than U.S. workers. The rewards changed most dramatically in the 1980s -- at the very time government was cutting tax burdens for the well-to-do. During the last decade, the top 1 percent of American families grossly increased their share of total U.S. income -- from 8 percent or 9 percent to more than 14 percent. [9]

"Something's gone wrong with the American dream, at least in material terms," Walker observed. "This is part of the source of the political resentment."

Republicans, historically the party of money, naturally demurred and denied this new reality, at least so long as Republicans were in the White House. But Democrats, supposedly the party of working men and women, turned away from it too. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York expressed his own distress:

"The people to whom this is happening know that it's happening to them and they also know that the Democrats don't know it. At least, we don't talk about it. If this were the 1960s, that's all we would be talking about. Good God, what's happening to our country? We're losing touch with that kind of reality. If this is not a crucial proposition for the Democratic party, then our politics have changed."

When the pie is shrinking, someone has to give up his or her slice. Starting in the late 1970s, a fierce political contest ensued on many fronts around this, never-acknowledged question: Who will hang on to their share and who must lose theirs? The U.S. tax code, as revised over the last fifteen years, reveals the winner.

This broad economic explanation, however, does not answer the question of politics: How could this betrayal of the many be accomplished in an ostensible framework of democracy? The short, though overly simple answer is: collusion, artful collusion among governing elites and the politicians who claimed to be adversaries. A government that is ostensibly divided between the two parties has learned to work as one.

As Richard Darman once baldly explained, important tax legislation can be achieved by "the political equivalent of an immaculate conception: a compromise that materializes without any politician having to take blame." [10]

***

The politics of taxation creates its own ideologies and, through most of the twentieth century, the argument has often pitted elite groups against the general population. The graduated income tax, in which the burden rises in relation to one's wealth and income, was the Populists' answer to the gross maldistribution of economic returns generated by modern industrial society. Its Justifying principle, stripped of corollary arguments, is that government's core function is to preserve the social order. People of great material wealth inevitably benefit from that service more than other citizens -- since social chaos would put their private property at risk. [11]

The monied elites' counterargument was first effectively framed during the 1920s by Andrew Mellon, the wealthy banker who served as Treasury secretary under three Republican presidents. Soaking the rich, Mellon argued, was bad for the economy and, therefore, bad for everyone. His goal was to eliminate the graduated tax system altogether and replace it with flat taxes on consumption, in which rich and poor would pay the same toll. This is not very different from the contemporary tax arguments, except that Mellon enunciated his purpose more candidly than modern conservatives would dare.

"The prosperity of the lower and middle classes depends upon the good fortune and light taxes of the rich," Mellon declared. [12]

The opposing view was expressed by remnant populists like Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas, who employed this flavorful campaign slogan: "Put the jam on the lower shelf where the little man can reach it." [13]

In most seasons, the politics of taxes plays out between those two poles -- an argument for social equity versus the economic hegemony of the investor classes. This might be called the ideology of taxation, and it provides another important screen that the public cannot see through. Once a politician has accepted the ideological assumptions proffered by the monied interests, then he may proceed on a straight path to their conclusions about whose taxes should be reduced. Since the late 1970s, Andrew Mellon's side has won nearly every contest, but with an ingenious twist -- tax cuts for the rich are sold as tax cuts for the "little guy."

The Reagan conservatives' celebrated doctrine of "supply-side" economics was, one might say, Andrew Mellon in drag-dressed up in populist denim. The economic logic was Mellon's, but the covering rhetoric justified reducing the tax burdens of the wealthy by promising to spread the jam around a little -- to cut everybody's tax rate at once. The regressive effects of the proposal were transparent (and freely acknowledged afterward by the Republican draftsmen), but the basic logic was not challenged by the Democratic opposition. They had already bought into it.

The most dramatic political shift of the 1980s was not in the Republican party, which, after all, had always sided with money. It was among the Democrats who employed facile arguments to abandon the goal of social equity in favor of "trickle-down" economics.

This ideological transformation was accomplished within a political structure very different from what had existed a generation ago. Political parties, whose internal control had been weakened over twenty-five years, were less able to dictate terms to rank-and-file members. In this environment, the political labor necessary to sell a program door-to-door, so to speak, is naturally best suited to the interests with the resources to deploy coordinated networks of lobbyists and chum out the supporting propaganda. In this new environment, business was more creative than organized labor or its other adversaries. It developed new modes of salesmanship -- the myriad clusters and temporary coalitions formed among corporations and across trade sectors, always accompanied by systematic money giving.

With no reliable party structure to defend them or poke holes in the deceptive arguments, unorganized voters were hopelessly outgunned. Whatever its other virtues, the new politics of liberated individuals in Congress has not proved to be a reliable defender of the people on the core question of taxation.

The elites also recognized, however, that intensive lobbying is not sufficient by itself. They must also advance a broad public purpose for their objectives -- a screen that will distance the specifics from their own obvious self-interest. Yes, the wealthy will get a larger tax cut, but that's not the real purpose. The real purpose is to create jobs. To broadcast this disinterested assurance, they create such mechanisms as bipartisan study groups and so- called "blue-ribbon commissions" composed of public-spirited opinion leaders.

"How do you get around the problem that we don't have a Sam Rayburn or a Lyndon Johnson to ram this thing through?" Charls Walker asked rhetorically. "You go the route of the blue-ribbon commission."

The loss of centralized control has left governing elites in a seemingly permanent state of anxiety. Despite their repeated victories on taxes, opinion leaders, with evident sincerity, regularly lament the government's inability to govern -- that is, to implement their far- righted solutions. Since they never get everything they want, they plead constantly for more courageous "leadership." While citizens generally feel abused and ignored by politics, the political elites describe the opposite condition -- a "plebiscite democracy" ruled by the fickle impulses of the voters.

Bush's budget director, Richard Darman, spoke of the public's "self-indulgent" attitudes with droll condescension. "Now-nowism," he called it. "Our current impatience is that of the consumer not the builder, the self-indulgent not the pioneer," he complained. The Reagan tax cutting had begun with the Great Communicator's paeans to the energies of everyday working people. A decade later, with the government mired in debt, Darman likened the American public to a "spoiled child." [14]

Disparaging public opinion is, of course, a necessary prelude to ignoring it. The elites' language of despair over the commonweal is a vital element in their politics, for it creates another screen -- a climate that encourages political leaders to be "responsible" by going against the obvious wishes of their constituents. The hesitant are scolded. Gross deceptions are legitimized in pursuit of the greater good. The oblique dialogues that surround the subject of taxation can then be conducted with a broad wink among the players. Over fifteen years, the screen has worked again and again.

***

The last progressive tax measure proposed by a U.S. president came from Jimmy Carter in fall of 1977. It was decimated -- in a Congress controlled by Democrats. Egged' on by corporate lobbyists, an uprising in congressional ranks led by right-of-center Democrats turned on their leaders and prevailed. Campaigning for president, Carter had called the tax code a "national disgrace" and promised to eliminate many of the most flagrant loopholes for corporations and the wealthy. He proposed to raise the tax on capital gains and lower rates for individuals. A year later, Congress cut the capital-gains rate in half, lowered the corporate tax rate and made the temporary investment-tax credit for business permanent.

"Carter was screaming that this was a handout for rich people and peanuts for poor people," said Charls Walker, whose Council on Capital Formation helped to inspire the revolt of the haves. "We beat their ass two-to-one on the House floor."

The turning point was the 1978 tax bill, in which governing elites changed the premises of tax policy from achieving equity to augmenting the returns on capital. Amid the aggravations of rising inflation, Walker's corporate clients and like-minded economists persuaded politicians that the problem of lagging productivity in the American economy was caused by the cost of capital. Merrill Lynch, the New York exchange, the Brookings Institution and others all produced expert studies, seconded by influential senators in both parties, that proclaimed the "capital formation problem."

The liberal response to this was quite limp, partly because the Democratic party had been playing its own deceptive game of empty "tax cuts" in prior years. As the persistent inflation of the 1970s swelled government revenues and pushed many wage earners into higher tax-rate brackets, Democrats would magnanimously enact a new "tax cut" every couple of years -- in effect, giving back some of the money to the taxpayers while devoting the remaining surpluses to narrow tax loopholes for special interests or for new government spending. Democrats were not in a position to be too self-righteous about either equity or economic growth.

The Democratic party, furthermore, was getting more distant from its traditional working- class constituencies. A swarm of newly elected younger Democrats who came to office after the 1974 Watergate scandal were mostly not from working-class neighborhoods, but from the suburbs and often from Republican districts. They were intellectually inclined to be more sympathetic to the business argument and also anxious to dissociate themselves from their patty's fading power centers, organized labor and the big-city machines.

Newer Democrats, as Thomas B. Edsall has pointed out, were also reading the election returns. As voter participation declined year after year, most dramatically among lower- income citizens, the remaining active electorate became increasingly skewed toward the upper brackets -- the people who cared most about tax provisions like capital gains. In the process, a large, unorganized bloc of citizens was being left behind. [15]

But the conservatives' attitudes toward tax politics were changing too. Robert S. McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, explained the shift:

"Typically, prior to the seventies, Republicans were not big fans of tax breaks for business because it was economic tinkering by government. And Democrats weren't for them because it went against their constituents. In the 1970s, there was a flip-flop. The Republicans started playing constituency politics -- appealing to the people who contribute to their campaigns and their core constituency. Democrats, as big-government types, like to tinker around with the economy through the tax code. It feels good and, ideologically, they have no problem with it."

In terms of who benefited, the 1978 tax bill was perhaps the most regressive measure since the 1920s, but it was only the beginning. Its ingredients led directly to the feeding frenzy of 1981 and Ronald Reagan's famous victory -- a tax measure that would deprive the government of $750 billion in revenue over the first five years.

The across-the-board reduction of 25 percent in individual tax rates was transparently regressive since, as a matter of simple arithmetic, the larger one's income, the greater would be the reduction in the tax burden. The corporate tax code was so thoroughly gutted in 1981 that hundreds of profitable corporations became free riders in the American political system -- paying no taxes whatever or even collecting refunds.

The 1981 tax legislation was so generous in the tax breaks for commercial real estate that it launched the nation's gaudy boom in new office buildings -- the boom that collapsed in bankruptcies at the end of the decade. The new tax rules for depreciation were such that developers and investors found they could put up a new building and make money on it, even if it was half empty. They built lots of them. When the real estate-lending regulations were loosened for commercial banks in the 1982 financial legislation, the stage was fully prepared for the great financial collapse that engulfed both builders and their bankers later -- and led to another taxpayer bailout.

By focusing on the partisan combat over internal disputes, the media portrayed the 1981 legislative showdown as a test of strength between the two political parties, as it was on the surface. The Republicans won on that level. But the partisan clashes obscured the deeper bipartisan consensus that already existed. Most Democrats in the House and Senate had already endorsed the general concept of a regressive "supply-side" tax cut, many of them before Ronald Reagan was even elected. In the end, only a handful of Democrats voted against the idea.

It was not Reagan, for instance, who opened the floodgate of tax giveaways for business interests but Representative Dan Rostenkowski, Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Prompted by Walker and the corporate lobbyists, Rosty initiated the bidding war over tax favors that Republicans were hoping to avoid. In the end, Democrats lost the contest to the more generous Republican White House.

When neither party attempts to impose restraint, power always flows to the margins -- the handful of swing votes that can decide an issue-and opportunistic representatives made deals for scores of clients, trading their votes for tax concessions. "The hogs were really feeding," as budget director David Stockman said. The problem, he added, "is unorganized groups can't play in this game." [16]

Further, it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who first proposed bringing down the top tax rate on unearned income -- eliminating the traditional distinction that passive earnings from dividends or interest should be taxed at a higher rate than wage income derived from human labor. The Reagan White House graciously accepted the Democrats' proposal and the marginal rate of 70 percent on unearned income was abolished.

"The people who are really active politically are the upper-income people," Walker explained, "and a lot of them happen to be Democrats."

The general public, however, opposed this change at the time and, indeed, still favors a tax code that treats income from work more generously than income from capital. A Wall Street Journal poll in 1990 found that, by 59 percent to 22 percent, people still think earnings from investments should be taxed at a higher rate than income from wages and salaries. Even two thirds of the upper-income people think so. [17]
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:09 am

PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 3 CONT'D.)

These details and ambiguities did not get through to most citizens at the time, especially if they depended on television for their news. The contest was portrayed in simpler terms: President Reagan and the Republicans want to cut your taxes and the Democrats are trying to stop them. Not surprisingly, the public rallied around the president. Beneath that broad umbrella, special interests could accomplish quite a lot for themselves. John D. Raffaelli, a tax lobbyist and former staff counsel on the Senate Finance Committee, once explained the "Dan Rather rule" that governs the politics of complex tax provisions: "You can do taxes as long as Dan Rather can't explain them in 10 seconds." [18]

The orgy of 1981 defined everything that has followed since: The perennial tax debate is still preoccupied with finding ways to correct the embarrassing excesses of Reagan's tax legislation and reduce the huge deficits that "supply-side economics" created. Two major tax bills were passed in 1982 and 1984, taking back some of the most egregious loopholes and benefits provided to business in the original Reagan legislation. The projected losses in federal revenue were thus reduced, but not enough to fill the hole, especially given the soaring defense budgets.

Who will have to give the money back? That question has driven all of the subsequent tax debates.

For ordinary wage earners, the question was answered quickly. They would. Even before the Reagan tax cuts were fully phased in, working people were socked with a tax increase much larger than what they had supposedly just been given. In 1983, with a minimum of controversy, Congress raised their taxes by roughly $200 billion -- more than erasing any gain they might have anticipated from the Reagan income-tax cuts. This was among the largest tax increases in history, but it was accomplished without much fuss by increasing the payroll tax collected for Social Security.

This was bait and switch on a grand scale. The payroll tax for Social Security is one of the most regressive levies the government collects from citizens because it has a fixed ceiling that exempts all income above a certain level. A middle-level manager earning $50,000 a year will pay exactly the same amount as his company's CEO, who makes $5 million.

The deal was sold through the mechanism of a "blue-ribbon commission." Right after the 1982 elections, a bipartisan presidential commission, chaired by Republican economist (and future Federal Reserve chairman) Alan Greenspan, recommended the tax increase and other "reforms" to insure the soundness of the retirement system far into the next century. Social Security would be shifted from its traditional structure of pay-as-you-go financing to one that would accumulate vast surpluses -- hundreds of billions collected now from workers and set aside for future beneficiaries.

Three months after the commission reported its ideas, the reforms were law. Ronald Reagan, who had built his career on defending working people against taxes, endorsed the payroll-tax increase after he was told by White House insiders that the rising tax burden on young working people would eventually lead to a taxpayer revolt and the demise of Social Security. "In time, these reforms will sink this thing of its own weight," the president was advised.

Reagan was reportedly cheered by that prospect. Deep in the Republican soul lurks an abiding contempt for the Social Security system, a prejudice lingering from New Deal days when conservatives saw it as the vanguard of socialism. While Democrats used Social Security as an effective scare issue in the 1982 elections, they threw in with the Republicans right afterward and endorsed the tax increase. [19]

The general public, though uneasy, was essentially not represented in the Social Security debate. The two major parties agreed to run this through the system quickly and without alerting working people to the tax implications for them. The media accepted the bipartisan accord as evidence that the issue lacked controversy and treated it routinely.

Even so, there was more public resentment on the issue than the bipartisan harmony indicated. A Washington Post/ABC News survey found that 38 percent of the public felt the Democrats, supposedly the defenders of Social Security, had given away too much to the Republicans. Young people, eighteen to thirty years old, were overwhelmingly skeptical that Social Security benefits would still be available when they reached retirement. Given the drift of politics, their suspicion seemed well founded.

Among governing elites, however, the adroit enactment of the 1983 tax increase is remembered as a triumph of political management. At Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the episode is used as a case study in good government, illustrating how decision makers can make forward-looking policy and work their way around what the professors call "the fickleness of politics." [20]

For most taxpayers, this event was pivotal -- as well as costly -- to their personal tax equation. The Social Security increases rendered the continuing talk about reducing the income tax largely irrelevant to most working people -- since roughly three fourths of wage earners pay more each year through the payroll tax than they will pay through the income tax. Because the payroll tax was now set to increase in regular increments, no amount of tinkering with income-tax rates, deductions or tax credits was likely to offset the rising burden for average Americans.

The terms were now established for the great shift in the way that the government is financed. From 1980 to 1988, revenue from the Social Security payroll tax increased by 23 percent as a portion of total federal revenue, while the personal income tax declined by 6 percent and the corporate income tax by 23 percent. By 1983, the winners and losers were clearly identified. [21]

Yet the contest did not end. Indeed, notwithstanding the facts of what had already occurred, elite commentators like Robert Strauss and Pete Peterson continued to commit gross distortions, as they tried to explain the huge federal deficits that had been created when their own taxes were reduced. The problem, they kept complaining, was the soaring cost of "entitlements," especially Social Security.

Yet that problem had just been "fixed" and workers were now paying for it. In fiscal terms, ordinary wage earners were now covering the hole left by the excesses of business and wealthy individuals. Social Security was not only paying its own way, but would now accumulate growing surplus revenue each year -- $74 billion in 1991, $126 billion by 1995 and $225 billion by 2000. This mounting hoard collected from workers helped the government to obscure the continuing deficits in the operating budget and to offset the economic consequences.

Nevertheless, the influential "party elders" persisted in portraying Social Security as a dangerous drain on the society's resources -- an example of the self-indulgence that politicians must be brave enough to correct. It was as though the 1983 tax increases hadn't happened.

The next great bait-and-switch transaction -- the celebrated "tax reform" legislation of 1986 -- involved all the same elements, including active collusion between the two political parties. But this contest was not really aimed at the general taxpayers. It was essentially a dispute between the two overlapping power blocs within the monied interests -- wealthy individuals versus corporations -- over who would get the money. The individuals won, but the corporations did not entirely lose either.

For the general public, the usual screens of large-minded distractions were constructed. The purpose of this legislation, Republicans and Democrats jointly announced, was" tax simplification." That theme became a bad joke as the process unfolded and even the president abandoned it. As income-tax rates were reduced, the tax code became so weird that people who make $80,000 a year were left paying the highest tax rate, 33 percent higher than all the wealthier people above them, who pay only 28 percent.

The other announced objective was "fairness" -- closing loopholes to force all those hundreds of profitable corporations to start paying federal taxes again. Some progress was made toward this goal, but much less than advertised. The proportion of profit-making corporations that legally avoid taxes declined afterward from 36 percent to 23 percent -- still roughly one fourth of them. Tax revenue from corporations consistently fell below the government's expectations in subsequent years, as corporate tax lawyers exploited a tax code porous with the exceptions and artful distinctions that the corporate lobbyists had helped craft.

The gravest injury to the general taxpayers, however, was in what the 1986 tax reformers decided not to do -- to confront the federal deficits and reduce them significantly. Instead, President Reagan declared up front that the measure must be "revenue neutral" -- neither increasing nor reducing overall federal revenue -- and the Democratic party swiftly embraced his terms. Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate for president, had been devastated in the 1984 election by talking about tax increases. This time, as Danny Rostenkowski told me, "You won't see any profiles in courage."

A vast rewriting of the tax code would be undertaken without addressing the fiscal problems that elites were always lamenting. This central political evasion meant that the huge deficits would continue unabated (and indeed would grow to $360 billion by 1991). But the evasion also meant that ordinary taxpayers remained a vulnerable target for future tax politics, when the day came that the political community decided to get serious about restoring the government's revenue base.

To confront the deficits would have required much tougher politics -- closing the major loopholes and raising the top-bracket rates, but without giving the monied elites anything in return. No one in power wished to take that on. Instead, enormous political energy was expended on behalf of the competing interests, while the central governing problem was deferred to future years. Where were the elite scolds who complained so regularly about the deficits and American profligacy? They were busy in the tax debate too, defending their own tax benefits.

The general public, having been burned repeatedly by the bait of tax rhetoric, did not buy it this time. Despite the popular president's barnstorming and the political community's enthusiasm for "tax reform," citizens remained skeptical or even hostile. Opinion surveys found only small minorities (as little as 18 percent) supporting the drastic reduction in the top tax rates.

"Tax reform to the American people means fairness, and their perception of fairness is more progressive, not less progressive," said pollster Burns Roper. His firm found that 77 percent of the people thought the upper-income brackets were already paying too little.

The debate proceeded without them to its predetermined conclusion -- the drastic reduction of individual tax rates, offset by the restoration of some of the taxation on business. These changes, of course, often affect the same people, so that, while the corporations lost, their highly paid executives and major stockholders won. Indeed, the most spectacular beneficiaries in 1986 were a select group of 390,000 Americans whose incomes were $200,000 or higher but who were not giving up any significant loopholes. On average, the lowered rates gave these citizens a tax windfall of $50,000 each -- a total of $20 billion, or roughly ten times what the measure devoted in tax relief for the poor.

One corporate CEO confided to Senator Paul Simon of Illinois that, according to his accountant, he would get a tax cut of $250,000 on his $1.5 million salary. Presumably this softened his objections to the higher taxes being imposed on his company. [22]

Most Democrats sided with the rich people, on the righteous grounds that they were going after the tax giveaways for business. Some liberals argued weakly that, while they were voting for the rich people, they would come back in a year or so and rescind the action by restoring the higher rates. The history of the income tax mocked this wishful thinking. Since 1913, Congress had gotten up the nerve to raise the top income-tax rate substantially on only four occasions -- during World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War. In other words, it required a seismic event for politicians to go after rich folks.

The new social and political reality was that most Democrats in Congress appeared to be closer to the wealthy (especially the wealthy who were campaign contributors) than to working stiffs. Robert McIntyre observed this phenomenon whenever he proposed various progressive tax measures to Democrats.

"Democrats don't mind talking about the top fifth of the economy, people making over $50,000 a year, but if you talk about the top 1 percent, people earning $200,000 or more, they get nervous," McIntyre said. "They get cold feet partly because that's where their campaign money comes from. Staff people tell me the politicians don't want to take on the very richest people. In many ways, they are the people the congressmen think of as their peers -- or whom they'd like to think of as their peers."

The major corporations represented by Charls Walker and other lobbyists lost a lot in 1986 when many of the major tax concessions they had won back in 1981 were scaled down. Still, they were not exactly grieving either. After all, they were still way ahead on taxes for the decade. And Walker found many of his CEOs so enthused about their individual reductions that they were uninterested in mounting an all-out campaign to defeat the bill.

"People asked me, would you vote for this bill if you were a member of Congress?" Walker recalled. "I said I probably would. I didn't like the higher rate for capital gains but I loved the lower personal rates. I never dreamed we could get a top personal rate of 33 percent and a corporate rate of 35 percent. If I thought this was the last chapter in federal tax policy, I would be desperate. But I've seen the pendulum swing before." Business would win back the investment tax credit, Walker predicted confidently, when the economy was in its next recession.

Indeed, a few months after the 1986 legislation became law, Walker and other business lobbyists were back on Capitol Hill, recruiting influential cosponsors from both parties for a measure that would undo the grand compromise they had just fashioned. Congress had just raised the rate on capital gains, the tax collected on the appreciation of stocks and real estate when these and other assets are sold. Now, Walker proposed, it was time to cut capital gains.

Bait and switch. Once the wealthy achieved a lower tax rate, they started to work on getting back the loopholes and exceptions they had given up. Andrew Mellon's hoary logic was dragged out once again, this time dressed again as the "capital formation. problem," and subsequently embraced by George Bush. The American economy suffered from lagging investment, it was said, because the cost of capital was too high. Reducing taxes on capital would encourage the wealthy investors to create more jobs for everyone else. If this argument sounds familiar, it is because it is where the story began back in 1978.

Among all their other disadvantages, citizens are particularly handicapped because the tax debate never ends. It is a continuum of politics that stretches over years. As Walker said, the monied elites understand this and know that they can afford to accept trade-offs in one season because they will be back again next time, with new reasons to plead for tax relief. If political parties were reliable organizations, they would defend the citizenry against these perennial raids on the public treasury. The present reality is that both political parties collaborate with the raiders.

There were at least two obvious things wrong with invoking Mellon's economic logic at this point. First, it had already been applied in the grossest terms during the previous decade -- and failed to produce the promised results. New investment during the 1980s was not stimulated by the tax cuts awarded to the wealthy; on the contrary, the pace of investment actually fell below the previous average. A lot of the money flowed, instead, into financial speculation and inflated real-estate values -- the excesses that were unwinding in bankruptcy and financial crisis by the end of the decade.

Second, the business advocates were correct about the high cost of raising capital in the United States -- it was two or three times higher than in Germany or Japan -- but the principal explanation for this was not federal taxes, but the historically high level of interest rates during the decade. Real interest rates in the 1980s -- the nominal interest rate discounted for inflation -- were the highest of the twentieth century. And what caused interest rates to remain so high? If one asked the Federal Reserve, the Fed blamed it on the federal deficits -- the deficits created by the huge tax cuts.

In other words, the facile economic arguments advanced by elites were inducing the political community to chase its own tail. However, from season to season, the chase always ended at the same place -- more tax reduction for the wealth holders.

***

In another era, Senator Pat Moynihan's remarks might have been passed over as the usual rhetoric one expected from liberal Democrats. Yet, in the political context of the late 1980s, his words sounded like populist thunder. All Moynihan said was: "I think it's about time the American workers got a break." With that, the New York senator proposed to give the wage earners back their money -- that is, to cut the Social Security payroll tax back to its prior levels and to stop the regressive charade surrounding federal taxation.

The senator himself was a bit taken aback by the storm of reaction. He was swiftly acclaimed by voices from left and right, but also denounced as "irresponsible" by tax authorities in his own party as well as the Republicans in the White House. The people who had shaped federal tax policy for fifteen years -- who presided over the betrayal -- were preparing to do so again and they recognized the threatening nature of Moynihan's proposal. Though it was not enacted in 1990 and only cursorily debated, Moynihan's idea crystallized what Charls Walker had called "an explosive situation."

What Moynihan did, in effect, was to put the stinking reality on the table where everyone had to look at it. By formulating a dramatic tax reduction that would be genuinely progressive -- putting real money in the hands of the broad middle class -- Moynihan automatically brought the ranks of the unrepresented into the debate. He may, in fact, have created the political climate that kept the elite consensus from fully accomplishing its agenda in 1990. Some believed -- hoped, at least -- that his provocation would become a new turning point in the deep politics of taxation.

Moynihan seemed an unlikely tribune for popular revolt against the status quo. For one thing, he himself had served on the bipartisan commission that proposed the Social Security tax increases back in 1983. Now he was belatedly denouncing the arrangement as a hoax perpetrated on working people. While the senator liked to invoke his own working- class origins, he was better understood as a public policy intellectual, fully credentialed and comfortable with the governing elites, a Harvard professor who bad dipped in and out of government as a policy thinker for three presidents, before coming to the Senate in 1976.

Moynihan recognized -- and had the nerve to declare -- that the evasive tax politics of the 1980s was leading toward a future fiscal crisis, in which the public at large would be confronted with monstrous alternatives -- either a huge tax increase to fill the hole that was now being masked by the Social Security surpluses or a drastic cutback in the Social Security benefits (thus fulfilling young people's skepticism about the future of the retirement system). Or perhaps both. Moynihan's purpose was to force the crisis now -- and make the political system face it honestly.

His initiative did not have that effect, but it at least exposed the fecklessness of his own party. Ways and Means Chairman Danny Rostenkowski, who presides over tax decisions in the House, belittled Moynihan's proposal as competing for "worst idea of the year." Democratic Senate leaders were struck mute, as though Moynihan had told an obscene joke on the Senate floor. House Democrats appointed a committee chaired by the majority leader to study the idea. The committee never met.

The party's two most powerful constituency groups -- organized labor and the elderly -- expressed their coolness to the idea of cutting young workers' taxes. The American Association of Retired Persons worried about the actuarial tables. The AFL-CIO worried about financing big government. As industrial unions have declined in size, public employees have become a larger and larger proportion of the labor federation's membership. [23]

The tax debate, in any case, was proceeding toward a different goal -- how to embrace the nettle of additional tax increases and spending cuts, as outlined by the elite consensus, without inciting a damaging backlash from voters who would feel betrayed again. Doing the "right thing" required an extended dance of feint-and-parry between the two political parties -- the story that provided the main focus for news coverage -- since Republicans and Democrats were mutually suspicious of getting trapped in blame by the other side. If the Republican president and the Democratic Congress were going to stick the people once again with unpopular and regressive measures, they must agree to hold hands when the deed was done.

The National Economic Commission, created by the Democrats to provide just such political cover, stalled out in stalemate when the newly elected president declined to cooperate with the "blue-ribbon" approach. On the other hand, Democratic leaders succeeded in blocking Bush's capital-gains tax cut, trying to force him into a public admission that taxes must be raised, notwithstanding his campaign promise.

In early 1990, Danny Rostenkowski started the action by offering an olive branch and a broad wink to his old friend George Bush. Rostenkowski proposed what he called a "cold turkey" plan for deficit reduction -- a plan that was a reasonable replica of what the elite opinion leaders had recommended. The idea of a national sales tax was left out -- still too volatile for politicians to embrace in public (though Charls Walker said Rostenkowski has assured him privately that "it's corning, it's coming").

Otherwise, Rosty's "cold turkey" prescribed a familiar list of sacrifices -- 20 billion in new consumption taxes and $22 billion saved by cutting "entitlements" and other federal programs. While he also proposed to nick the highest income earners with a small rate increase, this was interpreted as a proffered trade-off for George Bush in exchange for granting the president's capital-gains cut. [24]

Rosty's ploy set in motion the high-level action that led to a summer of "budget summit" negotiations between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders. These private parlays were meant to serve as the new equivalent of a blue-ribbon commission. The president, rather clumsily, agreed to withdraw his "no taxes" promise to the American people so the discussions could proceed in mutual trust.

Party leaders closeted themselves at Andrews Air Force Base for the tedious back-and-forth on details. For all the many complications' and false starts, these negotiations produced an agreement that should not have surprised any patient observer of tax politics. Just as Darman had suggested two years before, by the grace of "immaculate conception" in which no one could be blamed, Democrats and Republicans produced a "Big Bang" for the voters.

The proposed tax increases and spending cuts of the bipartisan "summit" announced in late September were less extreme, but remarkably consistent with what Rosty had proposed in March. They mirrored in moderate outline what the elite opinion makers had recommended in their "austerity" sermons before the 1988 election. The burden of sacrifice would be distributed regressively, hitting the least among us with the most injury. No increase in the top tax rate. A capital-gains reduction, poorly disguised as investment incentives for small business. Regressive increases in taxes on gasoline, alcohol, tobacco and other items of everyday consumption. A huge reduction in Medicare benefits. The conservative logic of Andrew Mellon had won on nearly every point. [25]

Democratic leaders said it was "the best deal" they could get. The Wall Street Journal, which always covers taxation with more precision and depth than other news media, swiftly put the relevant facts on the table for its well-to-do readers. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the top of the income ladder -- people earning more than $200,000 -- would escape once again with the least sacrifice, a tax increase of only 1.7 percent, while people making $30,000 to $40,000 would be hit for 2.9 percent. The poorest families, under $10,000, would suffer a 7.6 percent tax increase because of the regressive nature of consumption taxes.

Rank-and-file Democrats choked on those numbers. So did some backbench Republicans. The next day, the Journal published a devastating account of how the new tax incentives for investment would actually work -- spawning a new tax-shelter industry and allowing wealthy investors to harvest millions in upfront tax breaks. "Although the text of the bipartisan agreement carefully avoids describing these as a capital-gains tax break, that's what they are," the Journal said. In other words, Democratic leaders were giving President Bush what he most wanted and what they had vowed to resist. [26]

The "Big Bang" blew up in their faces. A rump coalition of younger Republicans, angry that Bush had abandoned the GOP's posture of "no new taxes," and liberal Democrats, disgusted by the proposal's gross inequities, united on the House floor to defeat their leaders. This was perhaps the first House roll call of• any consequence in fifteen years where the broad interests of the general public defeated the elites, head to head, on a question of taxes. Among other things, it demonstrated the value of democratic process -- making decisions in public, with up-or-down votes that are recorded, instead of the "immaculate conception" of backroom deals.

Some thought these events represented a new current in American politics, the beginning of resurgence for popular opinion. Others (including myself) remained skeptical. The collapse of the "Big Bang" package did at least demonstrate anew how alienated the leaders of both parties had become from the lives of ordinary Americans.

Senator Moynihan's jarring candor had perhaps altered the atmosphere of tax politics and made the real trade-offs embarrassingly visible. The senator, having made his point, was less ardent about forcing the question on his colleagues. In order not to inconvenience the Democratic leadership, Moynihan agreed to offer his own tax-cut measure for a Senate vote at a time when it was certain to be ruled out of order. The measure carried the Senate roll call, fifty-four to forty-four, in October 1990, but that was short of the sixty votes needed under the parliamentary rules then in force. The next year, Moynihan brought it up again and it was soundly rejected.

Two weeks after the rank-and-file revolt, the party leaders came back with a new package of tax increases and a better deal for the people. Gasoline and other consumption taxes were still raised, but the sting was reduced and some of the pain was shifted upward to hit the wealthy as well. Tax credits gave the poor modest relief; luxury taxes and a small rate increase were aimed at the top brackets. Medicare and Medicaid were still trimmed, but much less drastically.

Danny Rostenkowski overcame his momentary embarrassment and began styling himself as a righteous convert, ready to go after the millionaires on behalf of the people. But the habit of deception was deeply ingrained in Congress and still at work. As The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed, one of the 1990 tax provisions, supposedly aimed at raising $10.8 billion from wealthy people, was actually already in the tax code -- enacted during the 1986 "tax reform." All Congress did in 1990 was to change it from permanent to temporary. [27]

The warped social vision of the political community also endured. Some Democrats began preparing tax proposals for 1992 designed to hit the rich and reward middle-class families -- a promising issue for their next campaign. But some Democrats' idea of what is middle class seemed to hover around families with incomes of $80,000 a year, not the actual middle of American society down around $35,000.

In any case, the sum total of the final package in 1990 or the new tax proposals hardly made a scratch on the gross maldistribution of tax burdens that had been accomplished in the previous seasons of tax legislation. The elite consensus failed to win the full dimensions of its "austerity" agenda, but it did not lose either. It would require a much larger political struggle -- genuine popular revolt and new leaders with a different sense of loyalty -- to overcome the full legacy of collusion and betrayal.

***

Given the darkening economic prospects, the broad public is likely to lose again in the future, so long as the tax debate is framed in conservative terms as an argument of equity versus investment. "Fairness," as Charls Walker said, always loses to "economic growth" in tough times. The hegemony of the investor classes depends upon convincing politicians and citizens generally that this is the only choice. For most of the century, when American economic strength was ascendant in the world, the equity argument could now and then prevail. Now that the U.S. economy is embattled by global competition, "fairness" has become a much harder sell.

The facts of economic history do not support Andrew Mellon's logic, not in the contemporary experience nor during the 1920s. Reducing tax burdens for the wealth holders is a political program that will reward some citizens and penalize others. As an economic program, it does not yield the increased savings and investment and faster economic growth that the conservative logic promises. This is not entirely a secret. Conservative economists have pored over the numbers for years, searching for evidence to confirm their conviction that taxing the wealthy lightly benefits everyone else. In theory, they are sure it is right. Only they can't find much in the way of facts.

For example, two economists, Robert E. Lipsey and Irving B. Kravis, examined the role of savings and capital formation in economic growth in a study jointly sponsored by the American Council on Life Insurance and the Conference Board, an industry-sponsored research group. Lipsey and Kravis reviewed growth rates in the United States and other leading industrial nations, decade by decade through the twentieth century, searching for correlations with taxes on capital, savings rates and capital formation. They reported some awkward conclusions to their business sponsors:

"We suspect that differences in taxation are not likely to explain the differences in saving rates," Lipsey and Kravis concluded. It is difficult, they said, to find any evidence linking tax rates on capital to subsequent rates of savings, investment or economic growth.

On the contrary, a rapid buildup of capital formation typically follows a rapid expansion of incomes and employment rather than the other way around. The strongest factor predicting increased capital investment is expansion of incomes and employment.

"The relationship was typically stronger between income growth in one period and capital formation in the following period," they wrote. "This finding undermines the idea that a spurt in the capital formation ratio is a necessary prerequisite for growth." [28]

In other words, Mellon had it backward and so do later generations of his apostles. A growing economy with widely distributed incomes and full employment creates the effective demand that leads investors to increase capital investment--new factories and more jobs. Capital will not build new factories to make goods that no one can afford to buy. My intent here is not to settle this central dispute of economics, but to demonstrate that this is the real ground on which tax politics ought to be fought. Is "fairness" in the distribution of tax burdens and incomes an enemy of restoring stable economic prosperity? Or is a progressive tax system a necessary precondition for a healthy economy?

And why is this perspective seldom heard in contemporary politics -- especially from the party that ostensibly represents working people? The argument for social equity is, in fact, a much stronger case as an economic argument for balanced growth. This case, of course, would have to be documented anew and marshaled on many political fronts before the deeper tides of tax politics are likely to be reversed.

When untutored public opinion expresses its desire for a progressive tax system, people are articulating commonsense wisdom that elites seem unable to grasp: As ordinary people understand it, the American economy cannot be considered healthy when most of its workers and consumers are not.

A few lonely voices do try to cast the debate in those terms, but they are drowned out by the general chorus of conventional wisdom. Old liberal-labor Democrats of an earlier generation have been replaced by younger Democrats who treat tax concessions to the broad public or the poor as pious gestures of political charity, not as components of good economic policy. In the present context, one side of the debate holds the floor, year after year, and the other is held silent.

That bleak statement, of course, sums up the general condition of politics. It is the conclusion of everything that has been recounted up to this point-the how and why of the deformed power relationships that govern decisions across a wide variety of public issues. In the elaborate machinery of modern government, surrounded by expensive experts and lobbying mechanisms, it is very hard for the people's case to be heard.

If the complicated facts of these relationships can be reduced to a single message, it is this: The present system provides no reliable mechanism to represent the people on the most important governing questions -- no institution that is committed to listening to them and to speaking for them, no organization that mobilizes the potential strength of people and uses it to confront the rival power of organized money. The problem of modern democracy is rooted in its neglect of unorganized people.

Unfortunately, even this summation does not describe the full scope of the democratic problem before us -- or even its most daunting dimensions. Beyond the visible legislative debate and the familiar arenas of decision making .examined thus far, there is another, more complicated realm of government, where the politics and power relationships are much harder for people to see. That realm is the modern labyrinth of decision making within the Executive Branch, where the laws are enforced or not enforced on behalf of the public. I! is this complex territory where citizens lose again.
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:12 am

4. THE GRAND BAZAAR

The gleaming temples of democracy that tourists visit in Washington, the marble shrines to great leaders and great ideals, are no longer an appropriate emblem for the nation's capital. Washington now is more aptly visualized as a grand bazaar -- a steamy marketplace of tents, stalls and noisy peddlers. The din of buying and selling drowns out patriotic music.

The high art of governing -- making laws for the nation and upholding them -- has been reduced to a busy commerce in deal making. Thousands and thousands of deals are transacted every day in diffuse corners of the city. The rare skills required for politics at the highest level are trivialized as petty haggling, done with the style and swagger of rug merchants.

The Department of Transportation dickers with Detroit over automobile safety. The Department of Agriculture makes deals with farmers on the price of corn and the permissible poison level in pesticides. The Treasury Department haggles with important taxpayers. The Department of Defense buys rockets and airplanes and sells them too.

In the grand bazaar, the two staples of trade are the myriad claims on the federal treasury and the commercial rights and privileges that only the government can bestow -- licenses for television stations or airlines, the use of public assets like land or water or timber. All may produce vast good fortune for the winners and the competition for them naturally draws many eager contestants.

It is bargaining over the law itself, however, that provides the richest commerce and has the greatest consequences for democracy. While the news media focus on the conventional political drama of enacting new laws, another less obvious question preoccupies Washington: Will the government enforce the law? Does the new law enacted by Congress really have to mean what the public thinks it means? Or is there a way to change its terms and dilute its impact on private interests?• Lawyers inquire whether exceptions can be arranged for important clients. Major corporations warn enforcement officers of dire economic consequences if the legal deadlines are not postponed for a few more years. Senators badger federal agencies to make sure the law is treating their clients and constituents with due regard.

Washington, in other words, engages in another realm of continuing politics that the public rarely sees -- governing contests where it is even more difficult and expensive to participate. This is where the supposedly agreed-upon public objectives are regularly subverted, stalled or ignored, where the law is literally diverted to different purposes, where citizens' victories are regularly rendered moot.

Confusion spreads across almost every function of the government, a continuing uncertainty about whether laws will actually be implemented. Those interests that have the resources and the incentive to stall the law's application do not always succeed, of course, but their persistent efforts keep government authority always in doubt -- often long after the public was assured that a problem had been addressed.

The transactions where this occurs are mostly submerged in the Executive Branch, scattered across hundreds of bureaus and agencies and focused mainly on the esoteric language of federal regulations and enforcement. The regulatory government is a many-chambered labyrinth, staggeringly complex and compartmentalized in its thousands of parts. But one does not have to study a dizzying organizational chart of federal agencies to understand how it works. One need only visualize what happens to a law after it is enacted to grasp the antidemocratic dynamic.

The deal making is the principal source of the money scandals that occasionally ensnare senators or representatives. When a politician is caught trying to fix things for a campaign contributor, he usually reacts with injured innocence. He was only doing his job. Besides, everyone does it. As morally unsatisfying as these excuses seem, the crooked politicians are articulating an unpleasant truth about modern government. Everybody does do it, including especially the politicians of the Executive Branch.

For democracy, the result is a kind of random lawlessness. Corrective mechanisms that are supposed to prevent irregular political manipulations have been purposely weakened. And the public inherits grave injustice: a government that will not faithfully perform its most basic function -- enforcing the laws.

***

The regulatory government is arguably the largest or second largest component in the political commerce surrounding the federal government, rivaled only by the defense sector in terms of the human and financial resources it consumes. Professor Robert B. Reich of Harvard attempted a precise census in the early 1980s and found that the "regulatory community" in Washington consisted of 92,500 people -- lawyers, lobbyists, trade- association and public-relations specialists, consultants and corporate reps. Their primary function is to argue over the content of federal regulations -- the precise meaning that will flow from the laws that Congress has enacted. A decade later, Reich's head count doubtless understates reality. [1]

The general-interest press does not try to cover the regulatory government, except for an occasional controversy, mainly because regulatory politics seldom provides a concise, convenient event. These contests are stretched out over years -- a continuum of tedious actions that confounds the standard definition of "news." The regulatory details, moreover, do not look like "politics," but generally surface as mind-numbing arguments over law, science and economics. [2]

The explosion of modern regulation, more than anything else, is what brought the money to Washington and transformed the capital from a sleepy small town to a glamorous power. center. During the 1930s, Roosevelt's New Deal created 42 major regulatory agencies and programs. Most of these involved economic regulation of specific sectors (airlines, broadcasting, oil and agricultural production and others), arrangements usually created in cooperation with the affected industries. During the 1960s, 53 regulatory programs were enacted, as consumer issues and environmental protection gained political momentum. From 1970 to 1980, 130 major regulatory laws were enacted. That is what brought the Fortune 500 to Washington, along with the tens of thousands of lawyers. [3]

Unlike most of the earlier regulatory laws, the modern generation of regulation was primarily aimed at curbing the antisocial behavior of businesses and was equipped to act in much more intrusive ways. New agencies like EPA or OSHA were not confined to specific industrial sectors like airlines or broadcasting, but were responsible for policing conduct across the entire spectrum. In that sense, the purposes were truly national.

This design presumably made it harder for a single industry to capture its regulator and control the agency's decisions, but it also had a unifying impact on corporate politics -- an incentive for diverse business interests to collaborate in campaigns to thwart new laws. Coalition building among different companies and industrial sectors became the preferred mode of corporate' pressure, and these alliances now deploy battalions of lawyers and lobbyists armed with their expert testimony. [4]

While regulatory laws have accomplished many things, the cumulative result is a civic culture that is quite different from the classical version of government described in civic textbooks. The arrangements of regulatory laws invite -- and often require -- that all things be negotiable later in the fine print. In time, once that assumption permeated government, the interested parties established that no principle was exempt from tampering. Theodore J. Lowi, the Cornell political scientist, captured the spirit of modern Washington when he described it as governing by "universalized ticket fixing."

The bargaining mode of governance, as Lowi explained; originated in the pluralist logic that fostered many of the New Deal's innovations -- reforms and economic interventions intended originally to share governing power with the weak and unrepresented. The goal was to create new forums and agencies for decision making in particular fields of interest, which would provide a place at the governing table for groups of citizens that could not hope to win in the larger political contests over general law. Struggling labor unions were given the National Labor Relations Board. Farmers were given an elaborate committee system with which to influence agricultural policy. The fledgling airline industry was regulated but also protected from competition by the Civil Aeronautics Board.

The idea, roughly speaking, was to encourage people to organize themselves into identifiable interest groups whose claims and aspirations the government could address, one by one. Out of the many voices, it was supposed, an equilibrium of just results would emerge from the competition among different groups. Lowi called it "interest-group liberalism." This civic philosophy is now fully internalized by both political parties and, indeed, by most citizens too. However, as Lowi said, it "corrupts democratic government because it deranges and confuses expectations about democratic institutions." [5]

This approach, multiplied and elaborated over time, produced a rudderless vessel -- a government designed to fix things at many different tables in the grand bazaar. At the dawn of the New Deal, principled conservatives (as distinct from those conservatives merely fronting for monied interests) had warned that a government that dabbled in every corner of the society would be unable to sustain a classical sense of general law. Political decisions would resemble, instead, particular deals, made piecemeal across every front. In those terms, the old conservative nightmare has come true.

But so has the liberal nightmare. Instead of containing the political influence of concentrated economic power and liberating government from its clutches, the steady diffusion of authority has simply multiplied the opportunities for power to work its will. The original progressive purpose of the New Deal has been stood on its head and now the weak and unorganized segments of society are the principal victims. In the liberal nightmare, pluralist deal making continues in the guise of governing -- but now the entrenched monied interests are back in charge of the marketplace, running the tables in the grand bazaar.

The practical result is a lawless government -- a reality no one in power wishes to face squarely since all are implicated, one way or another. The clear standards that citizens expect from law -- firm definitions of right and wrong, commandments of thou shalt or thou shalt not -- are corrupted by a fog of tentative declarations of intent. The classical sense of law is lost in sliding scales of targets and goals, acceptable tolerances and negotiated exceptions, discretionary enforcement and discretionary compliance.

To say that government is lawless does not mean that the laws are never enforced or never obeyed. Of course they are. It means that law is applied with such randomness that its reliability is betrayed. It means that the certitude citizens expect in law is now routinely subverted by the application of political influence. The political interventions are generally not themselves illegal, however. Indeed the processes of law often invite them.

This reality betrays the principle that is most necessary to democracy -- equal protection of law -- and, for that reason, it is perhaps the gravest disorder in the governing system. A shared confidence in just laws is the prerequisite social faith supporting every other function in democracy. Citizens are entitled to the presumption, regardless of their own economic and social status, regardless of whether they personally participate in the processes of elections and public debate or decline to do so.

As people everywhere now sense, this presumption has been grossly compromised. Though the problem is seldom addressed in public-opinion studies, I suspect that the general awareness of corrupted law is an important factor feeding the popular alienation from government and politics. This may be part of what people mean when they tell the polls that the government is devoted to serving a "few big interests."

"There is one set of laws we are all supposed to follow and then there's another set of laws determined by calling your buddy and asking him what he thinks," said David Vladeck, a lawyer with Ralph Nader's Public Citizen. Vladeck, like scores of other public-interest lawyers in Washington, devotes most of his energy to suing the government -- trying to get various federal agencies to enforce their own laws. The same agencies are sued endlessly by the other side as well, the corporate lawyers trying to block and dilute the force of those laws. Whether in courtrooms or in bureaucratic forums, this contest over law enforcement, more than anything else, is what consumes the persuasive energies of the capital's many lawyers.

William D. Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1971, described the continuing uncertainty of law he found when he returned to the job in 1983:

"When I came back into EPA, I hadn't been in office twenty-four hours when I was sued three times. I asked the general counsel to study it and he found that 85 percent of the decisions made by the EPA administrator that are appealable were appealed. Each case takes three to five years to work out in couI1 and the way it's worked out is a settlement negotiated between the industry and the environmentalists with the government sitting on the sidelines as an arbitrator."

What Ruckelshaus did not mention is that, according to another study, 68 percent of the challenges against EPA decided by judges were ultimately won by the environmentalists. Ruckelshaus himself was once held in contempt of court by a federal judge who called the EPA administrator a scofflaw and threatened to jail him because Ruckelshaus was deliberately ignoring a court order to quit stalling on enforcement. "The judge was right," Ruckelshaus acknowledged cheerfully, though he defended his rank evasion. [6]

The lawless bazaar existed long before Ronald Reagan carne to Washington and so did its permissiveness. But the political favoritism and insider fixes of the Reagan-Bush years were so flagrant -- and crude -- that they encouraged the impression that lawless behavior was a partisan problem, peculiar to a Republican regime indebted to big business. The Reagan appointees, it is true, did bend laws and ignore them with more zeal and thoroughness than any of their predecessors, but the roots of this governing disorder are much too deep and bipartisan to be explained away so easily. [7]

In the simplest terms, the lawlessness is another expression of concentrated political power, in most instances the power of corporations to resist the law. Stated another way, corporate interests, on the whole, still do not accept that they must comply with the new regulatory controls enacted during the last twenty-five years. Corporations do comply with laws, of course, and have spent billions to do so (and also paid many millions in fines for their violations). But major business interests have a choice that is not available to most citizens. If they regard the law as unworthy, irrational or too demanding, they have the ability to fight on.

That's real political power -- choosing whether to honor a law or resist it. Since the cost of resistance is often quite modest compared to the cost of compliance, companies benefit in real dollars from any success at political stalling, even if they know that they may eventually lose the fight. Thus, what often looks like a legal contest on the surface is really a political struggle in its deeper dimensions.

Curtis Moore, a lawyer who served fifteen years as Republican counsel on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, described the tortuous struggle to make the laws meaningful in the face of corporate tenacity:

"Twenty years ago, we set out to eliminate sulfur dioxide from the air. Here we are twenty years later and more than 100 million Americans are still breathing air with unhealthful levels of sulfur dioxide. Why? Because the companies fight you when you try to pass a law. They fight you when you try to pass a second law. They fight you when you try to write the regulations. They fight you when you try to enforce the regulations. Nowhere do they ever stop and say: 'Let's obey the law.'"

***

The very first secretary of transportation to order airbags installed as lifesaving devices in automobiles was John Volpe in 1970 during Richard Nixon's first term. Henry Ford and Lee Iacocca, then Ford's top executive, called on Nixon at the White House the following April and delivered a blustery attack on airbags and other federal safety and environmental laws.

Their visit marked the beginning of a successful twenty-year stalling campaign by the auto industry -- political pleas followed by postponed regulations, more studies, court challenges and watered-down proposals and more litigation. The industry's evasive tactics blocked airbags through four presidencies. The episode is revealing because the Nixon-Ford- Iacocca dialogue was recorded for history in the Watergate tapes. Yet it is also a commonplace story in modern government -- a law in name only, a law deferred to please a political friend.

"We're not only frustrated," Iacocca exclaimed to Nixon, "but we've reached the despair point. We don't know what to do any more." [8]

Airbags, he told the president, were another untested "gadget" that Ralph Nader and other safety zealots wanted, but they would merely increase auto prices and feed inflation. "We are in a downhill slide, the likes of which we have never seen in our business," Iacocca warned. "And the Japs are in the wings ready to eat us up alive.

"So I'm in a position to be saying to Toms [the highway safety administrator] and Volpe, 'Would you guys cool it a little bit? You're going to break us.' And they say, 'Hold it. People want safety.' I say, 'Well, what do you mean they want safety? We get letters. We get thousands on customer service. You can't get your car fixed. We don't get anything on safety!'"

Richard Nixon responded sympathetically with his own diatribe against Nader and the reformers. They are hostile to industrial progress, per se, Nixon complained, and would like to go back and live like the Indians. "You know how the Indians lived?" the president said. "Dirty, filthy, horrible."

The Nixon-Ford-Iacocca dialogue is instructive for its rambling, semi-coherent quality -- a series of unfocused grumblings. Neither Nixon nor Henry Ford seemed to know much about how the regulatory process works. Iacocca tried to instruct them, but his task was confused by his own scattershot invective and rambling asides. Reading the transcript of their conversation will be disturbing to anyone who thinks of the Oval Office as a place where the best minds come together to address the most serious matters.

At the conclusion, Nixon instructed his aide, John Ehrlichman, to take care of "this airbag thing." It was taken care of, and for a long, long time. Through Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan, the auto industry successfully kept airbags out of automobiles, making the same arguments at every step to administrators, courts and presidents. Airbags didn't work. They would increase prices. Consumers didn't really want them.

Finally, by 1990, the legal and bureaucratic evasions were exhausted and airbags were at last made available for American consumers. Their effectiveness was demonstrated immediately in dramatic incidents in which motorists survived terrible head-on collisions because their cars were equipped with airbags.

And Lee Iacocca, now CEO of Chrysler, appeared in Chrysler's TV commercials, boasting that his auto company was the leader in making airbags available to American car buyers.

Aside from Iacocca's rank hypocrisy, the story of airbags is unexceptional. It is possible to collect dozens, even scores of similar examples of laws that were bent or stalled in regulatory limbo or simply never enforced at the behest of selected clients.

At the Food and Drug Administration, it took more than twenty-five years -- and twenty- eight postponements encouraged by industry pressure -- before the agency decided to restrict the use of cancer-causing red dyes in food products, a danger the FDA scientists first identified in the early 1960s. [9]

At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the regulators issued only 350 fines during the 1980s, though public utilities had reported approximately thirty-four thousand mechanical malfunctions, worker errors and security infractions at nuclear-power plants. [10]

At the Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration referred only forty-two cases of industrial negligence for criminal prosecution over nearly twenty years. Only fourteen of those were actually prosecuted, with ten convictions. No one was ever sent to jail, even for a day, for violating this federal law.

At the Pentagon, exceptions to law were granted routinely to the major defense contractors -- General Electric, Boeing, General Motors, Rockwell, Northrop and others -- who committed criminal fraud against the government itself. The New York Times reported that twenty-five of the one hundred largest contractors have been found guilty of procurement fraud in recent years -- some of them several times. The criminal behavior persists because, other than brief embarrassment, there is no significant penalty, at least for the largest companies. Typically, they plead guilty and pay a fine. To appease the public, the Pentagon sometimes "suspends" contractors, but the suspensions are always lifted in time for the company to participate in the next bidding for contracts. [11]

At Transportation, the law enacted in 1975 to require greater fuel efficiency in automobiles was deferred repeatedly by both the Carter and the Reagan administrations at the behest of industry lobbyists. Whenever it appeared that companies might not meet the legal standard, they appealed to the White House for another postponement: Reagan granted three of them.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, the inspector general found that 80 percent of the case files on hazardous-waste violations showed no evidence that the violators had ever complied with the enforcement order. Instead, typically, EPA "enforces" its rules on land, air and water pollution by negotiating with the offenders -- bargaining with company lawyers over how much or how little they will do to correct their abuses and how soon.

A senator asked the EPA inspector general: "Is it your testimony that EPA's enforcement policies are so weak that it frequently pays polluters to keep polluting and pay EPA's small fines rather than clean up their act?" "Absolutely," the inspector general responded. " ... We have found that over and over again." [12]

When federal laws are so malleable and subject to political intervention, they cannot truly be called laws at all.

***

It is not quite fair or accurate to blame random lawlessness on faceless bureaucrats -- the professional cadres who operate the government agencies. In fact, to subvert the authority of law, powerful interests have had to eviscerate the authority of the permanent civil service -- those officers and professionals 'of government who are obliged to provide a fair, impartial rendering of laws. Two decades of propaganda from conservative think tanks assailed bureaucracies as the source of waste and irrational decisions. Republican political candidates promised to dismantle the machinery of big government and, once in office, they tried to keep the promise.

Among other things, democracy requires a strong civil service-government employees who are sufficiently protected from random political influences to carry out the law in a disinterested fashion. This paradox is not exactly new; reformers discovered' the same insight in the late nineteenth century when concentrated powers were manipulating government decisions in a similarly shameless manner. In modern political usage, the principle was stood on its head-the permanent bureaucrats were portrayed as the enemy of the public interest and politicians set out to "get control" over them in the name of responsive democracy. They have largely succeeded.

The consequences first became clear in the realm of foreign policy. During the communist- care campaigns launched in the late 1940s and 1950s, the Foreign Service was accused of disloyalty and individual diplomatic officers were pilloried for expressing inconvenient opinions on the true nature of international conflicts. The diplomatic corps has never recovered.

Over time, as the intellectual independence of the Foreign Service was debased, the quality of its expert judgments became less and less relevant to the political appointees who made foreign policy decisions. Recurring episodes of failure -- Vietnam, the debacle in Iran, the war against Nicaragua in the 1980s -- all confirmed the problem of high officials who ignored or actively suppressed informed dissent from the Foreign Service. Instead of nurturing honest voices in foreign policy, presidents regularly appoint political hacks who are routinely dispatched to U.S. embassies as a reward for their campaign contributions.

The Nixon administration, as in so many aspects, was more brutally systematic than others in its efforts to defenestrate the domestic civil service. Frederick Malek, a businessman who served as the White House personnel director in 1969, issued an exhaustive manual for political appointees on how to evade the civil-service laws and intimidate or dislodge uncooperative federal employees who did not accept Nixon's political agenda and his idea of what the law required. "There is no substitute in the beginning of any administration for a very active political personnel operation," Malek wrote. He cited Democratic predecessors, Kennedy and Johnson, as his model.

Among other tactics, Malek recommended personal threats to any civil servant who seemed politically disloyal -- a transfer to distant parts of the country or damaging reports placed in the employee's personnel file. "There should be no witnesses in the room at the time," Malek warned. "Caution: this technique should only be used for the timid at heart with a giant ego. This is an extremely dangerous technique and the very fact of your conversation can be used against the department."

As a grander strategy, Malek proposed: "Another organizational technique for the wholesale isolation and disposition of undesirable employee-victims is the creation of an apparently meaningful, but essentially meaningless, new activity to which they are all transferred. This technique ... is designed to provide a single barrel into which you can dump a large number of widely located bad apples." [13]

Civil servants are not oblivious to this sort of purposeful manipulation. Some react with extraordinary courage, carefully protecting their legal prerogatives and making sure that their decisions are technically correct and invulnerable to political assault. Others, more commonly, learn to keep their heads down. John Moran, who served a dozen years as an occupational health expert at EPA and the Labor Department, described the bureaucratic reality that has evolved:

"I was really trying at Labor. I got out safety alerts largely in spite of the system. They kept tightening the screws until they shut me down. My view is that, in the government, the fundamental rule is: Just play the game. Go with the flow. But don't take initiatives or try to go out and solve problems.

"It makes too many headaches for too many people. You get political flak, you get press. A lot of people in the federal bureaucracy are quite happy with that system. They are the ones, by and large, who survive and get promoted. The higher they get, the more cautious they become."

Another technique for subversion, used most dramatically by the Reagan administration, is to starve an agency for funds so that its civil servants cannot conceivably carry out their functions, no matter how conscientious they might be. Overall, regulatory personnel in the federal government peaked at 131,000 in 1980 and fell to 112,000 by 1986, despite the greatly enlarged regulatory obligations that new legislation continued to produce.

In Reagan's first term, EPA's budget was cut by 10 percent and its staff shrank by more than 20 percent (at one point, EPA's office of enforcement was abolished in one of those "reorganization" ploys recommended in the Malek manual). The Interior Department reduced strip-mine enforcement by nearly 60 percent. OSHA cut four hundred inspectors and its citations declined by half. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's budget was cut by 22 percent and its formal investigations into potential car defects shrank from eleven a year to four. At the Food and Drug Administration, the number of "emergency exemptions" granted to new pesticides was tripled. [14]

More insidious is the way in which government has put some functions in the hands of private parties -- "privatized" them, as the conservative scholars would say-by contracting out the work to companies and consulting firms. This trend was promoted in the name of efficiency and reduced costs, but it has inevitably deepened the irresponsibility of government-private contractors are often asked to recommend the rules and standards that will govern their own behavior.

The Department of Energy's flagrant abuse of environmental laws stemmed largely from private companies like Du Pont that were hired to do the government's work for it. "Some of the severity of DOE's predicament stems from the fact that structurally it is a supervisory agency," Gregg Easterbrook wrote in The Washington Post. "Its budget puts bread on the table for about 165,000 people but only 16,000 of them are government employees; the majority work for contractors and consultants." [15]

Despite occasional scandals, government contracting has become a popular remedy for governmental breakdown and tight budgets. If money is saved in the process, this is usually achieved by avoidance of the wage-and-benefit requirements of federal employment. Privatizing governmental functions provides rich contracts for private enterprise, but evades the more difficult questions of authority. It plays to the inherent popular distrust of government bureaucracy, but it also further confuses the public accountability.

Senator David Pryor of Arkansas, a persistent critic of the practice, noted that congressional testimony given before the House Armed Services Committee by the secretary of energy was actually prepared in part by a private defense contractor, unbeknownst to the secretary of energy himself. "Who is running our government?" Senator Pryor asked. "My no. 1 concern is totally unaccountable decision-makers. We don't know who they are, how they got there or why they got there." [16]

Farming out the government's responsibilities to private contractors -- while simultaneously holding federal pay for senior executives and technical professionals below that of the private marketplace -- naturally encourages a "revolving door" in personnel. Young bank examiners typically put in a few years as government regulators, then join regulated banks at much more substantial incomes. Justice Department attorneys take their expertise to private law firms where they represent the violators.

The federal government, as a whole, has been reduced to a training camp for private enterprise -- a school in which the students learn the skills and inside knowledge that will be most valuable to outside employers. Under those circumstances, only the most dedicated civil servants -- or the most incompetent -- are willing to remain in the public's hire. [17]

***

In a world of unreliable laws, the news media have become a principal agent of law enforcement. Wherever the press turns its beacon, embarrassed officers of government are compelled to follow. The routine of law enforcement has become a hit-or-miss system dependent upon exposure and scandal.

During the last three months of 1988, The New York Times published 108 stories, thirty- seven of them on its front page, devoted to a single scandal. A young reporter named Keith Schneider had discovered the gross and dangerous radioactive pollution emanating from the federal government's own nuclear weapons production plants. At his urging, the Times made a major project of exposing the full dimensions of neglect and deceit. The cost of cleaning up radioactive contamination from forty years of reckless mismanagement at the seventeen federal plants was subsequently estimated to be as much as $155 billion. [18]

The story itself was not entirely new or even secret, despite the rigid national-security classifications that surround the nuclear weapons plants. Congressional committees had investigated the subject for years and voiced their alarm. Freelance documentary filmmakers had produced devastating films exposing the radioactive contamination at Savannah River, South Carolina; Rocky Flats, Colorado; and other installations. Still, it was The New York Times that single-handedly made the nation sit up and take notice.

"Congress doesn't have the ability to get an agency to respond," said Representative Mike Synar of Oklahoma, a member of the House Commerce Committee who has led many of its aggressive oversight investigations. "There's only one way to make them respond and that's to get them on the front page or on the evening news. I was pounding hard on the Department of Defense and Department of Energy installations for six or seven years and nothing happened.

"Then Keith Schneider picked it up and wrote stories for thirteen days in a row on the front page of The New York Times and that changed everything. He has more power than any congressman over regulatory agencies."

Congressman Synar may not be exaggerating. Press exposure is a powerful therapeutic agent against the lawless behavior in government, but it is also quite random. Citizens' groups, large and small, work hard to alert news organizations to their complaints, while government regulators and the regulated industries live in perpetual dread that the roving eye of the media will, for some reason, stop on them. When it does, they are required at a minimum to prepare rituals of responsiveness that will appease the public outrage.

But, as every reporter and editor appreciates, the media's glare is essentially a transient, accidental force. It picks and chooses among many possibilities and usually settles on the most visibly alarming ones. Certain kinds of stories -- dead fish floating in the river or workers who lost their hands in unsafe machines -- are visual and accessible to press exposure. The more complicated, systemic scandals usually are not.

Depending on the media to make government agencies enforce the law is another aspect of randomness, People are often disappointed by the media's fickle attention span, their devotion to certain issues and indifference to others. But frustration with the press is directed at the wrong target. The government is supposed to enforce the law, not the newspapers.

***

The government, however, is a principal violator itself. As the Times's exposure of the nuclear weapons scandal suggested, major scandals of lawlessness often involve not just private companies, but installations of the federal government itself. During a generation of enacting ambitious environmental protection legislation, the government has been, without doubt, the single worst polluter in the nation. Private corporations can always plead that they were merely following the example set in Washington. The attorney general of Maine, James A. Tierney, compared the two major boatyards in his state -- Bath Iron Works, a private corporation that builds destroyers, frigates and cruisers for the Navy, and the Navy's own Portsmouth yard that overhauls and maintains nuclear submarines -- both of which generate dangerous hazardous wastes.

"One of these yards obeys the law," Tierney said. "One pays penalties when they do not. One pays fees. One has taken a responsible attitude toward the handling of hazardous waste. And that, sad to say, is the private yard. With our public yard, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, we have had an exact opposite situation." Shellfish in the Piscataqua River estuary, he said, have been contaminated with PCBs, lead and other heavy metals from the U.S. Navy.

In Minnesota, the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant was responsible for contaminating more than twenty square miles of the principal aquifer underlying the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. In the state of Washington, authorities estimate that as many as thirteen hundred hazardous-waste sites mixing radioactive materials with other industrial wastes qualify for Superfund cleanup on the Hanford nuclear weapons reservation; numerous "contaminant plumes" have been observed in the ground water, carrying such deadly chemicals as cyanide and carbon tetrachloride. In Arizona, pollution of an underground area four and a half miles long, contaminated with toxic chemicals that threatened Tucson's sole source of drinking water, was traced to an Air Force plant operated by Hughes Aircraft. [19]

These were not exceptional instances. A survey by EPA in 1988 found that half of all federal facilities caused environmental damage. The General Accounting Office estimated that federal departments violated the clean-water law at twice the rate of private industry.

Many of these federal facilities are in practice operated by private industry -- companies like Du Pont or General Electric that managed the nuclear weapons plants -- but the companies, until recently, were indemnified in their government contracts against any liability for the pollution damage they caused. DOE would pay the fines levied against its contractors -- which put the taxpayers in the role of underwriting violations of law.

The federal government, of course, enjoys a crucial advantage in its ability to evade laws. It owns the prosecutor. Every regulatory case that reaches the stage of formal charges or lawsuits must first pass through a narrow funnel at the Justice Department where the constraint of limited resources encourages negotiation and settlement instead of litigation.

Agencies are told to negotiate a compliance agreement with violators because there simply aren't enough lawyers to go around. During the Reagan years, the Justice Department went much further. Aligning itself with the Pentagon and the Energy Department, Justice argued that their violations were not subject to EPA enforcement action at all. How then would these federal departments be required to comply with the laws? The Justice Department suggested that EPA bargain with them. [20]

***

The cruel legacy of compromised law is that the task of making laws a reality frequently falls to the weakest parties involved -- the ordinary citizens who are the victims. The law enacted in 1970 to protect workers from occupational health and safety hazards has, for instance, been a well-documented scandal from the beginning. When OSHA is enforced, it is often because injured industrial workers, the unorganized rank and file, have decided to mobilize themselves in protest.

A group of such workers from Ohio's Mahoning Valley gathered one Saturday morning in 1990 in the vestry hall of the First Presbyterian Church of Warren to stage their own "public hearing" on the subject of occupational health and safety. A stenographer recorded their testimony for several hours -- bitter recitals about disease and death in the Youngstown area's major factories, involving such well-known corporate names as General Motors.

Dave Webb, lean and gray-haired at sixty-one, described the plating department at Thomas Steel and the long exposed tanks of acid where he worked many years amid deadly fumes. "I just went through the seniority list since 1966," Webb explained. "Out of twenty-four people who died out of the plating department, fourteen died from cancer. Three are still living with cancer. January, two other people died of cancer. So you're getting up around nineteen people."

After his closest friend died, Webb filed a complaint with OSHA, the federal agency created to protect the health and safety of workers, and Webb said OSHA fined the company $11,000, later reduced by $5,000. His arms flailed angrily in every direction as he recounted his complaints:

"We want a yearly physical, they haven't done anything about that. We want warnings put up all over that you are entering a toxic area, they haven't done that. And we asked them to replace the hoods over the plating tanks, they haven't done that. But they always say it's the cost. What's the cost of one person's life? I can't see where you put a monetary value on a man's life if you are not doing safety-wise what you're supposed to be doing."

Alberta Faber, a frail woman in sunglasses and a white painter's hat, kept a diary of her experiences with blackouts, dizzy spells, bleeding at the mouth and other symptoms when she worked in the paint shop at General Motors's huge assembly plant in nearby Lordstown, Ohio.

"I worked right by the oven," she testified, "so of course at night when the fumes came back, they watched to see when my eyes rolled back and I painted the wrong colors. Then we were relieved ... I felt like a canary in a coal mine, really."

Leonard Grbinick, a millwright for twenty-six years at a mill that was first Republic Steel, then LTV, then Warren Consolidated Industries, complained about the "red dirt" that settled on workers' hair and skin. For people with sensitive skin, it caused "sores all over their skin about the size of quarters," he said. Injured workers were reluctant to complain or file for workmen's compensation for fear they might lose their positions. "Like in Tom's case, he couldn't afford to take off," Grbinick said. "He had five children at home to feed. And I felt bad for him." As the union rep in the department, Grbinick took the complaints to OSHA.

"We complained and bitched and moaned about it," he testified, "and OSHA just says, 'This is a nuisance dust.' Well, yes, it is a nuisance. When you get it on your skin, if you're sweating or if you get wet, it will burn you just like somebody put a match to you.... I would like to take some of that nuisance dust and spread it on some of those OSHA officials' desks and let them breathe it for a while."

The most grisly testimony came from John Wilson, who at thirty-three is incapacitated after working several years as a lacquer sprayer at OM Lordstown. "Basically, forty hours a week, I worked in a cloud of lacquer," he related. "At one point, I found a respirator and put it on and was told I wasn't allowed to wear it because there wasn't good air in the booth and I would probably pass out and be hurt ... I started getting bloody noses ... so I complained to my fellow workers and they said, no problem, some of them had had bloody noses for fifteen years. So, unfortunately, this sounds stupid, but I went along with that program."

Wilson displayed a darkly hallucinatory oil painting he had done to depict the symptoms that have incapacitated him -- recurring painful headaches, constant listlessness and disorientation. He receives disability benefits of $500 a month. "I have a tendency to want to smash everything in sight now," he said. "I am fatigued all the time. I wash the dishes and, when I'm done, I have to sit down and take a nap or rest. I am really pissed off, this really makes me mad, I'm sorry."

These witnesses and others were drawn together by anger and also by their personal courage. The sharing of testimonials buoyed their spirits, but the hearing demonstrated just how isolated they were. Among auto and steel workers in the Mahoning Valley, raising complaints about unsafe working conditions is considered a threatening act. Thousands of local industrial jobs have been eliminated by plant closings during the last fifteen years; survivors who still have jobs fear that complaints from workers will simply target their plant for the next closing. The United Auto Workers, once one of the most aggressive unions, now treats the subject gingerly too, fearing the same consequences.

When the federal government created OSHA, one of its purposes was to eliminate this grim trade-off between jobs and health that often faced individual workers and their unions. Federal standards and nationwide enforcement would supposedly make it impossible for companies to squeeze economic advantage out of dangerous working conditions.

For most companies, however, the odds of even getting caught are quite remote since OSHA has only eight hundred inspectors nationwide -- one for every forty-five hundred employers. When violators are cited, the fines are usually inconsequential -- averaging $239 per violation in 1987. OSHA's huge corporate fines that are sometimes well publicized will normally be reduced drastically in subsequent negotiations with company lawyers. The agency won big headlines when it fined Union Carbide $1.3 million for the catastrophic release of toxic chemicals at Institute, West Virginia, when 141 people were injured in August 1985. The bargaining later reduced the fine to $400,000. [21]

"It's a goddamn joke," said John Moran, a safety authority who worked nearly a decade at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, OSHA's research arm, and who now heads an industry-labor safety committee in the construction industry. "In construction, nobody worries about OSHA anymore. They don't take it seriously. The average construction worker has a life expectancy ten to twelve years less than the average. In Indiana, the average construction worker dies at sixty -- before he even collects Social Security.

"The bottom line is the working man and woman in this country come in last. The regulators at EPA and OSHA never talk to the working man or the small businessman. They're dealing with big corporations and trade associations and labor unions."

In construction, for instance, the serious injury rate was actually higher in 1988 than in 1970 when OSHA was created. But, as Moran points out, this outcome is not dictated by market economics but by company decisions. Bechtel, one of the world's largest and most successful construction companies, has a health and safety record "ten times better than other companies," Moran said, because Bechtel executives committed their company to high standards in the workplace. [22]

In the case of the Mahoning Valley, the "public hearing" was organized by a handful of auto workers from GM's Lordstown plant who pulled together a little group they called WATCH (Workers Against Toxic Chemical Hazards) and set out to make the authorities pay attention -- their union, their company and their government. Charles Reighard, one of the workers, described how WATCH got started. "We were startled at how many names we saw in the paper were people from the auto plant who had died and at their ages," he said. They asked Staughton Lynd, a local labor lawyer and former historian at Yale, how to proceed and Lynd advised them to dig out their own facts.

So Reighard and three companions went down to the local library and pored over eighteen months of the obituaries printed in local newspapers. Even they were stunned by what they found. Between January 1987 and July 1988, they counted seventy-five of their coworkers from Lordstown GM who had died of cancer, leukemia, kidney and heart diseases. The average age was fifty-six years; the youngest was a twenty-nine-year-old woman who worked at Lordstown for ten years before she died of cancer.

"We made copies of every one of those obituaries and we have them to prove that the person did die," Reighard testified. "He wasn't killed. He wasn't shot. He wasn't killed in a car accident. He didn't die ten years ago like the union first said. And every one of them is documented that they died of cancer, leukemia or heart disease, kidney failure, and we feel that it's directly responsible from the chemicals they work in."

Their unscientific research did not prove, of course, that toxic chemicals killed these people, but the workers held a press conference to reveal their dramatic findings. The local news coverage produced official embarrassment. The United Auto Workers and General Motors, both originally hostile toward WATCH's agitation, agreed to cosponsor an expert study on mortality rates among Lordstown workers.

"We are confident the study will reveal that there are no problems out there," a GM Lordstown spokesman declared. A month before the study was made public, the plant manager announced that, in any case, the company's continuing efforts had already achieved "zero hazardous materials" in Lordstown's fabrication plant.

When the official joint study of "proportional mortality rates" was completed, it confirmed what the four auto workers had documented for themselves at the local library. The death rate from cancer among the auto workers at Lordstown's two assembly plants was nearly 40 percent higher than normal. At the fabrication plant, it was 50 percent higher. GM and the UAW agreed jointly to dig deeper into the causes.

Three months later, OSHA belatedly swooped down on Lordstown and did a "wall-to-wall" inspection, found 750 violations and announced fines totaling $211,000 (subject to negotiations). The company and the union have since reported progress on dealing with the health problems, though workers inside the plant said they could not see that much had changed. [23]

The only certain political consequence of WATCH's agitation was its effect on workers at other factories in the Mahoning Valley. They were encouraged to come forward to tell their own stories of dangerous working conditions and recount how the government had ignored them too.
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:15 am

5. HOLLOW LAWS

For democracy, the enduring consequence of random law is the culture of permissiveness and deception that permeates the highest levels of government. The general political climate is now infected with a cynical understanding that things need not be real in order to satisfy the public's desires and demands. Instead, both political parties and the webs of client-representative relationships surrounding them have perfected the practice of concocting hollow laws -- promises the government makes to the people which it does not necessarily intend to keep.

The political community as a whole, including the media and even many reformers, has come to accept the legitimacy of this and even celebrates new laws that are really no more than gestures of good intent -- grand declarations of what would be nice to accomplish someday. The reality, as every insider knows, is that the laws lack the precision and capacity to deliver on the intentions.

The legislative arena, including the presidency, has become addicted to these artful charades, which are now commonplace, both for regulatory issues and for general subjects like education or social welfare. Every few years, for example, usually just before presidential elections, a new "crime bill" is enacted with bristling resolve in response to public fears. Over two decades, these measures have had no measurable effect on crime or its causes, but they are popular in Washington as election-year gestures to the anxious voters.

Likewise, various social programs are enacted in response to obvious areas of concern -- hunger or homelessness or disadvantaged children -- but none of them is equipped with the funds to accomplish what they promise. These too are merely political gestures. Even a supposedly popular program like the Head Start preschool education program for poor children (universally applauded by both parties) is funded at a level that reaches only one in five of the eligible children.

Symbolic legislation is passed with fanfare, self-congratulation and the knowledge that the real political fight has only just begun. The participants will decide later, elsewhere, what will actually happen. Citizens at large cannot usually see the details of these evasions, but they observe, in time, that nothing much seems to have happened.

"One of the best ways to kill a civil rights concept is to pass a law and not enforce it," Mary Johnson, editor of The Disability Rag, wrote after the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 with huge bipartisan majorities and George Bush's blessing. After al1, she noted, federal agencies were still not observing the terms of disability laws that Congress had passed in 1986 and 1973. [1]

The standard reasoning behind these grandiloquent laws is that the approach leads to some incremental progress. It establishes broad public goals that may be fulfilled sometime in the future. But the political price for this is enormous. The approach fosters public deception on a grand scale and a legacy of deepening cynicism among citizens who thought something might actually be accomplished by government.

Richard C. Fortuna, a microbiologist who spent six years drafting environmental laws as a staff aide on the House Public Works Committee and now works for private industry, described the legacy of deceitful law:

"The worst situation is not the absence of laws, but the presence of laws in name only. Right now, we have lots of laws in name only." [2]

***

The shame of modern government was conveyed with appropriately dry authority in a statistical printout EPA provided to inquiring congressmen in early 1990. With some reluctance, EPA identified 149 industrial facilities in thirty-three states where the surrounding air was known to be quite dangerous, even deadly, due to extraordinary emissions of butadiene, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, ethylene oxide and other toxic chemicals.

The worst facility was in Port Neches, Texas, where Texaco operated a chemical plant that dispensed butadiene so freely that the lifetime risk of cancer for neighboring inhabitants was rated at 1 in 10. Asarco, Mobil, Shell Oil, Goodyear, Uniroyal and American Chrome each operated smelters, refineries or factories that created a cancer risk for their neighbors greater than 1 in 100.

The EPA printout listed another 45 industrial plants where the cancer risk was less than 1 in 100 but greater than 1 in 1,000. The remaining facilities on the list posed a risk greater than 1 in 10,000. As a matter of public policy, Representative Henry Waxman of California noted, an environmental health risk greater than one cancer per million is considered unacceptable. [3]

The repetitious details of the EPA list were enlivened only by the presence of some well- known corporate names, including some companies that appear regularly in television commercials proclaiming their devotion to the environment. Weyerhaeuser, which calls itself the tree-growing company, operated four mills with acutely dangerous emissions. Du Pont and General Electric each had four plants on the list. Dow Chemical depicts itself in TV commercials as an enlightened company that recruits idealistic young people to go forth and save the earth. In real life, Dow operates eleven factories where the risk of cancer is alarmingly high.

For twenty years, this sort of behavior has ostensibly been against the law, under the terms of the Clean Air Act of 1970. Yet the toxic air pollution continued with virtually no interference from government regulators. How could these companies get away with it for two decades? The sorry history of the regulation of toxic air pollution provides a convenient vehicle for understanding the tangled politics of debased laws.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 empowered EPA to curb toxic air pollution. from industrial sources in order to guarantee "an ample margin of safety" for the citizens who live nearby. Yet, by 1990, none of the toxic pollutants listed on the EPA printout was being regulated by the agency. Over two decades, EPA had managed to promulgate emissions standards for just seven of the more than 275 dangerous substances emitted by industrial plants. The continuing violations were not a secret to anyone. For instance, both Texaco and EPA had known since at least 1984 that the Port Neches plant was extremely dangerous. Nothing had happened.

The high-risk factories and refineries on EPA's printout were the dramatic edge of a much larger and more generalized form of lawlessness. In a separate accounting from EPA, for instance, the steel industry was found to be operating thirty-six coke ovens that posed a cancer risk greater than 1 in 10,000 -- and six mills where the risk was greater than 1 in 100.

Nationwide, according to the companies' own filings with EPA, a total of 2.7 billion pounds of poisonous chemicals are launched into the air every year by American industries. EPA has estimated that fifteen hundred to three thousand people contract cancer each year as a result but, in truth, the full consequences of this casual pollution, both for human beings and for the natural environment, are unknown and probably unknowable.

A law enacted in 1970 to protect human life from straightforward industrial hazards yielded virtually nothing over two decades. The principal explanation is neither bureaucratic laxity nor scientific uncertainty, but an esoteric form of political deadlock. The companies did not have to bribe people, since they could accomplish the same thing by exploiting the evasive opportunities embedded in the law itself. The evisceration of law is sometimes a story of dramatic backroom fixes by politicians, but more routinely, the law is neutered in the tedious details -- a process that resembles water eroding rock and makes no headlines. Democracy, as political scientist Theodore Lowi once observed, is undone by "administrative boredom."

Enacted with appropriate celebration in 1970, the regulatory terms for industrial toxics were immediately swallowed up in an interminable legal argument over the stringency of enforcement. From 1971 on, lawyers were in court virtually every year punching and pulling at those ambiguous words, "ample margin of safety." Without ever saying so, EPA decided on its own that the terms were unenforceable and went into a deep stall. The agency's evasion was implicitly accepted by the political leaders of both parties, who, aside from a few persistent critics in Congress, did nothing to resolve the impasse.

Stalemate, of course, constitutes victory for opponents of the law -- the oil, chemical, steel, timber and mining industries -- which did not wish to alter their behavior and had the legal and political resources to avoid doing so.

In broad political terms, the government's dereliction could be explained as a function of class bias and geography. Twenty-nine of the high-risk plants were located in Texas and fifteen in Louisiana -- the Gulf Coast industrial belt that is now popularly known as "cancer alley." Dozens more were in other southern states, which, given their history of economic deprivation, were anxious for industrial development on almost any terms. In the South, the conservative Democrats who dominate politics are closely aligned with business interests and they generally work to fend off any form of government interference in the name of defending free enterprise and jobs.

In both North and South, the afflicted neighborhoods that suffer from this toxic pollution are generally the working-class and poor neighborhoods whose citizens are most neglected in contemporary politics. Other Americans might sympathize abstractly, but most would not be directly affected. Several important environmental organizations did mount continuing legal battles in behalf of enforcement, but the environmental movement's major priorities were elsewhere -- the smog problem, the haze over the Grand Canyon and other competing goals for clean-air regulation. No one ever disputed the harmfulness of the chemicals themselves or claimed that toxic emissions control was beyond the capabilities of engineering. It was always fundamentally an argument about whether the risk to people justified the cost of fixing things.

"We're not talking about rocket science," explained Richard Ayres, the Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer who chaired the Clean Air Coalition formed by major environmental groups. "It's just using your brain. Companies don't like it because they never had to pay attention to it before, but basically we're talking about tightening the plumbing -- reducing the leakage."

The regulatory debate focused instead on the vague language of the original law. What exactly was an "ample margin of safety" if even a slight exposure to cancer-causing chemicals was potentially harmful? After listing three substances for regulation, EPA decided, with considerable kibitzing from industry, that the law literally required "zero emissions." Therefore, the standard seemed impossible to achieve, not to mention greatly disruptive to industrial processes.

The EPA's practical decision was to not enforce the law, but this was never disclosed in a forthright manner. Instead, the agency pretended for years to be faithfully pursuing the law's mandate.

"The legislation gives the agency an assignment that the agency's own scientists say you can't accomplish," William Ruckelshaus explained. "It had the effect of freezing the agency. Once you started into the regulatory process, it meant you were going to end up banning the substance, which would not have made any sense. So, instead of starting the regulatory process, the agency studied it and studied it as long as they could."

Banning some substances and compelling industry to use less dangerous substitutes might, in fact, be a plausible solution for some pollution problems, but politicians never considered such questions when they passed the original law. Lawyers for environmental groups conceded that the statute was ambiguous and would have to be resolved politically, but they saw the legal argument being used as a convenient tool for gross evasion.

"Industry argues the zero emissions interpretation so the perfect becomes the enemy of the good," said David D. Doniger, a senior lawyer with the NRDC. "Instead of imperially taking it on themselves to rewrite this law, EPA should have carried out the law and developed the regulations and that would have constructively put the question to Congress for evaluation."

Over more than fifteen years, NRDC, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club sponsored a series of lawsuits on various toxic chemicals, designed to force the issue to a resolution. "What we were trying to do was deliberately force the literal interpretation of the law in order to force the matter back into Congress and write a law that would work," Doniger said.

Instead, what resulted was more lawsuits -- appeals brought by both industries and environmental groups, more judicial decisions and court-ordered deadlines and more missed deadlines. The environmentalists thought they had achieved their goal in 1977 when an EDF lawsuit on vinyl chloride was settled with a negotiated agreement that provided a quid pro quo to both sides. "Ample margin" would be defined so that the regulatory agency could require the "best available control technology" on toxic emissions while the goal of total protection against cancer risks would be treated as a long-term objective.

"We said, let's put aside the argument over perfect protection and concentrate on getting a whole lot of protection for a whole lot of people," Doniger explained.

Nothing much happened. EPA instead began defining the control standards in terms of how much it might cost each industry to comply. Environmentalists complained that this was a violation of the settlement terms. The Carter administration, having listed only four more toxics, announced a "cancer initiative" in 1979 and published a priority list of dangerous chemicals. Then it left office without having acted on any of them.

The environmentalists were afraid to turn to Congress for help. By the late 1970s, industry's political campaign against federal regulation in all forms was at its peak. In that political climate, the environmentalists feared they might get something worse if the fuzzy legal definition was resubmitted to Congress as an abstract question of legal definitions.

The Reagan administration was even more recalcitrant than its predecessors, of course, and did virtually nothing beyond defending itself against lawsuits. In 1983, Ruckelshaus promised Representative John Dingell of Michigan, the aggressive chairman of the House Commerce Committee, that he would act on some twenty toxic chemicals by 1985. But, instead of actually listing the twenty chemicals for enforcement, Ruckelshaus merely announced an "intent" to put them on the list. He was held in contempt of court for refusing to observe a court-ordered deadline on regulating the emission of radionuclides.

"Instead of a quid pro quo, what we were getting was a snail's pace and standards very heavily watered down by cost considerations," Doniger said, "and so we raised the issue again in court and tried to drive the legislative debate to get a clean standard."

The Reagan administration's lackadaisical attitude changed somewhat after December 1984. That was the month when Union Carbide's chemical plant in Bhopal, India, released toxic fumes that killed two thousand people and blinded thousands more. Eight months later, another Union Carbide plant in Institute, West Virginia, had a toxic release that injured 141 people. EPA promptly announced a "Policy Initiative" on air toxics.

"It was all hype and nonsense," Doniger said. "They were basically asking industry to care more and, sure enough, industry had a program called CARE. Then EPA referred the pollutants to the states. Nothing happened."

The legal battles dragged on through most of the 1980s and finally in 1986 produced a court-ordered definition of "ample margin" that was presumably acceptable to all sides. By 1990, enforcement standards were in place for a handful of chemicals -- the ones first listed more than a decade earlier.

In a sense, however, the story of air toxics regulation began all over again in 1990. That year, Congress enacted a new clean-air law that largely rendered the previous legal arguments moot. The new legislation sets out different and less ambitious terms for how the government will regulate toxic air pollution. Thus, government begins anew the laborious process of regulation writing and litigation. The new law puts aside the question of health risks and instead attempts a simpler approach -- an engineering standard for tighter plumbing. EPA is ordered to devise technological standards for controlling 189 toxic chemicals, based on the emissions control performance already achieved in the best plants.

A decade hence, in 2001, if the control technology proves inadequate, EPA may then take up again the health question of an "ample margin of safety," now defined by law in much more conservative terms as one cancer case per ten thousand residents.

In effect, the complicated deadlines and exceptions in the new clean-air legislation give industries another twenty years -- till 2010 -- to comply with a public-health objective that was first set in law in 1970. The steel industry is given another thirty years to comply on its coke ovens -- law for the year 2020.

"The new law gives us deadlines," said Richard Ayres of the Clean Air Coalition, "but it's a nonlaw -- making deadlines long enough so that they don't have meaning."

Some leading environmentalists were more confident that, this time, something might actually happen. For one thing, after two decades of indifference and resistance, the chemical industry claimed to have gotten religion on environmental questions, and it launched an aggressive public-relations campaign to persuade the public of its good intentions. The timing was coincidental with the congressional debate on clean air, but some environmentalists like Doniger perceived a genuine change in attitude, at least among some major chemical companies (though not in the oil and steel industries).

Monsanto announced an ambitious commitment to reduce its own toxic emissions by 90 percent voluntarily, regardless of what the future regulations may require. Texaco, Du Pont and others made similar promises. In full-page newspaper ads published on Earth Day 1990, the Chemical Manufacturers Association unveiled its "Responsible Care Initiative," an environmental manifesto signed by 150 companies. Indeed, a number of the companies taking the pledge-Texaco, Du Pont, Dow, Mobil, Exxon, General Electric, Weyerhaeuser, BF Goodrich, W. R. Grace and others-were the same ones that showed up that year on EPA's list of high-risk cancer factories.

What discomfited the chemical companies was not the prospect of stern federal law enforcement-they had been quite effective at neutralizing that -- but the unwieldy threat of aroused public opinion. The regulatory law had proved impotent but another law enacted by some states and by Congress in 1986 had stimulated widespread public alarm by establishing the people's "right to know" about what poisons were being dumped on them. As the plant-by-plant reports on toxic pollution were collected and made public by EPA, community after community became angered by the frightening data.

"It's no secret that a lot of people are unhappy with chemical companies," the CMA advertisement acknowledged. Corporate executives still belittled the health implications of toxic air pollution but, as some of them confided to Doniger, the 2.7 billion pounds of toxic chemicals they distributed each year through America's air had become a "public-relations problem."

The clean-air law itself, nevertheless, is still a doubtful authority. Aside from the virtuous intentions of some companies, the new law does not close off the avenues for evasion and, in fact, the new complexities multiply the litigious opportunities for those who wish to resist by exploiting the fine print. Companies will be free, as always, to choose for themselves whether to comply or keep stalling. If they do not wish to spend the money, they will restart the lawsuits and agency lobbying and can hang up the newly reformed regulatory standards for many years to come.

William Ruckelshaus extolled the new environmental consciousness of corporate management, but he also acknowledged that there are many "bad actors" for whom voluntary compliance is meaningless. "For most companies," Ruckelshaus conceded, "they're not going to spend the money unless the government tells them to. If the government doesn't say what you're doing meets the standards, they won't do anything."

***

The lawless quality of modern government originates, naturally enough, with the lawmakers themselves. For most members of Congress, the legislative process represents a chance to please public opinion by voting for high-minded legislation while protecting corporate balance sheets or other interests by acceding to the legislation's deceptive details.

As conservative critics have observed, the legislative atmosphere of inflated promises was doubtless encouraged by the grandiose expectations promoted during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in the liberal hubris of the 1960s. Great goals for the nation were announced rather regularly -- eliminating poverty, for instance. But the objectives often lay far beyond the government's existing capacities or the sponsor's real political intentions. Indulging in hollow pronouncements has become a commonplace of modern politics. President Bush announced, for instance, that his great goal . for education is that by the year 2000 (well after he has left office) American high schools will have a graduation rate of 90 percent. Senator Daniel P. Moynihan mischievously observed that Ronald Reagan had made the very same announcement back in 1984, only Reagan had set the target date for 1990. Both presidents received abundant congratulations and press attention for facing the problems of education so boldly. [4]

In the media age, however, empty promises make smart politics. Enacting grand measures has the appearance of responsiveness to constituents' desires and creates a sense of forward motion. When the law fails, enact another one. "We don't have just a failure of one law, but a series of laws," said Curtis Moore, former Republican counsel on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "Toxic pollution is such a potent issue, we have been able to enact more than one law. By and large, they've all been failures."

Despite years of industry-government propaganda, the general public does not accept the trade-offs between corporate profit and human life or the environment. But the governing elites do. So dozens of statutes have been designed to paper over this basic conflict. Political action driven by intensified public opinion is artfully derailed in the legislative details.

A public-opinion survey by The Wall Street Journal and NBC in the spring of 1990, for instance, put the question this way: "Sometimes the laws that are designed to protect the environment cause industries to spend more money and raise their prices. Which do you think is more important: protecting the environment or keeping prices down?" The public believed overwhelmingly -- 80 percent to 13 percent -- that the environment comes before costs.

A New York Times survey conducted in the same month sharpened the point further: The public endorsed the view, 71 percent to 25 percent, that "we must protect the environment, even if it means increased government spending and higher taxes." A majority even agreed, 56 percent to 36 percent, that protecting the environment comes first, "even if it means jobs in the local community' are lost." [5]

In a healthy democracy, these popular expressions of value choices would be taken seriously. Public desires would at least be confronted in an open manner by those who think them unrealistic. If the government considered a congressional legislative mandate unachievable, it would explain why. If economic discomfort were the real reason why regulations were not being enforced, political leaders would force a visible debate on the question so that the public could at least understand the terms of the trade-off and respond with its own preferences.

Are Americans serious about their new environmental values and willing to accept the deep changes these values imply for American economic processes? In different ways, the public keeps saying it is serious. But politicians respond as though public opinion is merely a transient romantic sentiment to be indulged. The deeper political question about this clash of values never gets answered because the political community has discovered how to have it both ways -- appealing to the public's environmental values but without disturbing corporate power.

The Clean Air Act of 1990, for instance, advanced matters on several fronts but it did not even consider the technological breakthroughs that many believe are possible. The new law, in effect, rolled over the deadlines for compliance that were first set in 1970 and promised once again that, by 2010, people everywhere will be breathing healthy air.

"We could deal with all this much faster if we wanted to get it done," Richard Ayres of the Clean Air Coalition said. "The government could figure out substitutes for toxics that pollute or it could go 'upstream' and make the chemical companies responsible for the pollution that results from their products and processes. None of that has ever been done. That would be attacking the problem like you really wanted to solve it."

Defenders of the status quo argue that, notwithstanding the evasions and delays, substantial improvements were derived from the original clean-air law and, in time, the system will achieve its goals, however imperfectly. The public at large does not share that optimistic view and even some scholars regard the claims as dubious. Robert W. Crandell of the Brookings Institution wrote, for instance, that "because of delays, poor enforcement, and imperfectly understood dispersion and transport characteristics, it is possible that the entire program has generated little reduction in air pollution.... The data on air quality are so poor that one cannot confidently assert that air quality has improved because of the 1970 Clean Air amendments." [6]

All of the interested parties, however, have learned to coexist comfortably in a system that relies on public deception -- the legislators, the regulators, the regulated industries and even many of the reformers in the environmental movement. Forcing an honest debate would be disruptive and unpopular among political elites, in and out of government.

At their core, the continual evasions are about "the problem of power," as Theodore Lowi put it. What was missing in the modern era of legislation was a straightforward determination to use the government's power to achieve certain results and accept the burdens of doing so. The purpose of representative government, Lowi wrote, was' 'to bring the democratic spirit into some kind of psychological balance with the harsh reality of government coerciveness."

Does the government really intend to use its power to force these changes or doesn't it? When that hard choice is deflected into murky bargaining arrangements and endlessly negotiable standards, it reflects a breakdown of the representative process itself.

Sophisticated members of Congress know how to evade the hard choices about power. The imperfections and impediments built into the laws are not accidental or unintended, but usually represent silent concessions to the lobbyists who were ostensibly the losers in the overall battle. From the perspective of legislators, enacting incoherent laws has a rational purpose -- it allows them to have it both ways. Representative Mike Synar of Oklahoma, himself a vigilant overseer of health and safety laws, explained:

"We're really pretty smart around here and we know pretty well who's going to get mad, so we know how to avoid getting them mad at us. The easiest way is to not decide. It's like a golf game -- you score well by not making bad shots. So we defer the tough decisions to the regulatory agencies. If we're really deadlocked, we say: Let's defer to EPA for a six- month study and let EPA tell us what to do. A lot of people can hide behind that.

"The bureaucrats look at the legislative record and they can see the issues where we didn't want to make a decision. So they know they're in no hurry either. Why make a decision that will make the same people mad at them, if Congress didn't want to make it? Then the lobbyists move in and overwhelm the agency. If a lobbyist sees he's going to lose in Congress, he'll say to us: Let the agency decide. Then the regulatory side of his law firm will get another shot at it."

For most members of Congress, there is very little political risk in this sort of permissiveness. Indeed, the larger risk for them is on the other side -- that the final regulations will be too stringent and angry clients will come back to Congress demanding relief. For the most part, senators and representatives have learned how to deal with this problem too. Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas explained:

"When the regulation writers run amok and constituents start writing and saying, 'My God, have you guys lost your minds?' you can write back and say: 'Why, those guys in the agency have gone crazy and this is not what we intended and I'm going to demand hearings on the matter.' Which is usually where it ends."

The dysfunctions of the regulatory system were actually becoming the focus of serious debate in the late 1970s, but ironically, when the Reagan administration came to power, the debate was foreclosed. The Reagan regime's political fixes were so flagrant that a complex problem of governing was swiftly reduced to a simple matter of political hacks doing dirty deals for their corporate patrons.

Yet, if one asks corporate executives about environmental regulation, they will describe it as their nightmare. After all, plant managers are buried in complex and overlapping legal strictures that did not exist a generation ago. Companies have spent billions on compliance and small armies of employees are devoted to keeping up with exhaustive requirements for testing and handling, monitoring and reporting -- not to mention the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who attend to the legal language in Washington.

Lloyd N. Cutler's law firm at one time or another has represented nearly all the major trade groups, chemical manufacturers, petroleum, textiles, motor vehicle manufacturers, pharmaceutical makers and major banks, plus leaders of the Fortune 500 corporations. The suggestion that industry has captured regulatory agencies like EPA seems ludicrous to him.

"It would be wrong to think that corporations are on top or ahead," Lloyd Cutler protested. "They feel very put upon or even defeated. It's true that they manage to survive and deal and push things off -- they feel the added costs of regulation exceed the benefits -- but they would say the notion that they now control or dominate the health and safety agencies is just crazy. Because all industries are fighting running battles with these agencies."

The explanation, as Cutler suggests, is more complicated than the simple image of a captive agency, bound and gagged by its regulated constituency. The contemporary governing system would be more accurately described as a disorderly bazaar that is not securely in anyone's control -- a maze of diffused power with endless opportunities for reversal. If the power to decide things is located everywhere, then it really exists nowhere.

Modern political reforms, combined with the new generation of regulatory laws, had the overall effect of multiplying the decision points within the government-this was often their stated objective -- in order to break up concentrations of power. The decision making was splintered into many discrete steps, and authority was shared among many more agents along the way. While this broke up the easy politics of the back room or at least complicated it, it also created many more doors at which influence might knock and enter.

The diffusion of authority, as Lloyd Cutler himself observed, provides an ideal arena for special-interest lobbyists -- the more of them the better. Corporations may be perpetually frustrated by modern government, but, in the end, corporate interests are much better equipped to manipulate it.

"If you're against something, you're much better off in this diffuse world," Cutler explained. "It's harder to pass a law than to stop one. On the whole, I would say the professional lobbyists and lawyers prefer to live in this world where there are so many buttons to push, so many other places to go if you lose your fight. In a cohesive government, once you lose, it's over."

***

A minority of conscientious lawmakers has struggled for years to overcome the gap between appearance and reality. One by one, as regulatory laws came up for renewal, Congress often tried to tighten the legislative plumbing, so to speak, by drafting the legal commandments with much more precision and less grandiosity. If EPA would not set meaningful standards, then Congress would do it for EPA.

When this approach did not produce much improvement, innovative legislators devised an even tougher form of legislative command -- elaborate traps written into the statutes that are designed to force the Executive Branch into actually doing what Congress said it intended. These legislative devices became known as "hammers" because they confronted the regulatory agency and the regulated industries with a harsh either-or choice.

If the agency stalled and failed to produce a new regulation by the legislated deadline, then another set of stringent rules -- drafted by Congress -- would automatically go into effect on a date prescribed by law. The "hammer" provisions were intended to take the profit out of delay and inaction, to persuade the industrial sectors they would be better off cooperating with the regulatory process than endlessly obstructing it.

The first set of "hammers" was enacted in 1984 when Congress renewed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, better known as RCRA, which governs the handling and disposal of billions of gallons of hazardous wastes. The scandal of careless disposal -- symbolized by Love Canal and hundreds of other despoiled places -- had spawned the Superfund legislation to clean up thousands of old dangerous dumps; RCRA was supposed to prevent the creation of new ones.

The legislators' innovation has proved to be a dubious remedy. By 1990, EPA had complied with all of the "hammer" provisions written into the 1984 RCRA law -- yet the practical experience was not much different. Industry was given six years' advance notice on what to expect in requirements for pretreating hazardous wastes before disposal. Yet industry again claimed at the eleventh hour that the law would force the sudden shutdown of dozens of refineries and chemical plants.

Once again, the terms of the law were subverted in the final stages by strenuous industry lobbying. Once again, the law's meaning would have to be settled in protracted litigation. The message of this regulatory episode is that restoring reliable authority to law is not something that even the lawmakers are likely to accomplish on their own. The political system itself is stacked against the law -- even laws made with reinforced steel.

From the beginning, RCRA has been another story of pliant law. The first version was passed in 1976 and, like so many other environmental statutes, it set deadlines for action that were not kept. The Carter administration gave RCRA a low priority and the bulk of final regulations was not published until four years later, when Congress was already renewing the statute in 1980.

EPA immediately was inundated with fifty-two notices of intent to file lawsuits on the new regulations from industries and environmental groups as well as thousands of specific complaints and questions. The agency began negotiating "technical amendments" with hundreds of private parties, trying to answer their complaints and avoid an avalanche of litigation.

In 1981, Reagan's new EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch, began suspending and deferring key sections of RCRA's new hazardous-waste rules. Even when federal courts ordered EPA to reinstate the regulations, enforcement was so anemic and compliance so spotty that even some businesses complained. Chemical Week, a trade publication, warned: "In a highly competitive industry, companies cannot afford to spend their resources on environmental protection, however well conceived the rules, unless they perceive those rules are backed up by credible enforcement policy."

By 1984, after the EPA scandals involving hazardous-waste sites, Congress was sufficiently fed up to enact its "hammers" -- a series of five do-or-die regulatory deadlines spaced over six years, requiring industries to treat chemical wastes to reduce toxicity and other characteristics before the materials are dumped in the ground. [7]

The first four "hammers" covered treatment of specific subcategories of industrial wastes such as solvents and organic chemicals and seemed to be effective; that is, the regulators produced meaningful regulations. When the first "hammer" came due in 1986, EPA at first issued a weakened version pleasing to industry, but this set off a firestorm in Congress. EPA had failed to require that the best available treatment methods be applied to solvents before disposal -- in other words, that the stuff be made as harmless as possible before it is dumped into the ground.

Eleven members of Congress, who had been the key draftsmen of the law, complained vigorously that their intentions were betrayed. After the uproar, EPA reversed itself and adopted the best-available-treatment standard for solvents and the three other subcategories covered by subsequent "hammer" deadlines. On the final "hammer" that came due in May 1990, the most important one because it covers roughly half of all hazardous wastes, EPA took a dive.

"In some ways, we've won all the battles and lost the war," said Richard C. Fortuna, executive director of the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council, a trade group composed of companies that manufacture incinerators and other waste-treatment equipment. "If we can't win this back in court, this country is back where it started in 1980 in terms of preventing more Superfund sites."

Fortuna's trade group had an obvious profit incentive in promoting hazardous-waste regulation that imposes tougher standards, but its critique was seconded by angry environmentalists and disappointed members of Congress. The industry treatment council and the Natural Resources Defense Council jointly sued EPA in 1990, charging that the mandate of the 1984 "hammer" had been subverted by regulatory fiat. Instead of requiring the best available treatment technology to reduce toxicity, corrosiveness and other harmful characteristics before the chemical wastes are put into the ground, the EPA regulation set a much more permissive standard.

Companies, in many instances, would be able simply to dilute the chemical wastes with water before injecting the chemicals into deep wells. Dilution, of course, doesn't really change the harmful characteristics of the chemicals. Once in the ground, the toxics are beyond anyone's control.

Deep-well injection has become a widespread practice for hazardous-waste disposal but, like earlier landfill methods, its eventual consequences for land and water pollution are not fully understood. Companies claim the chemicals are pumped so deep into the earth, sometimes thousands of feet down, that the wastes cannot possibly affect surface soil or ground water tables, but no one really knows what may occur ten or twenty years from now.

The practical experience so far suggests that deep-well injections may be a kind of geological crapshoot with the environment. If an underground formation has cracks or leaks through which the hazardous chemicals may migrate, that won't be discovered until many years later when the toxic wastes show up someplace else, perhaps in someone's water supply. A legendary failure occurred at Chemical Waste Management's deep wells in Vichery, Ohio, where 60 million gallons of hazardous wastes mysteriously "escaped."

Companies like Shell Oil, Vulcan Chemicals, Du Pont, BP Chemicals and Monsanto are sufficiently nervous about the practice that they announced their intention to shift away from deep-well injection. For instance, the manager of Du Pont's Beaumont, Texas, works told EPA's Pollution Prevention News that his company "recognizes the public concern about deep-wel1 injection and, for that reason, has set a goal of eliminating all toxic discharges into the ground or verifying that they have been rendered non-hazardous by the year 2000." [8]

In other words, the oil and chemical companies promise to do the right thing and stop polluting the ground -- a decade or so hence. In the meantime, however, these same companies do not want government telling them to stop now.

As the "hammer" deadline approached in the spring of 1990, the oil and chemical industries subjected EPA professionals to an extraordinary full-court press-warning them that dozens of industrial facilities would be imperiled if the agency went forward: with its best-treatment standard. The advocates of stronger regulation were caught off guard because EPA had already issued a preliminary version of the rule in December 1989 that enunciated the more stringent level of protection. Six months later, after lots of meetings with industry lobbyists and lawyers, EPA reversed itself.

"Between the proposal and the final rule, there was no significant new information," an EPA staff professional said. "It was basically a case of EPA management becoming more nervous about what they'd done."

Geraldine Cox, a vice-president of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, described the industry as "very upset," and therefore it mobilized. "We agree with the objectives of the law, " she said, "but we will fight very hard if we think something doesn't make sense."

Environmental regulation often doesn't make sense to chemical companies. "In these matters," Cox said, "there's an awful lot of chasing angels to see how many can dance on the head of a pin. But, if that's what the public wants us to do, we will do it."

A delegation of six lobbyists and experts from the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the American Petroleum Institute first called EPA in October 1989 to open the argument for abandoning the best-treatment standard, even though CMA had just lost a court suit on the same issue. Then another group from CMA came back two weeks later. "CMA believes that EPA can interpret that dilution is permissible for characteristics," according to an EPA official's notes of the meeting. [9]

In early December, experts from CMA, Monsanto and CYRO Industries came in to plead for speedy action on exemptions for fifty-four deep wells that industry claimed would pose no risk of migrating chemicals. J. T. Smith, senior partner at Covington & Burling, a premier Washington law firm, rang up with his own legal interpretations on behalf of CMA. Dow, DuPont, Monsanto and other CMA representatives met again with EPA in mid-January to suggest rules changes for granting the exemptions.

BP Chemicals arranged a teleconference in which it informed EPA staff professionals that its Lima, Ohio, plant would be closed if it received no exemption by the time the new regulation was made final. Vulcan Materials delivered the same message about its Wichita, Kansas, plant.

Many of the same companies appeared once again in early February, accompanied by CMA lawyers, to warn again about the potential economic consequences of a tough standard. ARCO Chemical wrote that its plant at Channelview, Texas, would curtail production in May if its injection wells were not exempted. The plant, ARCO explained, produced waste volume of 142 million gallons a year from the production of propylene oxide and styrene monomer -- various waste streams that were highly corrosive. Celanese, Cyanamid, Du Pont and Monsanto provided similar data and warnings on six other southwestern plants.

Beyond the familiar tactic of economic blackmail, there is a deeper point for democracy: the question of power. Who has the power to decide when industry will make these changes -- the companies or the government? The corporations naturally wish to retain that power for themselves and, in this case, they succeeded.

Most of the lobbyists' meetings were held with EPA division chiefs, middle-level staff technicians and agency lawyers, who mostly listened as the industry experts advanced legal interpretations meant to intimidate. "We were attacked. on a technical basis -- the kind of case they felt they could make in a lawsuit if we didn't yield," the EPA professional said. "Industry argued there would be huge costs if we went forward with the proposed rule. Depending on who you listened to, it was the end of the world."

By late March, industry had evidently won its point. The dialogue was taken to a higher political plane by E. P. Blanchard, vice-chairman of Du Pont's board of directors, who wrote directly to Henry Habicht, EPA deputy administrator and the official who would ultimately decide the matter.

Blanchard wrote: "We ... understand you are contemplating revisions to the agency's so- called Third-Third land disposal proposal to provide relief for underground injection facilities. We applaud and support your efforts to resolve our May 8 difficulties and encourage you to revise the Third-Third final rule." Copies were sent to four EPA division chiefs, Habicht's subordinates.

Some of the corporate pleadings invoked a threat of political fallout if EPA did not fold. Dow Chemical representatives told EPA in April that "they felt compelled to advise Congress that, if finalized, this standard would be very expensive, environmentally counterproductive, and impossible to meet on May 9 or in the foreseeable future." CMA's lobbyists informed EPA staff professionals that they were "likely to raise their concerns to senior Agency management and with Hill staff."

A few weeks after Earth Day 1990, EPA announced its final regulation, which attempted to straddle the argument with half-pregnant logic. The agency claimed the legal authority to impose a higher standard involving best-available-treatment technology, but said it was choosing not to do so in this instance because it lacked sufficient data to justify the tougher rule. In the abstract legal argument, EPA was siding with the environmentalists. In practical terms, it was giving industry what it wanted. EPA, simultaneously, was issuing lots of exemptions for the companies' deep-well injection sites.

The administrative record, typically, is silent on the question of outside political intervention, though EPA staff professionals felt certain that somewhere along the line the White House had added its voice to the case made by industry advocates.

"My understanding," an EPA professional said, "is that there was a lot of back-channel traffic, calls to the White House and to the agency management at every level. I can't prove that because nothing like that is ever said. But we were getting a barrage of questions from EPA management that was almost identical to the questions industry was asking us. When I pushed the management for rational explanations -- why are we changing this? -- they said: 'Listen, this is the way we're going to do it. We've changed our minds.'"

The political overtones seemed "pretty blatant" to Richard Fortuna of the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council, though he had no direct proof either. Three different firms that were members of the treatment council, he said, reported that oil companies had planned to buy equipment for pretreatment and reclamation of their hazardous wastes in anticipation of the new regulation -- then they abruptly canceled the orders before the final rule was announced.

"These guys were on the verge of signing contracts and they were suddenly canceled," Fortuna said. "Our salesmen were being told the same thing by a variety of clients. The oil guys said, 'Hey, Sununu went in and got us a break.'"

Whether or not John H. Sununu, the White House chief of staff, or other presidential aides personally intervened in support of the industry's case could not be determined, but that is not the larger point, in any case. The RCRA episode demonstrates, in up-to-date fashion, that the law remains vulnerable to powerful manipulation -- despite the best efforts of congressional reformers to stymie irregular intervention. The "hammer" provisions, invented as the remedy to political manipulation, had proved as vulnerable as earlier legislative commandments.

Richard Fortuna despaired over the implications, though he believed a stronger standard would eventually win in court. As a congressional aide in the early 1980s, Fortuna had spent years on the RCRA legislation and helped draft the "hammer" provisions meant to insure the law's faithful execution. Now it was clear that even this device could be defeated by Executive Branch politics.

"There are ninety-nine ways to lose and only one way to win -- the final rule on hazardous wastes has every form of capitulation to every political interest imaginable," Fortuna said. "Basically, what they've done is gut the whole RCRA program because it's very easy to dilute hazardous wastes or switch the wastes to another category with easier treatment requirements. I hate to say that about something I've spent a decade of my life on, but I really think it's that serious.

"What EPA and industry are counting on is that this issue is a little too complex and people won't get it, even Congress. They're figuring that the combination of Earth Day and an 'environmental president' will let them slide by. But they can't get away with this. Sooner or later, people will figure out what's been done and fight back. In the meantime, huge quantities of hazardous wastes are going to be dumped under these easier rules."
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:19 am

6. THE FIXERS

In Ronald Reagan's White House, it was the office of vice-president that was designated as the chief fixer for aggrieved business interests. Industries that were unhappy with any federal regulations, existing or prospective, were instructed to alert George Bush and his lieutenants. The power of the White House would be employed to intimidate and squelch any regulatory agencies that seemed upsetting to American business.

The official language was less blunt, of course, but the meaning was made clear to every lobbyist and corporate CEO when Bush was appointed chairman of the President's Task Force on Regulatory Relief in early 1981. In collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget, Bush was empowered by executive order to review and suspend -- and effectively throttle -- new regulations emerging from every agency and department of the federal government. C. Boyden Gray, the vice-president's counsel, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce what to expect: "If you go to an agency first, don't be too pessimistic if they can't solve the problem there. If they don't, that's what the task force is for."

Bush's office and OMB became a shadowy court of appeals where Republican business constituencies could win swift redress -- without attracting public attention or leaving any record of what had transpired. In most instances, the corporations had already lost the argument somewhere else, in Congress or during the long public rule-making process or in lawsuits. Vice-President Bush privately turned them into winners.

The auto industry managed to kill a package of thirty-four air-pollution and safety regulations, including the one for air bags. The auto companies fed their ideas to James C. Miller III, executive director of the Bush task force, who had been a regulatory consultant to General Motors just before he entered the White House. The Chemical Manufacturers Association contacted C. Boyden Gray, whose old law firm, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, represented CMA. In a "Dear Boyden" letter, a CMA vice-president urged Gray to scotch a new EPA regulation on pretreatment of industrial chemicals that are dumped into public waters. The rule had been nine years in the making, first authorized by the Clean Water Act of 1972. The Bush task force suspended it and told EPA to give the matter further study.

The White House apparatus killed, stalled or watered down hundreds of regulations and boasted of the billions it had saved private industry. Warning labels on children's aspirin were abandoned for the drug companies. Safety rules for underwater divers were weakened for the offshore oil drillers (George Bush's line of business before he entered politics). Cotton-dust controls were blocked for the textile industry. Industrial air pollution standards were set aside for the steel industry. And so on across dozens of fields of federal law enforcement. [1]

The White House interveners, intent on secrecy, usually communicated their demands orally to the regulatory agencies. As one said, the absence of any written memos or letters "leaves no footprints." Nor did they ever explain who exactly was demanding the changes. Bush's aides were not discreet, however, about bullying civil servants. James Miller, the task force director, boasted that prudent regulators would not question OMB's power to recast things, for fear of losing their jobs.

"You know, if you are the toughest kid on the block, most kids will not pick a fight with you," Miller said.

The presidency cannot be counted upon to uphold law because the White House has become the capstone of lawless government -- an institution that rewrites law behind closed doors for the benefit of the few who have political access. Irregular as it seems, the White House's centralized control over the law's actual language has been broadly accepted by the political community as a convenient "solution" to the stalemated politics of governance. As a practical matter, this irregular new use of power became institutionalized during the last decade and the White House fixes continued unabated when George Bush became president himself.

These unpleasant facts provide the keystone for our larger examination of the breakdown of democracy. The presidency itself has been transformed into something quite different from the civic expectations. Instead of the bully pulpit where a national leader can speak for the broad public interest, the presidency has become the last step in the charade.

In the age of mass media, the president is shielded from scrutiny by qualities that other politicians cannot claim -- the mythic powers of his office and his ability to broadcast the largest and most deceptive messages of all. In modern government, starting in the New Deal, the White House accumulated an imbalance of power over the legislative branch because it was always seen as the great protector of the national interest and of the weak and defenseless. Now, the protection is regularly employed on behalf of the powerful.

In principle, regulatory reform could have been an important function when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. After years of tortuous hearings and litigation, scores of major new regulatory rules were nearing completion. The Bush task force might have undertaken a serious study of the conflicting goals and unfilled promises that Congress had produced.

But this "reform" initiative was driven, not by principle or disinterested analysis, but by a cocky contempt for whatever the regulatory agencies had decided. Lawmaking, in a real sense, would be done in the privileged setting of the White House, cloaked by the executive privilege that protects the president's advisors from public scrutiny. The laws would be reshaped, quite literally, to satisfy the very parties at whom they were directed.

Environmentalists and other reformers naturally protested, joined by anxious members of Congress who understood the power implications. But they couldn't change much. "OMB operates in secret and it's undemocratic," said David Vladeck, a lawyer with Public Citizen. "You have this very important rule-making process that's open and accessible. Then at the end of the process it's subverted by the fact that most of the important decisions are made in secret and nobody knows who influenced the decision.

"Regulations sometimes go into the black hole of OMB and never emerge again. Rules were completed years ago and haven't been heard from since. Other regulations go into OMB looking like trees and come out looking like rose bushes. It's an anathema to democracy to have all these decisions made on the basis of a record the public never sees."

OMB continued to exercise its irregular powers just as Zealously once Bush became president himself. During his first year in office, OMB changed, returned or scuttled 24 percent of all new regulations -- a slightly higher rate of tampering than occurred during the early Reagan years, according to OMB Watch, a public-interest monitoring group. The leading targets were Labor, HUD, Education and EPA.

Furthermore, Vice-President Dan Quayle succeeded Bush as personal appeals judge for business friends of the Bush-Quayle administration. Quayle became chairman of a Presidential Council on Competitiveness, which promptly ordered EPA to kill an ambitious new regulation on recycling -- a pollution-prevention measure the Bush administration had boasted about a year earlier as proof of its commitment to the environment. What happened? An administration source told Michael Weisskopf of The Washington Post: "There was the strong sense that they needed to give business something. Business has a lot of concern that we lost our commitment to deregulation. [2]

Quayle's operation was as secretive as Bush's and has tampered with or killed new provisions in law for preserving wetlands, reducing power-plant pollution, protecting workers from formaldehyde (an OSHA regulation ten years in the making) and reducing toxic emissions. The promises made in the new Clean Air Act were swiftly unraveled by White House deal making. "This is not only horrible policy, it is clearly illegal," Representative Henry Waxman, a chief architect of the clean-air legislation, complained.

How does Dan Quayle pick his regulatory targets? The same way George Bush did -- business picks them for him. OMB Watch reported: "While the council seems to involve itself in virtually every controversial health, safety and environmental regulation that makes its way through the federal bureaucracy . . . Quayle himself has said that he consults most often with business leaders who can tell him better than economists, 'how the clock is ticking,' and the council's executive director has said, 'When they [industry groups] feel like they are being treated unfairly, they come to us.'" [3]

Business lobbyists and executives, not surprisingly, defend the White House intervention since OMB has become a useful tool for them in the tangled politics of regulation. Most members of Congress, despite partisan divisions, are quite willing to tolerate this irregular form of lawmaking. In 1990, Congress declined to enact legislation proposed by Senator John Glenn and Representative John Conyers of Michigan that would have modestly circumscribed OMB's freewheeling power to rewrite laws. The White House's private intervention provides another safety valve for clients and Congress will not be held responsible. Senators may occasionally rail at OMB for gutting a law, but they can also send disgruntled constituents to OMB for relief. [4]

"OMB does their dirty work for them," said Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch. "Then when OMB does something outrageous, like on the asbestos standard, they hold oversight hearings and get a lot of press. It's a charade. That's the way the game is played."

If Democrats in Congress have been passive on the issue, it is partly because the Reagan and Bush administrations were doing aggressively what the Carter administration (and Nixon's and Ford's) had attempted to do more timidly. Aping the antiregulation critique from business academics in the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter's Council on Wage and Price Stability defined federal regulation as a major source of inflation and began reviewing new rules and arguing with agencies over whether they needed to be so stringent. The White House advisors lost the arguments at least as often as they won, in part because Carter himself was ambivalent.

Carter's aides, like Reagan's, responded mainly to industry complaints, not broad principle, but with somewhat less certitude that business was always right. At one point, policy analysts from Carter's Domestic Policy Council were wearing respiratory masks around the Executive Office Building, trying to demonstrate to OSHA that this was a cheap and easy remedy for the brown-lung disease afflicting textile workers. Their stunt did not succeed.

Douglas Costle, then the EPA administrator, observed that in his arguments with the Carter White House over pollution standards, "I would say that probably three out of every four [White House] comments on our rule-making were cribbed right from industry briefs." [5]

The rationale for White House control is usually stated as a principle of sound management. "My perspective is entirely presidential," said Stuart• E. Eizenstat, Carter's domestic-policy advisor and now a lawyer for corporate interests. "I want a president, whether Republican or Democratic, with the ability to control executive agencies. The president, as CEO of a trillion-dollar corporation, ought to have the management tools to control."

The trouble with this metaphor is that government is not a business enterprise. It has powers to coerce or penalize (or reward) that belong to no private institution. It has obligations, as well, that are unique -- including the Obligation to uphold the law. Managing government to save money for industrial corporations versus enforcing a new environmental law is a political question, not an argument for business economists, and, in a democracy, it is supposed to be settled in the regular order of political decision making.

The centralized control in the White House, with no public access or accountability, conveniently escapes those obligations. It also short-circuits all of the other processes by which the law is supposedly fashioned, both in Congress and in the Executive Branch's laborious rule-making procedures.

Even Eizenstat, an advocate of White House control, concedes the dilemma: "There is this problem, no question about it, of going through a full-blown regulatory process in the agency with a full public record and then having the president come in with a club at the end to decide it. It's not fair to let some unseen hand get into the cookie jar at the last moment."

The notion that the president personally decides these questions is, of course, a fiction. More typically, the regulatory laws are being rewritten by anonymous political advisors and eager junior analysts, who may have strong ideological biases in favor of business but very little experience in the complex fields of government they are now presiding over.

Among the thirty-two desk officers reviewing regulations in Reagan's OMB, a quarter had graduated from college less than five years before, half less than ten years before. Nearly half of the regulatory analysts had no federal agency experience at all; another 31 percent had none in their area of responsibility. Typically, they had studied economics or public administration at an East Coast university. These young people heard regularly from business lobbyists and sometimes sought out business's opinions, but they were not confidants of Ronald Reagan. [6]

A young policy analyst who was making large judgments on environmental law in the Carter White House acknowledged, in so many words, that he was winging it. "Since I never knew what decision the President would make or would have made if an issue ever got to him, I had no choice but to pursue my own vision of what was good," the analyst told an academic interviewer. [7]

The other popular argument for White House control is that only the president or his agents can impose rational priorities on the scattered actions and impulses of the various regulatory agencies, whose bureaucrats have a self-interested incentive to augment their own power. Since the private economy cannot afford the cost of unlimited regulation, it follows that someone should make broad choices about how much is too much.

Out of this logic, the practices of cost-benefit analysis have flourished. The Reagan administration was the first to require all agencies to produce a "Regulatory Impact Analysis" for every new rule they promulgated -- presumably to determine what society would gain and what it would lose from each new regulation.

Instead of broad priorities, the system of analysis produces its own bizarre inconsistencies and favoritism. The techniques for making these judgments are so sloppy and so vulnerable to special-interest manipulation that the notion of rational decision making has become a bad joke among government insiders.

A Labor Department "Regulatory Impact Analysis," for instance, calculated the reduced costs for employers and government if affirmative-action enforcement was limited to large firms. But the analysts did not examine the losses for women and minorities that would result from nonenforcement. The Department of the Interior's RIA on leasing Alaskan oil reserves acknowledged that local Eskimos would suffer while the nation's energy consumers benefited, but the analysis did not bother to quantify the Eskimos' loss. A General Accounting Office study of fifty-seven Regulatory Impact Analyses conducted under OMB guidelines found twenty-three RIAs that made no effort whatever to calculate the benefits of the proposed regulations.

In other words, under the guise of disinterested analysis, OMB is employing a heavy tilt toward business interests and against any new regulation that would cost them money. The analytic process, in fact, has created a web of skewed facts that OMB casually accepts or even encourages -- twisting the data to fit a desired political conclusion.

The Department of Agriculture, for instance, counted higher wheat prices for farmers as a benefit for the national economy in its justification for federal price-support regulation. But the Department of Labor counted lower wages for construction workers as a national economic benefit too, justifying its effort to weaken wage standards on federal construction projects. They cannot both be right, unless one believes that farm incomes are somehow superior to labor incomes. In terms of political preferences, that is what the Reagan administration did believe. [8]

All of these examples have one consistent threat -- ideological bias. OMB's behavior, in case after case, is not only strongly guided by the business lobbyists linked to the president's political debts, it is also driven by an underlying ideological assumption that the laws themselves are wrong-headed and ought to be neutralized as much as possible. This is a respectable position in the legislative debate and regularly articulated by free-market conservatives, but it is also the position that lost when the regulatory laws were enacted. The White House has the power to reverse it.

When the Food and Drug Administration attempted to assert control over new health claims that some food manufacturers were making for their products -- a practice regulated since FDA's creation eighty years ago -- an OMB desk officer complained that it was "antithetical" to the administration's free-market principles. Rather than regulation by FDA, she proposed, "Let the marketplace, not the government, set the agenda for the types of claims that will be made."

When business interests were ambivalent about a new regulation, the OMB analysts sometimes actively solicited opposition. An executive of Fieldcrest, asked to comment on new mandatory commercial reporting requirements for the 1990 Census, requirements her company supported, complained: "It is my fear, however, that the Office [of Management and Budget] has already made its decision in this matter and has polled members of the industry seeking justification for a negative finding." [9]

The most telling evidence of OMB's political favoritism for political clients is revealed when industry changes its mind about a new regulation. In case after case, the OMB analysts dutifully change their minds too.

The food industry opposed the new FDA regulation on health claims in advertising until it began to fear that an aroused Congress might enact something worse. When the food manufacturers dropped their opposition to the FDA proposal, so did Bush's OMB. The textile industry spent years successfully forestalling cotton-dust regulation through the White House until it decided that federal regulation might be a good idea, after all. When the textile industry accepted cotton-dust controls, so did the Reagan White House. The chemical industry, likewise, flip-flopped on the question of OSHA's "right to know" regulation for hazardous substances, once it became clear that many states were enacting their own tough measures. The Office of Management and Budget abandoned its objections too.

The law, in other words, has been reduced to a continuing political contest -- its meaning always subject to eleventh-hour fixes. Every president naturally responds to his own constituencies and his own ideological preferences; White House fixes did not begin with modern government. But what is different and without precedent now is that the shadowy practices of backroom politics have become institutionalized -- and even exalted -- under the rubric of rational governance. The scandal of these White House manipulations of law is that they provoked no scandal -- no fervent inquiries by the press and no general sense that something deeply abnormal had crept into the American idea of democracy.

Stuart Eizenstat, in defending OMB's new powers, argued that environmentalists and other reformers waste energies attacking the White House oversight machinery. Instead, he suggested, they should concentrate on electing the kind of presidents who will be sensitive to upholding the environmental laws rather than serving corporate interests. But, I asked, doesn't that sound as if the law is up for grabs? Eizenstat erupted in exasperation at the naivete of my question.

"Of course the law's up for grabs!" he responded. "The law's always up for grabs. That's why you win elections and appoint judges. That's why Reagan appointed five hundred federal judges. The law is not an inflexible instrument like a cannon that can be lined up and fired. It's a flexible human instrument that responds to political power.

"That's what having political power is all about, for chrissakes. When you have the power of the presidency, you have the capacity to put people in place who will be sensitive to upholding these laws. When you lose that authority, you're left with futile rear-guard actions."

This is not what Americans expect or deserve from their government -- that the laws will change with the election returns. Nevertheless, Eizenstat is correct: The law is up for grabs.

***

Even the White House does not get the last word, since, as many of the cases have illustrated, any aggrieved party can still sue. OMB's supposed ability to settle regulatory disputes in a rational manner has been tested again and again in federal courts during the last decade. More often than not, the White House judgment was found to be in error -- that is, inconsistent with the original laws. "We never want to go to the courts," said David Vladeck, the litigator for Public Citizen. "This is our last choice. But the courts are our Maginot Line against industry."

"Many of the cases we win today we win before very conservative judges who are very attuned to the concern about courts overstepping the line between law and policy," Vladeck said. "But they just overturned an OSHA regulation of formaldehyde on the grounds that it had no scientific justification -- it was the regulation OMB told OSHA to issue. These judges are very conservative but they're also honest and they too object to that kind of lawlessness."

For the last twenty-five years, it is true, the federal courts have served as the powerful arbiter that enforced legal deadlines on reluctant regulators or brushed aside specious protests from the regulated industries. Scores of court orders and decisions have been issued to uphold the terms of modern regulatory laws, most often in response to citizens who sought strong enforcement.

But pushing political questions off onto the courts is not a democratic solution. It may work well enough for citizens who are lawyers or who can afford to hire them, but it inevitably denies representation to most citizens. Judicial lawmaking encourages brokered decisions, negotiated deals done at tables where only the litigants are represented. Federal judges themselves are not answerable to the voters.

Besides, as the history of regulatory law enforcement demonstrates, fashioning law by litigation doesn't seem to work very well. It produces years, even decades of delay and uncertainty but often ends in laws as muddled as the originals passed by Congress.

Liberal reformers, who are effective litigators themselves, mostly ignored the democratic contradiction when the judicial remedy was working for their causes. Environmentalists and consumer advocates found an open door and sympathetic hearing before a federal judiciary that was mostly appointed by John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Now the majority of federal judges are conservatives, appointed by Reagan and Bush, and they are gradually closing the door.

"In the early eighties, we were finding the courts to be very receptive," said David Doniger, lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "You'd almost go in with a calendar rather than a brief and say, 'The law says this is supposed to happen in six months or a year,' and you'd get a court order. More recently, we've had more trouble. The appeals court in the District of Columbia is being more aggressive in saying, if there is no explicit deadline, we're going to assume Congress did not intend one and we'll give the agency as much time as it damn well pleases."

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the natural venue for legal challenges against federal agencies, has itself become something of a political battleground, where the ascendant conservative majority argues with the receding liberals over the court's role in enforcing regulatory laws. Chief judge Patricia M. Wald, one of the liberals, used the same metaphor as David Vladeck but with a different twist: "The [liberal] traditionalists still hold, but like the Maginot Line, the strength of their dedication and the limits of their endurance is in some doubt." [10]

The Supreme Court, now dominated by a majority of Reagan conservatives, is, likewise, changing the ground rules -- bluntly warning active litigators like the NRDC that they will be less welcome in the future if they challenge Executive Branch interpretations of the law. The Reagan conservatives are advancing behind the general principle that political decisions should be made by accountable political officers of government, not by unelected judges. It also happens, however, that this principle is compatible with the judges' own ideological biases. The conservative justices are generally hostile to federal regulation, especially if it offends business interests. If the federal judiciary was once dominated by liberal biases dressed up as legal doctrine, it is now captured by conservative biases in the same clothing.

The conservative critics are offended, down deep, by the modern legal doctrine, both judicial precedents and often the regulatory laws themselves, that has given legal standing for citizens at large to intervene, including advocates from generalized "public-interest" groups. The conservative legal strategy reveals which side of the struggle the judges are on. They would like to push the citizens and their public-interest advocates out of court and severely limit or even abolish their right to sue (unless citizens can demonstrate that their own personal injury is at stake in the regulatory issue). The regulated companies would naturally retain their standing to sue since they are directly affected. Former D.C. Appeals Judge (and rejected Supreme Court nominee) Robert H. Bork put their argument plainly:

"These last two decades, it has come to be thought that individuals can go to court to assert their own parochial views of the public's legal rights. This is contrary to the traditional rule that a citizen cannot sue a prosecutor to require him to enforce law in a particular way or even to enforce the law at all. Courts recognize 'prosecutorial discretion,' which means that important aspects of policy are left in the hands of Executive Branch officials who are accountable only to their superiors and to legislative oversight." [11]

A less attractive way of stating Bork's point on "prosecutorial discretion" would be to say: If the president decides to not enforce a law in order to please an industrial client, that's his business. Citizens have nothing to say in the matter unless they can prove they are going to be personally poisoned as a result. If they don't like it, they can write their congressman or try to elect a new president. Bork's doctrine sounds like a jurist's version of "the law is up for grabs."

The federal courts, nonetheless, are gradually moving toward the Bork view of things. In an important 1984 decision, Chevron U.S.A. v. NRDC, the Supreme Court held that an agency's definition of a regulatory law should be accepted as a "permissible construction" that will not be second-guessed by federal courts so long as it does not clearly violate an explicit statement of intent from Congress. Thus, the Executive Branch -- led by OMB -- will be given far more latitude to decide for itself what the law really means.

As one of the losing lawyers in Chevron, David Doniger, not surprisingly, thinks the decision was a damaging precedent. "EPA defined the sources of air pollution, as the law required," Doniger explained, "then, by changing the definition in 1981, it excepted 90 percent of the sources -- boilers, blast furnaces and so forth. We brought that up to the Supreme Court and said this is crazy. They did define the sources but nobody would accept that as a reasonable definition. The Supreme Court was almost petulant. They said that, since the term was never defined in the original law, they could not decide what Congress meant and they accepted EPA's definition as a reasonable construction. Reasonable meant: not off the wall. There wasn't anybody in government who expected to win that case and we had no idea we would lose."

An aggressive minority on the Supreme Court, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, is trying to shrink the ground for private citizens even further. Justice Scalia argues that when courts examine congressional intent, they cannot look beyond the language of the statute itself. Thus, the frequent practice of consulting committee reports or reading the floor debate on congressional amendments would be abandoned.

Judge Wald warned that this is really a way to ignore the context in which Congress acted and to let judges tease their own meanings out of the words in a statute. "Several [Supreme 'Court] opinions this past term that eschewed legislative history replaced it with what sometimes looked like a free-form romp through the 'structure' of a statute or its 'evident design and purpose,'" Wald wrote in 1990. "The phrases 'Congress must have meant this or that' or 'Congress probably did this for that reason' appear often in such opinions without apparent source other than the writing judge's mindset."

Her conservative colleague on the D.C. appeals court, Judge Laurence H. Silberman, embraced the new standard enunciated in the Chevron decision but conceded that it implies a "notion of statutory plasticity" -- law whose meaning is flexible, from one administration to the next. This permissive doctrine is being promoted by the same conservatives who espouse a strict-constructionist interpretation of the Constitution, based on the original intent of the Founding Fathers. [12]

The real power shift, however, is not to the courts but to the president. The largest losers will be not only citizens but also their elected representatives in Congress. In practical effect, the so-called conservatives are tampering with the fundamental balance of power set forth in the Constitution -- shifting the ability to write law from the Congress to the Executive Branch or, more accurately, to anonymous Executive Branch political advisors and policy analysts.

In an era when Congress seems permanently controlled by Democrats, conservative thinkers have decided that the presidency, since it is usually held by Republicans, is the nobler branch of government (a generation ago, when the presidents were liberal, conservative thinkers espoused the opposite view). Modern conservatism, while preaching platitudes about local control, has become a force for centralizing the power of government still further -- the same ideological reflex that conservatives once denounced in liberalism.

"There's no limit to the courts removing themselves from issues," Doniger warned, "and at some point our system breaks down. You could have executive decision making with no judicial review. The consequence is a shift of power. Not only are the courts giving up power but they're empowering the Executive Branch at the expense of Congress."

In the extreme case, if this doctrine prevails, the elected representatives could be reduced to a hortatory assembly -- passing laws that are no more than righteous pleas to the president, asking him to do the right thing. The chief executive would effectively retain the power to respond or ignore the legislative expressions, as he wishes. This imbalance of political power would resemble the arrangement in underdeveloped nations with authoritarian regimes, but no one mistakes those governments for democracy.

***

The deeper governing maladies that undermine democracy cannot be resolved by judicial fiat or administrative tinkering. The habits of hollow laws and random nonenforcement are deeply embedded in the political culture and are fundamentally political problems. If these can be solved at all, the solutions will likely be found only in politics.

The ambivalence of modern politics involves a deep ideological confusion about the nature of government and, as Lowi said, "the problem of power." In one dimension, the old conservative nightmare of big government came true and now sprawls in tangled reality before a disenchanted public -- a government without limits or priorities or the standards for establishing either. [13]

This proliferation of government activity in the private sphere did not lead to the pluralist sense of justice that liberal reformers sought when they set out to address the claims and grievances of myriad groups and interests. On the contrary, the government's decision making now crudely replicates the same injustices of status and wealth and power found among private citizens and institutions in the society at large. That is the nightmare facing liberals -- old liberal reforms that now work to defeat liberal values.

Conservatives, however, were corrupted in the process too. Despite their nostalgic rhetoric about small government, the conservatives' principles are now largely defined by their clients. Over time and with superior resources, conservatives have learned to manipulate the system in behalf of monied interests more efficiently -- and brazenly -- than the liberals who preceded them in power. Conservatives have perfected the politics of symbolic action first popularized by liberal presidents and taken it to audacious levels, employing deft public relations to mask the compromised laws and special-interest fixes.

Though I have focused mainly on regulatory laws and the power of corporate interests to neutralize them, the debasement of law and governing principles is a much larger problem that, indeed, spreads across the governing landscape. The same compromised standards are displayed, less distinctly, on the spending side of the federal government. A generation of politicians in both parties has learned the art of broad symbolic gestures -- enacting programs that do not and usually cannot fulfill their slated purposes. Loose-jointed discretion and interest-group favoritism permeate the federal budget and the tax code as well.

This casual use of governing power sows its own public resentments that eventually come back to haunt the politicians. In every important instance, the government is not spending enough to fill the needs it claims to address, but the general public imagines that these domestic programs are a wildly generous giveaway of tax dollars. The poor, for instance, especially the black poor, are thought to be blanketed in federal handouts. Yet even the best-known federal programs -- food stamps or welfare -- fall far short of serving the universe of citizens who are in need of help.

To take the starkest example of this public confusion, the majority of the people who are officially poor -- more than 60 percent of them -- receive no cash assistance from the government whatever. Yet popular resentment assumes the opposite. Nearly 40 percent of the poor receive nothing at all from the government, neither cash nor other kinds of aid. It is difficult to understand how welfare checks have undermined the work ethic among the poor, as conservative scholars claim, when most poor people receive none. [14]

The federal budget is littered with such unfulfilled commitments to different groups of almost every kind, not just those in poverty, and new ones are added annually. The impulse to legislate in this manner is by now bipartisan, and every year Congress and the president agree to extend the Charade in some new direction or another. People clamor for it. Politicians wish to respond. Very few public officials have the nerve to insist that, if the government is not serious about addressing the problem, it ought not to legislate at all.

Just as the New Deal era fostered the exceptionalism and special-interest deal making that now permeate government, the New Deal also produced an opposite model of how government should use its power -- Social Security. The Social Security system succeeded and endures, both politically and fiscally, because it was created as a universal program, not an interest-group deal. Despite minor internal contradictions, Social Security makes a promise that it has kept for more than fifty years -- everyone pays in and everyone is entitled to receive benefits.

Applying the same standard elsewhere-designing universal programs with a conception of social purpose broader than targeting a single afflicted group-is much more difficult, of course, and would no doubt eliminate many marginal programs. But it is the only road that leads to a sense of equity as well as an effective government.

Most industrial nations of western Europe, after all, have largely succeeded in following that principle, whether for health care or family-allowance payments or social protections. The well-developed "safety net" systems in Germany and France, for instance, are not only far more generous than America's and more equitably administered, but they also enjoy nearly unanimous political support, from the left to the right.

To confront the random lawlessness in the regulatory government, some obvious remedies are suggested in the misshapen institutional arrangements. The idea of a centralized regulatory review by the Executive Branch is defensible, for instance, only if it is brought out in the daylight and formalized so that everyone can participate. Since no chief executive will ever surrender the confidentiality of executive privilege, this necessarily means removing the OMB review mechanism from the secrecy of the White House itself. A regulatory oversight agency might still be answerable to the president, but not as a place for private fixes.

Congress, likewise, needs a mechanism, however crude at the outset, for facing squarely the conflicting trade-offs and ambiguities it has written into law. No single legislative committee can digest these questions objectively, since it might be asked to throttle its own baby. A joint congressional committee for regulatory review, as Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution has proposed, could ask broad questions and force the conflicts and fuzzy mandates back into the arena where they belong -- the lawmaking body of government. If government is going to make trade-offs between business profit and human life, it at least ought to make them in a public debate.

The federal courts could become a radical and positive influence in forcing this sort of reform -- by refusing to enforce laws that are designed to be unenforceable. The conservative judges, instead of protecting business or centralizing power in the executive, ought to develop legal doctrine that confronts the problem of lawlessness directly. If a law is so vague and meaningless that regulations cannot be rationally drafted for it, then courts could throw the law back to the people who wrote it -- the Congress. This would produce political embarrassment and eventually greater self-discipline among the lawmakers. It would also short-circuit the long-running sagas of litigation and nonenforcement that are now so commonplace.

The regulatory agencies themselves might be given similar leverage, an ability to declare honestly in some public forum that Congress has given them a legal obligation they find impossible to fulfill. A necessary corollary to that innovation would be a stronger protective mechanism for civil servants so that agency professionals could disclose, without fear of political reprisal, that the law's original meaning was being subverted by political insiders on behalf of their clients. In everyday reality, these new powers would probably be seldom invoked -- by either the courts or agency administrators or civil-service professionals -- but their mere existence would be therapeutic.

Administrative reforms such as these, however, cannot by themselves erase the permissive culture that fosters the deception and deal making in the first place. These attitudes and reflexes have been formed over two generations of American politics; escaping from them will not be accomplished easily or any time soon. Neither political party has the institutional capacity, much less the ideological inclination, to confront the permissive culture in a seriously critical manner. A modest beginning would be for them to acknowledge what the public already grasps -- the status quo is a lawless swamp.

The fundamental solution must originate with citizens outside Washington, for it requires nothing less than to change the political culture itself. Politics has to develop a fierce, new governing impulse to displace the old one -- a skeptical perspective toward the reigning assumptions about how government is supposed to govern. Only the people can bring this into the arena and impose it on the governors.

I would describe this impulse as a kind of functional conservatism -- as distinct from the corporate interest-group conservatism practiced by contemporary Republicans and most southern Democrats. This temperament would have to dig through the tangle of empty laws in search of the deeper principles that most Americans will endorse. It would have to ask, case by case, if the government really intends to use its legal authority to change things or merely wishes to make pleasing gestures.

Politicians following this new perspective would need the stamina to resist dubious banners and the self-discipline to reject inflated claims that do not correlate with broad purposes or have any plausible chance of actually being achieved. This would be nasty work for a political community used to making indulgent gestures and, against the facts of present behavior, it is very difficult to visualize. Still, the old order is failing and people everywhere recognize it. The next step must be to mobilize the political imagination -- and courage -- to construct a new order in its place.

If government were serious about environmental protection, for example, it would direct its authority at the sources of pollution, not the symptoms -- the production processes and products that throw off the billions of pounds of harmful substances every year. It would ban outright the use of some chemicals or force a radical reduction in other pollution emissions by mandating new technological processes for industry, agriculture, transportation and other sectors. If companies refused to change their own processes, the government might underwrite the creation of high-tech waste-treatment centers and compel industries to use them for a fee.

The principle behind this example is that government ought to use its coercive powers only if it is serious about achieving results. Once the chemical and oil industries began paying the real price for producing their hazardous wastes, they would have a strong incentive to reduce their pollution, an incentive more reliable than public relations. The federal tax code, to cite another example, now subsidizes the exploitation of virgin materials, trees, minerals, raw land, with generous tax preferences while government at the same time is supposedly promoting recycling. If government were serious, the tax incentives would be reversed -- to penalize the exploitation and reward the frugal use of resources. [15]

Is the government serious about compliance with the law? Corporations are not the only flagrant abusers of the permissive law but they are the most important ones. If the government were serious, it would create a standardized system for penalizing corporate offenders at the place where they feel real pain -- the bottom line. Ralph Nader has proposed a set of reforms for government procurement that would effectively close the window to companies that repeatedly violate laws or defraud the government on contracts.

A broader discipline could be applied to virtually all business enterprises through the U.S. tax code. A corporation that accumulates a record of antisocial behavior, including criminal violations, would be forbidden to cash in on the lucrative tax exceptions that are enacted to subsidize various business sectors. Why should other taxpayers augment the profitability of a company that, year after year, chooses to violate or evade the law?

Withdrawing tax privileges in a systematic way is another example of political remedies that speak directly to power -- applying the government's public authority to private behavior in a way that will produce real results. Such a negative tax incentive would swiftly alter the cost-benefit calculations that corporations make on whether to comply with new environmental or health and safety laws. Once the practice of abusing the law carries real costs -- with real dollar signs -- compliance may seem like a more logical choice.

These and similar ideas, of course, are exceedingly difficult -- perhaps impossible -- to envision in the present politics of the nation. That is because these ideas speak directly to the power relationships that envelop government and have deformed democracy. Anyone who operates successfully within the status quo will have little incentive, it is true, to disturb the present realities. That incentive has to come from the people.

***

Asking politicians to be more honest or courageous is an empty proposition by itself. The political system will not suddenly become self-disciplined or righteously skeptical of its own well-worn habits. None of the above ideas will be remotely possible unless the governing elites at the national level, including both political parties, feel threatened by some larger political force or the federal government in all its branches perceives a larger challenge to its dominance.

As it happens, the random stirrings of such a crisis are already visible in the vast deterioration in respect for federal authority. Federal law is now widely dismissed, both by aroused citizens and by local and state governments, as incoherent or unwilling to act meaningfully on public problems.

In some areas, citizens are using state legislatures as a bulwark against Washington, trying to prevent the worst outcomes that flow from the hollow laws enacted at the national level. In other instances, citizens skip over government altogether to confront powerful interests bluntly on their own turf. These shifting lines of struggle are still indistinct but perhaps foretell a historic reversal in popular political attitudes.

For two generations in American politics, Washington was the place where progressive reformers came in search of justice, whether it was civil rights or economic reforms, educational aid or environmental protection. The federal government's reputation as the most reliable source of social and economic justice has been destroyed, particularly during the last decade of Republican presidents but more profoundly over the last twenty-five years. As Professor Lowi predicted, interest-group liberalism "was almost inevitably going to produce a crisis of public authority." The crisis appears to have arrived, expressed by the mutual contempt between the people and those who govern the nation.

Engaged citizens of many different persuasions have concluded that, given the power realities that grip the national government, they must seek redress elsewhere, however limited or inadequate it might prove to be. On the whole, these are not the small- government conservatives following the anti-Washington rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, but people who call themselves liberal or progressive. They include as well countless citizens who wear no particular ideological stripe, but are simply seeking government action on the public problems they care about.

The power to govern still largely resides in Washington, but its centralized authority to decide things unilaterally for the nation is under challenge on many fronts. No one understands this better than corporations, which recognize the threat to their own political power and have largely reversed their own historical hostility to federal power. Conservative pundits still prattle on about the "new federalism," but conservative business interests now regularly lobby to defend Washington against rival centers that are trying to decide things for themselves.

Business sectors, it turns out, want to keep decision making consolidated at the federal level, where they have a better opportunity to manage the outcomes, whether the issue is product-liability lawsuits or pollution standards. Having gained substantial control over their old nemesis -- the big government built by liberalism -- industry now regularly defends big government against its smaller competitors.

This new struggle is found everywhere and on many different fronts. The state of Maine enacted a statute banning low-level radioactive wastes from landfills in the state -- trying to counter the federal government's decision to deregulate these substances as harmless. As Washington stalled, Hawaii and Vermont passed the first laws in the nation to control chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that threaten the atmospheric ozone. Portland, Oregon, banned plastic cups. Alabama prohibited out-of-state hazardous wastes from being trucked to a huge chemical dump in the state; industry sued, backed up by the federal government. When Iowa enacted a landmark ground-water-protection law, followed by Arizona and Wisconsin, the food industry lobbied Washington to preempt the states' efforts to regulate agricultural chemicals (the Bush administration endorsed the industry's demand). While Congress dallied for a decade over new clean-air legislation, eight New England states had already adopted California's tougher air pollution standards. [16]

These challenges to federal domination and many others like them have the potential to scramble the old lines of political conflict that for two generations delineated the standard liberal-conservative assumptions about politics. The battlegrounds are at least shifting in provocative new directions. The new battle lines, in effect, reflect people fighting back -- trying to accomplish something real in public affairs, despite the deformed power relationships and other obstacles.

The story of the democratic condition is not told by government alone, because there is always the other side of the two-way mirror -- the people. The next section of this inquiry turns in that direction -- citizens at large who are engaged in their own irregular politics, struggling to be heard and to force power to listen. Many Americans have given up on democracy in Washington, but they are still looking for it elsewhere.
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:23 am

PART 1 OF 2

PART TWO: HOW MAY THE PEOPLE SPEAK TO POWER?

7. THE POLITICS OF "RUDE AND CRUDE"


The nature of democracy's breakdown is visible not only in the corridors of Washington, but among the people too. Citizens have been distanced from the formal structure of governing power and they know it. Many are demoralized and resigned to their inferior status. Powerlessness also corrupts.

Others who still care about public questions have invented their own irregular methods for speaking to power. People will play the hand they are dealt and do the best they can with it. But, in the modern scheme of American politics, even active citizens are holding a very weak hand. Many have decided that if anything is going to be accomplished, it has to be done outside regular politics and in spite of government. Some assume the role of perennial guerrillas, staging daring raids on the established political order. The assaults occasionally rattle the centers of power but never manage to topple the fortress.

These citizens' attitudes and .actions powerfully confirm this book's argument that the political system we call democracy has lost substantive meaning. They can testify from experience to all the many elements of decay that have been identified as the "realities of power."

They see the major political parties in comfortable alliance with one another, not in principled competition. They know, from tangible experience, how the mystique of information-driven politics is used against them, disparaging their claims and pricing them out of the debate. They perceive the client-representative relationships of Washington as partnerships between government and the powerful economic interests that are arrayed against them. These citizens do not perhaps know the precise ways laws are manipulated, but they certainly perceive the murky barrier of symbolic law and false promises that makes it so difficult for ordinary people to penetrate the reality of governance.

All these factors and some others have incapacitated the citizens of this democracy, rendered them ineffectual as citizens. They are cut off from the real decision making in government and unable to speak to it coherently or find reliable representatives who will speak for them. People do the best they can in these debilitating circumstances, but inevitably many have absorbed their own distorted assumptions about what it means to he a citizen in a working democracy.

A generation of frustrated aspirations has led many citizens to separate themselves from the formal system of power and dwell in righteous isolation, contemptuous of all traditional ways of connecting with government. They no longer believe in elections as an effective lever of power for citizens. They distrust the elaborate machinery of governing. Many no longer believe that federal legislation itself makes much difference; they have seen too many reform laws eviscerated by the powerful economic interests.

Indeed, in many realms, the authority of federal law has become the enemy of active citizens -- taking issues away from them and concealing the action deep inside the Washington labyrinth. Cut off from the real decisions, lacking the resources to compete with the insiders, citizens at the community level lose contact with the content of public issues they care about and, as a consequence, their political activism sometimes loses coherence and energy. To overcome this, many have developed their own bluntly practical strategies for how to do politics-rough and direct confrontations with power.

Rehabilitating American democracy thus requires much more than reforming the government. It means that citizens at large must also reinvent themselves. The political culture that fractured governing authority and allowed political institutions to become irresponsible has done the same to the citizenry. The modern methodologies of government have taught people to think of themselves as one more "interest group" -- focused narrowly on this or that particular concern, but unable to imagine a larger role for themselves in the power relationships. These deformities, like the government's, are deeply embedded in the society and will also not be susceptible to quick, easy remedies. Some Americans are already working on it, however, trying to restore themselves as citizens in order to repair the democracy.

It is this lively but neglected territory of politics, the weaknesses and strengths of active citizens struggling for democratic meaning, that is explored in this next section. Their stories reveal, above all, the disconnectedness that prevents them from entering into any kind of enduring, responsible relationship with those in power.

This chapter concentrates on their strengths -- the varied ways in which citizens do sometimes manage to acquire a limited measure of power, despite the barriers thrown up in their path. Their victories are real, but often amount to a negative form of power -- popular vetoes over what the governing elites have decided in their behalf.

Not all Americans suffer equally from the deterioration of politics, and Chapter Eight, "Political Orphans," explains how the imbalances of power penalize one sector of citizens more harshly than all others. They are the working-class people who used to be protected and represented by powerful secondary mediating institutions -- organized labor and big- city political organizations. The story of how labor unions were stripped of their representative powers is an essential strand in the story of how citizens were incapacitated in politics.

Chapter Nine, "Class Conflict," turns directly to the citizens' own debilities -- the attitudes and approaches that condemn them to a weak position in politics. Just as governing circles are ruled by outmoded and self-defeating mythologies, so are many of the citizens who engage in irregular politics.

The final chapter of this section, Chapter Ten, "Democratic Promise," reveals a hopeful alternative vision-a portrait of citizens who are trying to reinvent democracy from the ground up. In a number of unexpected places, citizens are acquiring real power by coming together and patiently developing their collective political voice. These citizens are a living model of democratic meaning -- people speaking to power in a coherent manner. They provide an optimistic example for others, but also a rebuke to the atrophied political institutions that have failed.

Above all, these stories of politics have a redeeming message that is more important than all the subsidiary complications: Behind the empty shell of formal politics, the nation is alive with democratic energies. People are still pursuing the universal impulse for political self-expression. Disconnected from power, they are still searching to find it.

***

At the Highlander school in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, where black citizens trained for the civil rights movement a generation ago, students of a different sort assemble each month for instruction in political organizing and agitating. Most are white and not poor, though they generally come from the less prosperous comers of America, rural counties and urban working-class neighborhoods. Most are already engaged in the irregular politics of their communities and anxious to learn more about how it's done. The weekend training sessions are called STP, a title that is left open to playful interpretations. Save the Planet. Stop the Poisoners. Shoot the Politicians.

At dusk on a Friday evening in late August 1990, a group of nineteen citizens gathered in a wide circle of rocking chairs in Highlander's rustic conference room and began to educate one another with personal stories of victory and frustration. They had traveled from nine states, points as distant as Brooklyn, New York, and Jonesboro, Arkansas. A young folk singer from Pineville, Kentucky, provided a mournful version of "I am just a weary pilgrim going through this world of sin."

Highlander was founded in the 1930s by radical Christian social activists whose training workshops for labor and black organizers were frequently denounced (and persecuted) as "Communist-inspired" by southern segregationists. The mountain training center endures, a staff member explained to the circle, as "a school for people to learn how to act to exercise their rights, which is what we think democracy is all about." The civic battleground is no longer racial equality, but the injustices of life-threatening pollution.

Larry Wilson, a community leader from Yellow Creek, Kentucky, opened one discussion by reporting some of the insights gleaned from previous STP sessions. "Last group decided, since we're doing what EPA should be doing, we ought to bill the government for our work," Wilson said. "So we all sent EPA a bill. As screwed up as EPA is, they may pay us."

From Greenup County, Kentucky, an elderly war veteran named Daniel Thompson reported on GROWL, a citizens group trying to block a huge nine-hundred-acre landfill believed to be designed for the garbage of New York and New Jersey. "Those hearings they have are just a laugh," Thompson said. "The one we had, people said the hearing officer fell asleep two or three times. . . .

"I think the people in New York's got in mind to make eastern Kentucky and the southern states their dumping ground. If they win, we ain't going to have no water fit to drink because even EPA says there's no landfill that doesn't leak. They may get it -- I don't know -- but they'll surely know they've been in a fight."

Deborah Bouton, from Murphysboro, Illinois, reported gloomily on the hazards of a local Superfund site created by a military installation and EPA's plan to install a mobile incinerator for the cleanup. "I'm here because I desperately need some encouragement," she said. "I need to hear some success stories. I approach friends and try to get them to come to meetings, but their apathy is so profound. It's like there's nobody home."

Bob Greenbaum, a home-repair contractor from Cleveland, Ohio, described a fight against a new incinerator planned for a poor neighborhood "where the people have about as much political influence as my dog." A wealthy suburb, he said, was persuaded to join the fight because its citizens might 'be at risk too if the wind is blowing the wrong way. ''I' in for environmental fundamentalism," Greenbaum declared. "Start a lot of big brushfires everywhere you can and let the regulators try to put them out."

James Ramer, a hospital administrator from Jonesboro, Arkansas, recounted how he became politically activated. "We had one landfill that hit us before we knew how things worked," Ramer said. "We thought EPA was supposed to protect people." The others interrupted with cynical laughter. "Seriously, we did, " he said. "So we lost that one. Then they came in with the second landfill and we nailed that one. . . .

"The governor brushed us off so we got mad and we organized an environmental task force statewide with twenty-one hundred members. We're becoming a political force. The governor can't wall us off in one comer of the state. We're popping up all over the place."

The lengthy discussions at the STP school are about politics, but not in the esoteric euphemisms that cloud Washington debates. These people do not say "pollutants." They talk about the "poisons" in their communities. They do not analyze the statistics of risk assessment. They talk about people they know who died or children afflicted with cancer in their hometowns. The official language of environmental regulation -- terms like "interim permits" or "sanitary landfill" or "state-of-the-art technology" -- sounds to them like purposeful double-talk.

"These people are already radical," Larry Wilson said, "but they're saying things here for the first time to real folks like themselves -- things they've never had the nerve to say to their conservative folks back home. It's kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous. Saying something out loud that you've been thinking has a cleansing effect and hearing someone else say it has a strengthening effect. It makes it easier to say it over and over again when you get back home."

The rough-hewn political sophistication of these "witnesses" is obvious. Collectively, these people already know quite a lot about how government really works and, if policymakers ever listened to them in earnest, they would hear a brutally explicit diagnosis of why politics and government have failed. From practical experience, these citizens have mastered many of the procedural formalities and dense technical details, but they have also glimpsed the real power relationships underneath. That is why they are so alienated.

Public-spirited reforms enacted in the last generation (including public hearings and formal access to decision making for ordinary people) have only deepened their skepticism. They can see for themselves that the democratic form is not the reality. "At public hearings," one of them observed, "most public officials act like they're protecting hidden interests, like the decisions have already been made somewhere else."

James Ramer went further. "The politicians have pretty well quietly insulated themselves from all the critical issues," he explained. "By turning the decisions over to boards and commissions who are beholden to the industrial interests, the politicians protect themselves from the blame."

"We're playing by their rules," Wilson said. "The system was invented by the people who are poisoning us. The rules say they get to argue over how much cyanide they can put in our coffee, how much poison they can put out before they have to take responsibility for it. That's not a system we can ever win in."

The STP schools, perhaps by design, produce predictable tides of conflicting emotions among the students, some of whom are meeting other community activists for the first time. First, there is elation, listening to the others tell stories of their inventive tactics and occasional victories. This is displaced by despondency as they turn to analyzing the political forces arrayed against them: the federal government, local politicians, the corporations and their hired cadres, the scientific community, sometimes the media, sometimes even their own communities.

In a role-playing exercise, the STP students assumed the parts of the industry spokesmen and government officials attempting to convince a community that the new landfill or incinerator poses no health hazards and promises lots of new jobs. With disturbing ease, the activists found they could expertly mimic the condescending language and scientific bromides that have been used against them. The exercise provoked nervous laughter, then subdued reflections on their own weakness.

After many hours of talk, a renewed sense of anger surfaced -- anger that swiftly hardened into audacious political statements. "The law is not on our side, it just isn't," Bob Greenbaum said. "It's our government even though it isn't serving us. We need to seize the moral high ground and ask moral questions. Who made this choice that put us at risk?"

"There are already enough laws on the books right now, if they were enforced," James Ramer said. "I think the only way we're going to do it is to get hold of the power, which is the political power. Even though rich people have the most power, if we seize the political system out from under them, that's when it's going to happen. We have to develop enough clout so the governmental machinery can't be bought off."

In that sense at least, their self-conscious identification with the civil rights movement is accurate enough: These citizens are also utterly distant from power. They are scattered voices expressing hopes and fears for their families and communities, but utterly beneath the notice of the larger structure of formal politics. In their hopeful moments, these citizens also imagine that they are quietly building a political movement -- a movement for environmental justice -- while political elites dismiss their fears as irrational and disparage their demands as "misplaced priorities."

***

Firsthand experience with how government responds to ordinary citizens can serve as a powerful organizing tool. A vast network of indigenous environmental organizations has "popped up" from the grassroots during the last decade -- as many as seven thousand, some estimate -- fighting everything from industrial smokestacks to groundwater pollution. These citizens were not drawn to environmental activism by abstract ideology or aesthetics, but by their own experiences. They did not come from the well-educated managerial classes that produce so many members for the larger environmental organizations. On the whole, these citizens come from the most alienated and passive ranks of society, middle America, where politics seems remote and pointless. [1]

Typically, these people saw their homes or communities threatened in tangible ways. They turned to the government for help and were confronted by bureaucratic indifference or political sleight-of-hand. The disillusionment eventually led them to ask larger questions about power and the nature of democracy, but also to entertain more ambitious conceptions of their own citizenship.

Lois Marie Gibbs, executive director of the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes, a national organization that supports and advises thousands of grassroots groups, explains:

"Generally, people at first have a blind faith in government. So when they go to EPA or the state agency and show them that there is a problem, they think the government will side with them. It takes them about a year before they realize the government is not going to help them. They see the agencies studying them to death. That's when they become really angry -- radicalized."

Gibbs went through the same learning process herself back in 1978 when, as a young housewife and mother, she organized the neighborhood families who were living on top of a chemical swamp known as Love Canal in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York. "When I started, I believed democracy worked," she said. "I believed everything I had learned in civics class. What I saw is that decisions are made on the basis of politics and costs. Money."

Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal activists became the model for thousands of other communities because they figured out how to play politics "very rude and very crude," as she put it. The governor of New York came to address their complaints and delivered what Gibbs described as a "kiss-the-baby" speech. When it was their turn to ask questions, the mothers flooded the stage with their three-year-olds and four-year-olds. Then they turned to the governor and asked if he intended to protect these children from the deadly chemicals. Surrounded by toddlers, the governor capitulated on the spot.

"Although we won, that was really scary to me," Gibbs said. "My God, do they make all their decisions this way? All you need to do is make it politically advantageous for these guys to do what you want, regardless of whether it's right or moral? So much for civics class."

As thousands of other citizen activists have discovered, rude and crude politics works more reliably than the system's formal processes. Instead of obeying the rules, they stage dramatic confrontations with the people who have power. Citizens chain themselves to the gates of landfills. Or they block incoming dump trucks with caravans of their own cars and pickup trucks. They "blow up" public hearings with noisy disruptions and walkouts. In Braintree, Massachusetts, fifteen hundred people formed a hand-to-hand protest across a river bridge to protest a hazardous-waste incinerator. In Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a school bus filled with women and children blocked a Browning-Ferris landfill entrance for three hours. In Sumter, South Carolina, the local American Legion commander was arrested in community civil disobedience. These flamboyant tactics all won their objectives -- after reason and politeness had failed. [2]

"The movement is outside the system," Gibbs explained, "because that's the way to win. If you work within the established system, doing the right thing, more often than not you will lose. The system is put together by the powers that be so they will win. To be outside means not to accept that we will lose.

Many of these activists are convinced they are risking personal retaliation by challenging powerful corporate interests, a fear that is not entirely groundless. Some of them have been hit with multi-million-dollar defamation lawsuits filed by waste-disposal companies, a counterattack designed to silence them with huge legal bills (the activists call them SLAPPs -- "strategic lawsuits against public participation"). In an internal memo, a Union Carbide executive invoked the Red scare by warning his fellow managers that Lois Gibbs's organization has "ties into labor, the communist party and all manner of folk with private/single agenda." [3]

Nevertheless, William Ruckelshaus, the CEO of Browning-Ferris Industries and former EPA administrator, has a politician's grudging respect for the grassroots activists -- perhaps because his own company, second largest in the waste-disposal industry, has gone up against them on many local fronts and often lost.

"They are the most radicalized group I've seen since Vietnam," Ruckelshaus said. "They've been empowered by their own demands. They can block things. That's a negative power. But it's real power. Right or wrong, you can't bull your way through that kind of opposition."

Across many issues beyond environmental protection, Ruckelshaus observed, the dissolution of governing authority is underway -- driven mainly by public distrust. "I think what's happening," he said, "is that people are taking back the power to govern. It's not just symbolic power, it's real power."

Among political elites, including some of the respectable environmental organizations, the community environmentalists are regarded as irresponsible and dismissed with the tired cliche "not in my backyard." In fact, the movement for environmental justice has embraced a public-spirited goal that is more positive and ambitious than the government's -- to stop the corporations from dumping their stuff in anyone's backyard. [4]

Gibbs describes a plausible strategy for accomplishing this -- "plugging the toilet" of the industrial system -- a strategy that is based on an analysis of corporate economics, not good intentions. What policy elites mistake for random irrationality in the grassroots agitators is actually their different way of understanding the power relationships. The activists recognize that political outcomes are not determined by the rationalistic policy processes that elites promote. Do federal regulatory laws have the promise of solving the environmental problem, given their compromised condition in the web of corporate political influence? At the grassroots level, based on their own observations of how the system works, the answer many citizens give is no.

The relevant power, the citizens would say, does not reside in the political system, but in the private corporations that finance and manipulate the politicians. So these citizens have worked out their own strategy for achieving environmental progress -- a strategy that, realistically enough, targets corporate power. Given all that has occurred, their approach seems at least as "rational" as trying to enact new regulatory laws. Lois Gibbs explained:

"When companies have proposed new hazardous-waste landfills, our folks have come out and said, no, you can't put it there. As a result, there has not been a single new hazardous- waste site opened in the last ten years. Without passing any new laws or regulations, without getting into the debate, we have stopped the expansion of hazardous-waste sites in this country. In Colorado, BPI has the last landfill that's been approved, but the reason people lost in Colorado is because they turned to the scientists and did their objections within the system. You can't win within the system.

"Our aim is to change the discussion within the boardrooms of major corporations. That's where we will win ultimately, not in the government agencies or Congress. Our strategy is basically like plugging up the toilet -- by stopping them from opening new landfills, incinerators, deep-well injection systems and hazardous-waste sites. What happens? Industry is still generating the same amount of chemical waste and, because disposal facilities are limited, the cost of storage and disposal climbs many, many times. That's the American way -- scarcity raises the price.

"In the boardrooms at some point, there's going to be this discussion: 'Hey, ten years ago, our disposal costs were X and now they are multiplying and so is our liability and so is the public-relations damage.' That's when real change will come. All they understand is profit and loss. When the cost is high enough, corporations will decide to recycle wastes and reclaim materials, to substitute nontoxics in their products, to change their processes of production."

It is entirely plausible that these scattered groups of citizens, employing their practical strategy of cost pressures, may succeed where government has failed. As if to substantiate Gibbs's power analysis, William Ruckelshaus announced in the spring of 1990 that Browning-Ferris was going to get out of the hazardous-waste business. BPI would concentrate on the other, less dangerous forms of waste disposal and try to sell its new site in Colorado to some other operator. Hazardous waste, Ruckelshaus explained, was losing money. [5]

Active citizens of any sort are always, of course, a small minority of the population, since they are committed to public affairs at a level of intensity most Americans would probably never reach, even if democracy were functioning. A 1986 study measured the political sophistication of American adults and found an activist core of 5 percent, including the regular cadres within political parties. A fifth of the citizenry, 20 percent, was described as "totally apolitical." The rest were said to be "marginally attentive to politics."

Karen Paget, a political scientist at the University of California, estimated that fifteen million people are engaged in as many as two million citizen organizations, ranging from neighborhood drug patrols to national groups like ACORN, which has seventy thousand members organized in poor and low-income communities in twenty-six states. "Though there is no precise definition of a citizen organization," Paget wrote, "even a narrow conception would disclose phenomenal growth in the last two decades." [6]

In some crude fashion, however, these activists speak for a broader public too, serving as self-selected representatives without the benefit of elections. For them, developing political influence depends crucially on sustaining credibility among the passive citizens who merely sit and listen. Ralph Nader is disparaged by the elected apparatus of politics, but he has continuing influence because he accurately voices the complaints of a much broader audience.

On some matters, the unelected representatives are more trusted than the elected ones. A Washington Post poll, for instance, asked citizens to rate the different political voices they hear on environmental issues. The environmental groups came in first: 63 percent favorable; 20 percent unfavorable. Local governments finished second, EPA was third. Business leaders finished last: 33 percent favorable; 45 percent unfavorable. [7]

Ronald Reagan made an ironic contribution to the dramatic growth of irregular politics, not because he preached antigovernment volunteerism, but because his administration's hard- headed assault on federal programs and laws clarified the power relations for people. The fix is in in Washington, they concluded. Nothing will be done there. Why pass laws when the other side has no intention of observing them? Let's try something else. So people turned in other directions, lobbying state and local governments for reform or inventing disruptive new ways to apply "rude and crude" politics to a wide variety of issues, from housing to taxation.

The very structure of federal laws, however, including environmental laws, has had the long-term effect of weakening citizen politics by making issues more remote. Leon Billings, an environmental consultant, served as staff director of the Senate Public Works Committee during the reform years of the 1970s when all the landmark environmental laws were enacted. He has regretfully concluded that federal legislation like the Clean Air Act of 1970 had the unintended consequence of smothering political energies at the grassroots level. Might the nation have made more actual progress on clean air, Billings wonders, if the federal law had not intervened?

"Adopting national air ambience standards in the Clean Air Act was the biggest mistake we ever made," he confessed. "Citizens-for-clean-air groups were beginning to get local governments to adopt tougher standards around the country, much tougher than anticipated, and industry wanted to get out from under these local and regional activists who were coming after them everywhere. The Clean Air Act brought the fight to Washington where industry could manipulate thing much more cleverly.

"The federal law short-circuited the activism. It took away the forum for local activists and they had to become involved in much more technical arguments, an arena where industry is strong and citizens are weak. Once policy issues become engulfed in the federal bureaucracy, the public loses the ability to influence these decisions because local electronic and print media simply lose interest in the issues. The story is suddenly distant and difficult to cover in a local newspaper. There's no local agitation because it's now a 'national issue.'"

If citizens at large seem "dumb" to political elites, including their own elected representatives, it is partly because they have been cut off from knowing and understanding the real arguments. But the citizens' new tactics also condemn them to a more or less permanent state of isolation. They may succeed at delivering potent messages to those in power, but this does not get them any closer to developing a relationship with the formal structure that decides things.

Karen Paget, formerly an official for federal domestic-social programs in the Carter administration, offered this sympathetic critique of nonelectoral citizen politics: "To be sure, community organizations can playa crucial role in fostering participation, strengthening a democratic ethos, and in making government work. But claims that suggest such organizations can replace the state or the polity are as misleading as the notion that they could eradicate poverty."

The isolation from power leads to strategies that are oppositional and often narrow or essentially negative. Community organizations can target an offending corporation or veto a government project. But they cannot enter into the ongoing political debate on larger matters like the federal tax code or the national economic policies that fundamentally influence the future of their communities. They can stop a chemical waste dump or postpone the closing of a local plant or perhaps even ban a harmful product from the marketplace. But they cannot reach the government decisions that allow these things to happen in the first place. Citizens may block things, but it is much harder for them to build anything.

***
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

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PART 2 OF 2 (CH. 7 CONT'D.)

In recent years, the two "hottest" citizen organizations in America have been Amnesty International and Greenpeace. Both have grown almost frantically, especially among younger people. Both have a brash, direct style that cuts through all the political fog with action that is clear and accessible to individuals. "An organization like Greenpeace was considered a terrorist organization ten years ago because of its tactics," Leon Billings remarked, "and now it's becoming the mainstream." When Amnesty or Greenpeace scores a hit, people can see concrete results from their political engagement. Something actually happens -- which is more than one can count on from the normal channels of politics.

Both Greenpeace and Amnesty also do what political parties used to do -- educate citizens for politics. Amnesty staged a worldwide campaign to connect young people with human- rights politics by sending Sting, Bruce Springsteen and other rock stars on a global concert tour. Music was the draw but the concerts also delivered a mild education on the issues.

High school kids wrote personal letters to political prisoners and to foreign dictators, asking them to stop torturing people. The political prisoners wrote back. Sometimes so did the dictators, evidently unaware that these politically astute Americans were children.

"When we get someone into our organization," John G. Healy, Amnesty's executive director, explained, "we try to turn them into a human-rights activist. We teach them policy and the hardline issues. We're a democracy ourselves, an organization of people who actually write their own policy. It's very direct: You're a political prisoner, we work for you.

"We work just as Greenpeace does. They see a toxic problem, they put a flag down. When we see a political prisoner we put a flag down. We're both dangerous to the U.S. government because we eliminate the government's ally and friend -- business -- from the argument. We say the same things to the government's closest allies as we say to its enemies. In Amnesty, we say there should be a single standard in the world for human rights. That's a dangerous idea for a superpower."

Yet where does all the youthful energy turn, once it has freed a political prisoner? Despite Amnesty's many successes, Healy is gloomy about the prospects for political development. He sees idealistic citizens, young and old, confined to "direct-action" hits on narrow objectives.

"I'm so despondent about American politics," he said. "Everyone's lost their curiosity and imagination. In Germany, the Greens came out of Amnesty International -- all the Green party leadership was trained in Amnesty -- but in America there's no way to feed into politics. There's no place to attach. What would they attach to? I don't know.
"We're almost teaching people antipolitics. If you're a people's movement, you don't bullshit. You don't hype. You don't make glib and easy comparisons. So, if you become one of our leaders, you'll never get anywhere in American politics. Because you'll talk substance, you'll tell the truth. That's the last thing you need to succeed in American politics."

***

Many citizens in search of political leverage have decided to skip government altogether and confront corporations on their home turf -- in the marketplace. Consumer boycotts are not a new pressure tactic, of course, but the form has been elaborated and multiplied many times in recent years.

McDonald's was vulnerable for its "clamshell" packaging, Burger King for buying cattle from ranches created by destroying rain forests, and StarKist tuna for killing dolphins. Each of them folded without much of a fight. As a spokesman for H. J. Heinz, owner of Starkist, explained to The Wall Street Journal: "The idea that the company could be branded as the largest slaughterers of dolphins in the world seemed to us to be dramatically opposed to where the company wanted to position itself as health-conscious and caring." [8]

Because these companies all live or perish by their brand names and the wholesome images their TV advertising has created in the public mind, they are most vulnerable to accusations of antisocial behavior. The smart corporate response, in many cases, is to surrender cheerfully.

According to Boycott News, an irregular newsletter, there are now as many as three hundred boycotts a year. Demonstrators dumped Miller beer on the street to protest Philip Morris's campaign support for right-wing Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Black demonstrators targeted Nike shoes, demanding more employment for black executives. Led by conservative preachers, grassroots boycotts aimed at TV sponsors or convenience stores selling Playboy have had some success at removing "blasphemous" materials from public view. Boycotts are spreading because they sometimes work.

"Most people don't have faith in government's ability to do these things," said Steve Beers, an Austin, Texas, activist. "They're not going to go through the process of petitioning the government and working in elections in order to get the government to do something. Frankly, the dollar bill is a lot more effective franchise. It gives people something powerful but very easy to do. If you go to the grocery store, you can choose."

Corporations are not exactly helpless giants, however. When a campaign targeted Folgers coffee for its economic connections to the war in El Salvador, Procter & Gamble struck back on the bottom line. The boycotters bought TV time on a Boston station for a commercial attacking Folgers. Procter & Gamble responded by canceling all of its advertising on the station -- sending a chilling message to every other broadcaster in America. None has since been willing to run the anti-Folgers spot and risk the same result.

A more fundamental weakness of boycotts is that consumer pressure can't easily reach beyond the shelf of brand-name goods. One of the most ambitious boycotts targets General Electric for its manufacture of nuclear weapons, but the only consumer in the bomb business is the U.S. government. The campaign attempts to get around this barrier by promoting a boycott of everything GE makes and sells, from light bulbs to high-tech hospital equipment. INFACT, the Boston group that launched the effort, claims to have deprived GE of $50 million in sales, partly by persuading church-related hospitals to stop buying GE medical technology. For a company with annual revenues of $55 billion, even this loss would not constitute grave injury.

The other weakness is the randomness of the boycott campaigns, which hit here and there in narrow and sporadic fashion. The overall effect of these campaigns is broadly educational and raises the awareness of ordinary consumers, especially about their own contribution to environmental problems. But it also requires the politically conscious to take a lengthy list of forbidden products with them when they go to the supermarket. Indeed, a little guidebook called Shopping for a Better World is available for those who wish to express their political convictions at the checkout counter.

Denis Hayes, organizer of the original Earth Day in 1970, has launched Green Seal as an attempt to institutionalize the political power of consumers by creating a standard label for environmental concerns, covering everything from egg cartons to autos. "What we find over time is that, no matter what the laws said, they were just compromised beyond belief, and even the compromises were then delayed and weakened with exceptions and exemptions," Hayes said. "In recent days, we have found we can't even get the good laws passed.

"At which point, people start saying, okay, it would be a whole lot easier to do this with federal laws, but at least they can't stop us from doing it ourselves. Consumers can make a real difference. More importantly, Green Seal gives people more involvement than simply sending a check to the Sierra Club. Out of that, maybe we can begin once again to build a movement from the ground up and begin to assert ourselves in the political process in a way that isn't just Tweedledum and Tweedledee."

In the meantime, consumer boycotts like Green Seal confirm the general distrust of government and business to do the right thing. The Gallup Poll, in a survey commissioned by Advertising Age, asked consumers whom they would most trust to design environmental labeling for products -- a government agency or corporations or private environmentalists.

"We won," Hayes said.

***

In 1988, while conventional politics concentrated on electing a new president, an organization called Voter Revolt pulled off an epic David-and-Goliath victory in California. Supported by contributions from two hundred thousand Californians, the group sent college students out to knock on 1.1 million doors. The result was enough signatures to put a radical proposition on the ballot that fall -- a mandatory 20 percent rollback in California's sky-high auto insurance rates.

The insurance industry responded by spending more than $60 million to defeat Proposition 103 -- millions more than George Bush spent in his entire nationwide campaign to become president. Voter Revolt, unable to afford a single TV spot, won.

On election eve, volunteers stood by freeway entrances and held up cardboard signs: "Nader: Yes on 103." Ralph Nader's endorsement of the initiative helped voters cut through the confusion of scare tactics and counterproposals thrown up by the insurance industry's campaign. But Nader's credibility also connected with a general anger that the political system had declined to address: Californians were paying as much as $6,000 a year for car insurance. People did not need Ralph Nader or Voter Revolt to tell them they were being ripped off.

Voter initiatives were invented by Progressive reformers early in the twentieth century for exactly this situation: a way for citizens to free government from the heavy embrace of special interests and to write laws themselves, enacted by a direct vote of the people. Initiative campaigns have always been a staple of California politics, but in the last fifteen years the device has become the most active (and most expensive) arena for the state's political action. The approach now flourishes in dozens of other states and cities nationwide, on every issue from taxes to helping the homeless.

California voters, for instance, have applied real political leverage on the federal government through their state's initiative process. Proposition 65, an environmental measure approved in 1986, requires safety labeling on products -- warnings of cancer- causing ingredients, for instance -- that goes far beyond anything Washington has dared to consider. Since California is the largest marketplace in the country, companies will have to comply with the state law in order to sell in that market. No longer protected by weak federal standards, some companies changed their products -- replacing the toxic contents with benign substitutes. [9]

"Congress seems to be atrophied and so are the state legislatures," said Albert H. Meyerhoff, a San Francisco lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "If we've learned one lesson from the 1980s, we've learned that you can't trust the federal government to protect the food supply.... EPA has become the Environmental Placation Agency."

The modern rebellion-by-referendum was launched by fed-up conservatives who in 1978 proposed California's now-famous "Prop 13," an initiative that imposed rigid ceilings on state taxes and government spending. Left-liberal groups next began to harness voter discontent on environmental degradation and a long list of other neglected social concerns.

In dozens of states, both liberal and conservative activists are simultaneously popularizing the technique of direct lawmaking, mutually motivated by a deep distrust of elected legislators and governors. In California and elsewhere, the two ideological camps more or less merged behind the cause of imposing term limitations. on state legislators. A Los Angeles Times survey found that 53 percent of Californians believe their state legislators routinely take bribes from special interests. [10]

Yet left and right are attempting to reform the public sector in roughly opposite directions: The tax-cutting initiatives sponsored by conservatives aim to shrink government's capacity altogether, while the liberals are trying to make government actually do something. In 1990, both sides mostly lost their issues. Environmental measures like the omnibus "Big Green" proposal in California were rejected by wary voters as overly ambitious, but so were most of the tax-cutting measures that conservatives sponsored in many states. [11]

The basic weakness of voter initiatives (and also their great virtue) is that enacting laws by referendum skips over the hard part of representative democracy. Lawmaking is supposed to be a deliberative process of conflict and resolution -- debate, negotiations and compromise -- that requires all sides to face the contradictions in their own positions. At least that is the ideal. Packaging laws by popular vote evades this obligation-the accountability embedded in the legislative process itself.

Anyone with enough money to collect the necessary qualifying signatures can get a proposed law on the ballot without ever having to address the arguments against it or the people who might be injured. In California, the business of gathering citizen signatures costs as much as $1 million for a statewide referendum and has spawned its own industry of professionalized consultants. Every year, ballot propositions consume more campaign spending than the contests for California's top elective offices.

Furthermore, as California's eminent pollster Mervin Field has explained, the referendum approach to governing generates its own form of class bias, given the atrophied condition of electoral democracy. The minority who actually turn out to vote are dominated by the well-educated, propertied classes and, because of the low election turnouts, they can impose their values and political objectives on the passive majority. Prop 13, which launched a "taxpayer revolt" nationwide, was supported by just 27 percent of the California electorate. A companion proposition, enacted the following year, was supported by only 16 percent of the California electorate.

"Taxpaying voters," Field wrote, "represent a declining proportion of all taxpayers and are, increasingly, a different breed of people. They are older, much more white than the rest of the population, they earn more, they have accumulated more wealth, and have different needs than the large majority of taxpayers who happen not to vote." Conservatives might argue that similar class biases are embedded in many of the environmental ballot measures -- imposing "green" values that appeal to a certain stratum of economically secure citizens. [12]

In the modern political condition, however, many .popular ideas must bypass the state legislatures (or the Congress) in order to get on the political agenda. "The government is deadlocked, the people are not represented, " Bill Zimmerman, a founding organizer of Voter Revolt, explained. "If you can threaten the legislature credibly with an initiative, you're much more likely to provoke the legislature to do what you want.

"We're supposed to have a government of checks and balances, but we need a check on government for the people because their original check -- elections -- has been invalidated by modern campaigning, the high-tech, high-cost campaigns that merely manipulate voters."

However, Voter Revolt's auto-insurance measure, Prop 103, did not produce a substantive victory for the angry voters who enacted it into law. After the referendum, the insurance industry sued and persuaded a court to invalidate the 20 percent rate rollback. A new insurance commissioner was elected in 1990, as prescribed by Prop 103, but the winner was closer to the insurance industry than the proconsumer candidates who lost. The short- term consequence of these setbacks, Zimmerman conceded, was to deepen public cynicism.

"But the battle isn't over yet," Zimmerman said. "We have another insurance proposition in circulation for June of 1992. It says, if rates aren't reduced, the state will create a nonprofit agency that sells auto insurance at a reasonable price. We've already done our own poll and it's 61 percent approval."

Initiatives by themselves will not alter the balance of power, Zimmerman agrees, but like consumer boycotts, they might help to foster a political mobilization of citizens.

"It's not that one initiative either works or doesn't work," he said. "It's that one victory launches a political force and then you've got to fight like crazy to keep it alive and try to cross the threshold where the reform becomes real. You start with radical initiatives that people want, that state government will never do itself and that can work. Then you can start to build a political force, not with rhetoric and ideology, which nobody buys anymore, but with results."

***

In many matters, as these examples suggest, the politics of American governance now resembles the rough comedy of a Punch and Judy show. Without a coherent center for collective decision making and shared principles, political conflict becomes a series of rude and crude ambushes. People stage surprise attacks on public policy, then find themselves hit by body blocks or below-the-belt punches. Everyone feels bruised and disappointed, even the powerful.

Over the last two decades, using their superior resources and political skills, business interests succeeded in neutralizing the force of many federal laws and even capturing the democratic arena where national policy is determined. Now, however, corporate interests appear to be particularly distressed by what they have wrought -- a governing system that responds to their desires before the public's, but still cannot quite protect them from the people's hot breath. Corporations frequently find themselves cross-checked by the irregular tactics of the citizen guerrillas.

In many states, governors and legislatures have become more responsive to the home- grown agitation and, even in supposedly conservative states, they sometimes take up the citizens' complaints and build legal barriers against the offensive federal policies. In Alabama, the Republican governor closed the notorious hazardous-waste site at Emelle to out-of-state waste. In Texas, the Democratic governor ordered a temporary ban on opening any new chemical dumps or expanding old ones.

Business interests now turn routinely to the federal government and demand that it protect them from these unruly folks. The distress of corporate interests is quite real, though ironic, considering how they systematically accumulated political power to contain this sort of disruption.

The president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, Larry Thomas, issued a dire political alert in 1990 to the plastics manufacturers: Forty-nine states are considering or have already enacted laws that ban or restrict plastic products. Individual consumers are avoiding plastics out of concern for health and environment. Organizations like the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes are attacking the industry's "recycling" standards as fraudulent.

"The image of plastics among consumers is deteriorating at an alarmingly fast pace," Thomas wrote. "Opinion research experts tell us that it has plummeted so far and so fast, in fact, that we are approaching a 'point of no return.' ... There is a growing consensus among plastics executives that we must immediately undertake a major program of unprecedented proportions to reverse this fast-moving tidal wave of growing negative public perception." [13]

A similar sense of alarm was expressed in the food industry. Despite the official assurances periodically issued by such federal regulators as the EPA, the FDA and the Department of Agriculture, the food industry is also suffering a rapid loss of public confidence. A 1989 survey conducted for the Food Marketing Institute, a trade association for major food retailers, found that nearly four in ten consumers do not think the food sold in their supermarkets is safe to eat.

"Who is setting food policy today?" FMI President Robert O. Aders asked plaintively, in a speech to the Produce Marketing Association's convention. "Are the critical decisions being made in the halls of government or in the aisles of the local Safeway or IGA? Environmentalists would grant that authority to the supermarket. It's a clever strategy and it could succeed without decisive countermeasures." [14]

Private interests, Aders warned, "are assuming the government's role in testing for pesticide residues ... [and] supermarkets advertise that their produce has no detectable residues and consumers respond. The fact that such an ad message has any clout at all is cause for concern among food regulators. It shows a lack of faith in the government systems to safeguard the food supply."

While Aders blamed the industry's problems partly on inflammatory accusations, he also candidly acknowledged the central cause -- the breakdown of government. "Government inaction or slow action or indecision creates the void," he explained. " ... We need a more coordinated [federal] system where the overriding concern is the safety of the food supply -- a system that instills confidence in consumers that the food they eat is safe."

EPA, he noted, declares that a cancer-causing pesticide poses an "unreasonable risk," then allows the chemical to remain in use for another eighteen months. Federal regulators promise to "expedite" the removal of dangerous food contaminants, but "expedite" turns out to mean eight or ten years or longer. "That's a long time," Aders said, "even in the time frame of scientists and bureaucrats. And completely unacceptable to consumers."

Corporate interests are now stuck in the ironic position of trying to prop up the federal government's authority. Yet the underlying source of this problem -- government inaction and the loss of public confidence -- is business's own political behavior. If people have stopped taking the federal government's word as reliable, that is partly because corporate lobbyists subverted the objectivity and integrity of government agencies. If federal law no longer functions in a convincing manner, that is precisely the result that corporate interests intended.

In short, companies that are now afflicted by chaotic political assaults have only themselves to blame. If corporate interests genuinely wished for citizens to defer once again to the authority of the federal government, they would reform their own way of doing politics. This does not seem a likely prospect, to put it mildly.

Instead, business interests are concentrating their political influence on a different goal -- nullifying the citizens' political energies with the force of federal law. On issue after issue, alliances of corporations and business sectors are lobbying to enact preemptive federal laws or regulations that will establish Washington as sole authority to govern in those areas. Conflicting state laws, they claim, are creating a "legal balkanization" that Washington must supersede.

"The reason Lincoln went to war was to keep the Union whole," Geoffrey Hurwitz, government-relations director of Rohm and Hass, the chemical company, told the National Journal.

His metaphor does not seem too extreme. In terms of national policy on chemical wastes, for instance, a Kind of-civil war has broken out -- especially in the South, where so much of the dangerous industrial refuse is produced and eventually buried in the ground. State governments, egged on by local activists, are blocking the hazardous-waste developments approved by EPA or superimposing their own more stringent standards on top of federal law.

California's voter initiative on product-warning labels, likewise, would be nullified if business can persuade Congress that Prop 65 is an unnecessary nuisance. Thomas J. Donegan, vice-president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, complained: "In effect, you are letting California call the shots [on product labeling] that ought to be called by the federal government in regard to a consistent policy." [15]

A coalition of eleven trade associations, worried about marketplace intruders like Green Seal as well as state laws, petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to produce official federal guidelines on such marketing terms as "recycled" and "compostable." Lever Brothers, Procter & Gamble and Kraft General Foods were prominent in the business alliance, which ranged from the advertising industry to retail packaging. [16]

Autos, drugs, retailing, chemicals, food, insurance, waste disposal, plastics, general manufacturing, small business -- all these sectors and others have lobbied for federal preemption in one form or another, sometimes with success. "The business community has tamed the federal regulatory beasts," explained Bruce Silverglade, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "so now the cry for further deregulation is synonymous with a cry for preemption."

This posture naturally requires the conservative business leaders to abandon their traditional position -- the defense of states' rights -- and to argue, with flagrant hypocrisy, that only the government in Washington can resolve these difficult social questions.

On the other hand, their adversaries -- the environmentalists and other citizen reformers -- have also had to reverse their old political logic, now that they see state and local governments as their best hope for real change. The Advocacy Institute and Congress Watch issued their own political alert to the grassroots:

"Citizen advocates are fighting and winning battles at the state and local level-battles for clean indoor air, warnings on hazardous products, the disclosure of toxic hazards. But while they are winning on one front, their gains are too often eroded on another, preempted by laws that do little to accomplish their stated goals, but choke off effective regulation at local levels of government." [17]

Given their pious sermons about returning power to the states, it requires a wrenching political flip-flop for conservatives to embrace the business position. Many of them, nevertheless, nimbly overcome the awkwardness and vote for federal preemptions. Liberal Democrats are, likewise, caught in the middle: They are ideologically disposed to uphold the supremacy of federal authority, yet many of their most active constituencies are now pulling them in the opposite direction.

This struggle defines a new faultline in American politics. Some sincere conservatives oppose the business campaigns for federal preemptions as a matter of principle and, when conservatives join with liberal votes in Congress, the corporations find it most difficult to prevail. On the other hand, business appears to be winning gradually on scattered fronts, at least more than it is losing.

During the 1980s, the era when Ronald Reagan was supposedly turning over power to state and local governments, the enactment of federal preemptions on business regulation and health and safety laws actually accelerated, according to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. So much for the "new federalism." [18]

The dissolution of federal authority -- people taking back the power to govern, as William Ruckelshaus put it -- is an untidy process and essentially negative in the sense that it will indeed create a crazy-quilt system of conflicting laws, at least in the short term.

Yet this disorder flows inevitably from the existing realities of power. As local activists would say: What else can we do? If Washington will not listen or act, then democratic energies will seek redress wherever they can find it. The national industrial system will have to cope with that chaos, like it or not, so long as it uses its political power to abort effective law at the national level.

Business interests, of course, are not exactly impotent at the state and local levels either, but decentralized politics at least multiplies the points of attack for citizens as guerrillas. When citizen reformers find a sympathetic state legislature or an attorney general ready to pursue strong enforcement, they can at least create new points of leverage -- start some "big brushfires," as Bob Greenbaum put it, that will excite public opinion and complicate politics for their more powerful adversaries.

In this struggle, as with other political issues, the corporate interests have one big advantage: They will come back, year after year, making the same arguments for federal preemption. They have the resources and patience to stay with it until they get their way. Meanwhile, the citizens who have gravitated to other political arenas in search of victories discover they must still fight a rear-guard battle in Washington -- trying to keep the feds from nullifying the victories won by their grassroots politics. The system, as Lois Gibbs observed, is designed for them to lose.

It was not always thus. The American system, as everyone knows, has always fallen short of its democratic ideals in different ways. But, a generation ago, the ordinary people who lack social status or economic advantages did have a much stronger claim on the political system, mainly because they were represented by powerful, permanent voices. The decline of organized labor, as we shall see next, created an entire class of Americans who are effectively orphaned by politics -- the working people who are most in need of equitable representation.
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:27 am

8. POLITICAL ORPHANS

The quality of democracy is not measured in the contentment of the affluent, but in how the political system regards those who lack personal advantages. Such people have never stood in the front ranks of politics, of course, but a generation ago, they had a real presence, at least more than they have now. The challenging conditions they face in their daily lives were once part of the general equation that the political system took into account when it decided the largest economic questions. Now these citizens are absent from politics -- both as participants and as the subjects of consideration.

These citizens are not the idle poor, though many hover on the edge of official poverty and virtually all exist in a perpetual condition of economic insecurity. These are working people -- the many millions of Americans who fill the society's least glamorous yet essential jobs and rank at the bottom of the ladder in terms of compensation. A large segment of working-class Americans has effectively become invisible to the political debate among governing elites. They are neither seen nor heard nor talked about.

Their absence is a crucial element in the general democratic failure of modern politics. There are different reasons why this has occurred, including all of the deformed power relationships already discussed. But, above all, they are missing because in the past the weak and disorganized segments of society always depended on strong mediating institutions, such as organized labor, to speak for them, to make certain that their particular grievances were included in the whole. When those mediating agents lost power, these people were abandoned too, with consequences more starkly unjust than the injuries done to any other class of citizens.

This loss of power, as the evidence will demonstrate, was not entirely an accident of history or the result of ineluctable social change. The laws that protected the rights of workers to organize and defend themselves in politics have been systematically disfigured by political manipulation, much like what happened to other kinds of law. The governing system, likewise, displays the same cynical penchant for symbolic responses to the plight of working people that it has demonstrated in other areas. And the most difficult irony to grasp is that reforms enacted a generation ago to help the very poor are part of what obscures today's working-class citizens.

Like other citizens who have lost power, the humblest working folk have figured out how politics works in the modern age. They know that their only hope is "rude and crude" confrontation. To illustrate this reality, we turn to a group of citizens in Washington, D.C., who are utterly remote from power -- the janitors who clean the handsome office buildings in the nation's capital. In a sense, they clean up each night after the very people and organizations that have displaced people like themselves from the political debate. While they work for wages that keep them on the edge of poverty, their political grievances are not heard through the regular channels of politics.

Like other frustrated citizens, the janitors have taken their politics, quite literally, into the streets of the nation's capital.

***

In late afternoon on a warm June day, while the people in suits and ties were streaming out of downtown office buildings and heading home, a group of fourteen black and Hispanic citizens gathered on the sidewalk in front of 1150 Seventeenth Street Northwest and formed a loose picket line. They were the janitors who cleaned this building every night and, though hardly anyone noticed or cared, they were declaring themselves "on strike" against poverty wages.

"Fire me? Don't bother me one bit. Can't do worse than this," Lucille Morris, a middle-aged black woman with two daughters, said. She was passing out picket signs to hesitant coworkers, most of them women. "Hold 'em up'" she exhorted the others. "Let 'em know you're tired of this mess."

Others grinned nervously at her bravado. An older Hispanic woman dressed in work clothes started into the building and was intercepted by one of the strikers. "She says she's just going in to use the bathroom," Leila Williams reported, "but she's coming back out." Williams, a sweet-faced grandmother who lives with her sixteen-year-old grandson in one of the poorest wards of southeast Washington, was wearing a bright red union tee-shirt that proclaimed: "Squeeze Me Real Hard -- I'm Good Under Pressure."

"No one is working -- this building isn't going to get cleaned tonight," the organizer from the Services Employees International Union announced with satisfaction. "And nobody's going to get fired," Jay Hessey reassured. "The company can't find enough people to do these jobs at this pay."

"I've been here eleven years and I still get the same pay the newcomers get -- $4.75 an hour," Lucille Morris said. "We be doing like two people's work for four hours a night. We don't get nothing in the way of benefits. You get sick, you sick. You stay out too long, they fire you."

"One lady been here for fourteen years and she still get five dollars an hour for doing the bathrooms," Leila Williams added. "They give you another quarter an hour for doing the toilets. When we pass inspections, you know, they always treat us. They give us pizza or doughnuts, like that. We don't want no treats. We want the money."

The SEIU, a union that mainly represents people who do society's elementary chores, launched its "Justice for Janitors" strategy nationwide in 1987 and has staged scores of similar strikes in downtown Washington as well as other major cities. Because of the way federal government now regulates the workers' right to organize for collective action, regular union-organizing tactics have been rendered impotent. So the workers mostly stage symbolic one-night walkouts to grab attention.

The real organizing tactic is public shame -- theatrical confrontations intended to harass and embarrass the owners and tenants of the buildings. The janitors will crash the owner's dinner parties and leaflet his neighborhood with accusatory handbills. They will confront the building's tenants at social events and demand help in pressuring the owners.

They, for instance, targeted Mortimer Zuckerman, the real-estate developer who owns The Atlantic magazine and U.S. News & World Report, with a nasty flier that declared: "Mort Zuckerman might like to be seen as a public citizen, responsible editor, intellectual and all- around good guy. To the janitors who clean his buildings, he is just another greedy real-estate operator." They hounded Zuckerman at important banquets and even in the Long Island Hamptons at celebrity softball games, in which he is a pitcher. [1]

The owners and managers of some five hundred office buildings in Washington have developed an efficient system that insulates them from both unions and higher wages. Each owner hires an independent contractor to service the building and the competitive bidding for contracts is naturally won by the firm that pays the least to the janitors. About six thousand workers -- most of them black or Hispanic -- are left without any practical leverage over the arrangement. When the union signs up workers and demands its legal right to bargain for a contract in their behalf, the building owner promptly fires the unionized cleaning contractor and hires a new one who is nonunion. Old janitors are fired, new ones are recruited and the treadmill continues.

This management device keeps janitors like Lucille Morris stuck permanently at the same wage level year after year, hovering just above the legal minimum required by law, a wage level that provides less than $10,000 a year at full-time hours.

But these janitors do not even get full-time work from their employers. By doubling the size of the crews, the contractors can hold the workers to a four-hour shift each night and, thus, legally exclude the janitors from all of the employee benefits the firms provide to full- time employees -- health insurance, pensions, paid vacations, paid sick leave. The law protects this practice too.

In order to survive, these women and men typically shuttle each day between two or three similar low-wage jobs, all of which lack basic benefits and other protections. Some of the janitors, those who are supporting families, qualify as officially poor and are eligible for food stamps, public housing or other forms of government aid. In effect, the general taxpayers are subsidizing these low-wage employers -- the gleaming office buildings of Washington and their tenants -- by providing welfare benefits to people who do work that is necessary to the daily functioning of the capital's commerce.

In another era, this arrangement might have been called by its right name -- exploitation of the weak by the strong -- but in the contemporary political landscape that sort of language is considered passe. Exploitative labor practices are subsumed under the general principle of economic efficiency and the consequences are never mentioned in the political debates on the great social problems afflicting American cities. The government may authorize welfare for the indigent, but it will not address the wages and working conditions that impoverish these people.

In another time, unions might have been able to achieve a larger political remedy for these conditions -- increases in the minimum-wage law or labor laws that truly protect collective bargaining rights and prevent the profitable abuse of part-time workers. In the present political climate, labor is too weak and divided for such a straightforward assault.

The way is now blocked by others, including the array of Washington policy experts who speak on the subject of economics with scholarly authority. They have assured the political community that it would be counterproductive to address this matter concretely as a political issue, that the minimum-wage issue is no longer relevant to the modern economy. It is these voices that dominate the larger political debate, while the janitors cannot make themselves heard.

For the city of Washington, the political neglect constitutes a social irony, for many of these janitors live in the same troubled neighborhoods where the vicious street combat over drugs occurs. The community is naturally horrified by the violence among the young drug merchants and, without much success, has deployed both police and National Guard to suppress it. Yet the city is oblivious to the plight of the janitors -- the people who are working for a living, trying to be self-supporting citizens and must live in the midst of the dangerous social deterioration.

Economists might not see any connection between these two social problems, but any teenager who lives in one of the blighted neighborhoods can grasp it. One group of poor people, mostly young and daring, chooses a life of risk and enterprise with the promise of quick and luxurious returns. Another group of poor people, mostly older men and women, patiently rides the bus downtown each night, and in exchange for poverty wages, they clean the handsome office buildings where the lawyers and lobbyists work. When the janitors stage their occasional strikes, they are harassing the very people who have helped block them out of governing issues -- the policy thinkers, the lawyers and lobbyists and other high-priced talent who have surrounded the government in order to influence its decisions.

By coincidence, one of the tenants at 1150 Seventeenth Street, where they were picketing, was the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank that produces policy prescriptions for the political debates of Washington. When the service-employees union organizers approached AEI for support, their request was brushed off, but AEI has had quite a lot to say about minimum-wage laws and their supposedly deleterious effects. In recent years, AEI has published at least nine different scholarly reports arguing against the minimum wage. This position faithfully represents the interests of AEI's sponsoring patrons -- the largest banks and corporations in America. [2]

But the SEIU organizers insisted they were not trying to make an ideological point by picking on AEI. The real target was the building owner, which operated a dozen downtown buildings in a similar manner. Besides, they explained, most of the ostensibly liberal policy groups in Washington are no different, from the janitors' point of view.

Indeed, the next strike was planned against another building, also owned by the Charles E. Smith Management Company, which served as the home of the Urban Institute, a liberal think tank that specializes in studying the afflictions of the urban poor. The Urban Institute, though presumably more sympathetic to the working poor, has also published scholarly pamphlets questioning the wisdom of laws to improve their wages.

The Urban Institute scholars are regarded as a liberal counterpoise to such conservative institutions as AEI but, in fact, the liberals are financed, albeit less generously, by the same business and financial interests that pay for the conservative thinkers -- Aetna Insurance, $75,000; Chase Manhattan Bank, $15,000; Exxon, $75,000; General Electric, $35,000; Southwestern Bell, $50,000 and so on. The commonly held illusion in Washington politics is that supposedly disinterested experts contend with each other over defining the "public good" from different viewpoints. Yet many of them get their money from the same sources -- business and financial interests.

Like other tenants, officials at the Urban Institute insisted the janitors' pay was not their problem. It was a dispute for the cleaning contractor or the building owner to resolve. The SEIU organizers Were twice turned down in their efforts to meet with the Urban Institute's officers, so they went out to picket their private homes and tried to crash the institute's banquet for its board of directors.

"Isn't it the same kind of issue any time you pass someone on the street who's homeless?" asked Isabel V. Sawhill, a senior fellow at the institute who is an authority on the "underclass" and related social questions. "It's hard to get involved as an individual in all these microdecisions to change the system. It can't be done at that level. Laws and policies have to be changed."

But these weren't exactly distant strangers one passed on the street. They were the very people who cleaned the office each night, carried out the trash, vacuumed the carpet and scrubbed the sinks and toilets.

"Actually, we never see them," Sawhill allowed. "I do sometimes see them, I admit, because I hang around late, but most people don't."

The janitors, it is true, were mostly invisible. Despite several years of flamboyant efforts, the janitors' campaign had gained very little presence in the civic consciousness of Washington. Public shame is not a terribly reliable lever of political power. For one thing, it only works if widely communicated, and the major media, including The Washington Post, had largely ignored the fractious little dramas staged by the janitors.

"People are yawning at them," said Richard Thompson, president of General Maintenance Service, Inc., the largest employer of low-wage janitors. "If there were really a justice question, people in this city would react. There are a lot of government and city government folks who wouldn't stand for it." [3]

The janitors thought they would embarrass both local politicians and congressional Democrats when they targeted a strike at the new shopping complex in Union Station, which is owned by the federal government. Instead, the janitors were fired and commerce continued without interference from the government. Though the Democratic party is ostensibly sympathetic to people like the janitors, Democrats also rely on the real-estate industry as a major source of campaign money.

After an hour or so of picketing on Seventeenth Street, the janitors got into vans and drove over to a museum at New York Avenue and Thirteenth Street where a local charity was holding its annual fund-raising gala. The strikers had no quarrel with the charity, but they did wish to embarrass David Bruce Smith, a young man who is an officer in his grandfather's real-estate company and was serving as chairman of the benefit dinner.

The women in red tee-shirts and the union organizers spread out along the sidewalk and began giving handbills to any who would take them. "Talk with David Bruce Smith," the leaflet asked. "The Janitors Deserve Some Benefits Too!"

The encounter resembled a sidewalk parody of class conflict. As people began arriving for the event, an awkward game of dodging and ducking ensued between the black janitors and the white dinner guests in evening dress. Women from the charity dinner stationed themselves at curbside and, as cars pulled up for the valet parking, they warned the arriving guests about what awaited them. The black women came forward offering their leaflets, but were mostly spurned, as people proceeded swiftly to the door.

"Look, we are a charitable organization and this is political," a man complained bitterly to the union organizers. "People are going to see this and say, what? Are you trying to embarrass me? They're coming here to enjoy themselves."

Jay Hessey reminded him of the constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances. Three D.C. police cars were on hand in the event the janitors violated the law by blocking the doorway or waving placards. It's unfair, the official sputtered, to target an organization that is devoted to charitable activities. It was unfair, the janitors agreed, but then so is life itself. Some people get valet parking. Some people get an extra quarter for cleaning the toilets.

As tempers rose, Hessey stood toe-to-toe with the angry officials and rebuffed them with an expression of utter indifference to their distress. Hessey's colloquial term for the janitors' rude theater -- "In your face" -- was the essence of their politics. Cut off from the legitimate avenues of political remedy, the janitors had settled on what was left. Like it Or not, fair or unfair, people were going to consider, at least for a few uncomfortable moments, the reality known to these janitors.

Most of the guests followed instructions and darted past the demonstrators to the door, but this greatly amused Lucille Morris and Leila Williams and their companions. It had taken considerable Courage for these black and Hispanic cleaning women to stand on a sidewalk in downtown Washington and confront well-to-do white people from the other side of town. Once they were there, the women found themselves enjoying the encounter.

It was the white people who turned grim and anxious. Without much success, the black women followed couples to the doorway, urging them to read the handbills. An elegantly dressed woman in silk turned on them and snapped: "You know what? For three hundred dollars, you should be able to enjoy your evening!"

When a mother and daughter streaked past Leila Williams, refusing her handbill, she called after them: "All right, ladies. But you might be standing out here yourself sometime."

"That's right," another janitor exclaimed. "The Lord gave it all, the Lord can take it away."

Their exercise in public shame was perhaps not entirely futile. The elegant woman in silk evidently thought better of her harsh words to the black women because, a few minutes later, she returned outside and discreetly asked them for a copy of their leaflet. She mumbled an expression of sympathy and promised to help, then returned to the banquet.

***

The janitors may lack formal educations and sophisticated experience with finance but they understand the economic situation well enough.

They know, for instance, that unionized janitors in New York City or Philadelphia will earn two or three times more for doing the very same work. They know that in Washington the federal government and some major private employers, like The Washington Post and George Washington University, pay nearly twice as much to janitors and also provide full employee benefits. They know, because the union has explained it for them, that janitorial services represent a very small fraction of a building's overall costs and that even dramatic pay increases would not wreck the balance sheets of either the owners or the tenants.

The problem, as they see it, is not economics. Their problem is power and no one has to tell the janitors that they don't have any. Collective action is the only plausible means by which they can hope to change things. But even the opportunity for collective action has been gravely weakened for people such as these.

The janitors' predicament provides a melodramatic metaphor for a much larger group of Americans -- perhaps 20 million or more -- who have also lost whatever meager political presence they once had. These are not idlers on welfare or drug addicts, though they often live among them. These are working people, doing necessary jobs and trying to live on inadequate incomes.

These Americans have been orphaned by the political system. They work in the less exalted occupations, especially in the service sector, making more than the minimum wage but less than a comfortable middle-class income. Most have better jobs and higher wages than the Washington janitors -- office clerks, hospital attendants, retail salespeople -- but are trapped by similar circumstances. Among health-care workers, for instance, one third earn less than $13,000 a year. Some occupations that used to be much higher on the wage scale -- airline stewardesses or supermarket clerks -- have been pushed closer to the low end by the brutal giveback contracts that labor unions were compelled to accept during the 1980s.

The incomes of the group I'm describing range roughly upward from the poverty line (around $10,000 for a family of three) to somewhere just short of the median household income of around $35,000. "Working poor" does not accurately describe most of them but then neither does "middle class." The poor still suffer more in their daily lives, of course, but even the poor are represented in politics by an elaborate network of civic organizations.

If one asks -- Who are the biggest losers in the contemporary alignment of governing power? -- it is these people who are economically insecure but not officially poor. During the last generation and especially the last decade, they have been effectively stripped of political protections against exploitation in the workplace. Neither party talks about them or has a serious plan to address their grievances. In the power coordinates that govern large national questions, these people literally do not exist.

The consequences of abandonment are profound and extend to many other conflicts beyond work and wages. On issue after issue from taxation to environmental protection, these are the people who suffer most regularly from political neglect. When EPA did nothing to enforce the law on toxic air pollution, these people absorbed the results -- the increased cancer rates in their neighborhoods. When the Labor Department allowed the law on occupational health and safety to become a scandal of nonenforcement, these were the people who suffered the injuries and disease. When Congress and a series of presidents played "bait and switch", with the tax code in order to reward the wealthy, these working people were the taxpayers who were penalized most unjustly.

How might their voices be heard? Only utopians imagine a democracy in which each and every one of these people is someday able to appear in person before the higher forums of government, where the larger questions are debated and decided. Most citizens, regardless of status, have neither the forensic skills nor the time and inclination to participate at that level. That is not what they want or expect from politics.

For most people, democratic expression requires the strength of collective action -- a mediating mechanism that will listen to them and speak faithfully on their behalf in the official forums. It is such institutions that accumulate power from their organized numbers, that hold a place for people in the debates and serve as surrogate spokesmen and intelligent monitors of the politicians. This ingredient is the heart of what these people lack and what they have lost.

The voice they lost was the voice of labor. Over the last twenty years, organized labor's political power has declined disastrously -- a fact that is central to virtually every economic question fought out in contemporary Washington politics. Labor unions, notwithstanding their rigidities and autocratic crust, were the core liberal force within the old Democratic party and committed their considerable political resources to other progressive causes, including both the civil rights and environmental movements. Their weakness has weakened many other causes -- especially the ranks of unorganized workers.

In another era, the urban political machines also spoke for many of the citizens who work in unglamorous jobs, but those organizations are now mostly defunct. People moved to the suburbs. Racial antagonism divided and weakened their representation. Political structures that effectively served struggling workers when the workers were Irish or Jewish or Italian are now much less effective when the workers are black or Hispanic or Asian. Labor unions do still try to organize and represent lower-tier workers but most of these people are not union members and the labor organizing is frustrated by both legal and cultural barriers.

A generation ago, leaders of the AFL-CIO could think of themselves, with only slight exaggeration, as full partners in the power elite that governed America. Now, they have lost their membership or, rather, they were kicked out of the club. Unions are mostly reduced to rear-guard battles -- fighting cheap-labor imports or defending the pensions of retired workers or competing expensively with each other for membership jurisdiction.

Like other mediating institutions that lost authority, organized labor saw its influence dissipate for many reasons, because of both complex changes in the society and its own stubborn refusal to adjust to change. More than those reasons, however, labor unions were decimated by two things: the global shifts in corporate economic structures and the political confinements imposed on workers by the law itself.

The ability to move industrial production from high-wage, unionized locales to cheaper nonunion areas -- first to the South and then, more important, to foreign labor markets -- devastated the major industrial unions representing auto and steel workers, machinists, electrical workers and others. They lost millions of members and also much of their contract-bargaining power. In real terms, measured against inflation, the wages of America's premier industrial workers are declining too.

But the economic forces squeezing labor were complemented by politics and the force of law itself. The rights that labor's political power first won for workers in the reform era of the 1930s have been steadily disfigured and shrunk. The machinery for enforcing labor rights still exists in the federal government, but functions now as a device for impeding collective action. It is yet another self-correcting mechanism in politics that has been corrupted to other purposes.

A union like the SEIU that organizes a majority of workers at a worksite mayor may not ever see a contract with the employer. If the company chooses, it can undertake years of litigation and, in the meantime, the workers may well be fired. One in fifteen people who tries to organize a union at a workplace loses his or her job. The threat alone is enough to impede others from trying.

Over three decades, the AFL-C10 did not shrink in size, but it did not grow with the economy either. The AFL-CIO's 14 million members were roughly one third of the workforce in the 1960s, but only 17 percent by the 1990s. Given the legal risks of union organizing, the growth sector in American labor is now public employees, since, in most instances, they can't be fired for signing a union card.

The National Labor Relations Board has been converted by business appointees into a regulatory agency that adeptly protects management by stalling and suppressing workers' grievances. In the first 150 days of the Reagan administration, the NLRB reversed eight major precedents. Its probusiness decisions in union-representation cases soared to 72 percent, compared to 46 percent in the Carter administration and 35 percent under Gerald Ford. The backlog of undecided cases grew from eight hundred to seventeen hundred -- effectively nullifying the workers' complaints by postponing a remedy for years and years. [4]

While unions were crippled, work itself was also reorganized in many fields to undermine the leverage of individual wage earners. "Contracting out" and hiring "part-time" workers who receive no employee benefits have mushroomed as standard labor practices of business, cost-cutting techniques used by even the largest corporations. By 1989, nearly a fifth of the workforce held at least one part-time job. The so-called "temporary" jobs with no employee benefits tripled during the 1980s.

As labor law was compromised, companies figured out, as labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan wrote, that "they could violate the Wagner Act [enacted in 1935], fire workers at will, fire them deliberately for exercising their legal rights and nothing would happen.... Maybe, after three years of litigation, the employer might lose, and have to pay a few thousand bucks, if that much: a cheap price, though, for keeping out the union." [5]

By comparison, while U.S. labor was shrinking, Canadian unions grew in the same period from 32 percent of Canada's workforce to nearly 40 percent -- mainly because the process for gaining collective recognition is simpler and more direct in Canada. In most western industrial nations, the density of organized labor has increased since the 1960s -- a fact that refutes the familiar arguments about labor unions impeding international competitiveness. West Germany, admired for its productive efficiency, has a workforce that is 43 percent unionized.

"European workers enjoy more power, both economically and politically, than their American counterparts," said Michael Merrill, a professor of labor relations at Rutgers University. "They have higher real wages, a stronger and more comprehensive social 'safety net' and a greater degree of political representation than U.S. wage earners do." [6]

Indeed, the astonishing irony of American labor's political condition is that even struggling workers in eastern Europe, bravely led by Solidarity in Poland, have been able to pursue forms of collective action that are not available to workers in the United States. Americans who cheered the triumph of Solidarity perhaps did not realize that the sane tactics are illegal in the United States. If an American union adopted Solidarity's methods -- seizing the plant with sit-down strikes or forming an interfactory strike committee to coordinate a general strike across different industries -- it would be held in contempt and pinned down with injunctions and huge fines. If the tactics persisted, the leaders would doubtless be jailed and perhaps workers too.

These rights were either traded away in exchange for federal labor-law protection or gradually taken away through court decisions and legislation. Labor has tried periodically to win back some of the protection by political action and launched a new effort in 1991 with a measure to prohibit hiring striker replacements in wage strikes.

Its prospects are not good. In 1978, despite the fact that labor provides major funding for Democrats, the Democratic Congress refused to pass labor-law reforms that would have removed some of these barriers. The stereotype of aging white labor bosses still makes it relatively easy for politicians, even Democrats who get so much of labor's money, to scorn them, but the stereotype is no longer accurate. The rank and file of the labor movement is more thoroughly integrated by both race and gender than any other institution in America, except perhaps the armed services or the Catholic church. Furthermore, labor's goals are the very measures that would deliver the most direct relief to the struggling service-sector workers on the bottom rung -- workers who are overwhelmingly racial minorities and women.

One crucial fact has been obscured by the long decline of labor as a political force: Millions of American workers want to join a union but, for all these reasons and others, they can't. According to regular surveys conducted by the University of Michigan, 30 percent of the workforce consistently expresses a desire to be represented by a union contract protecting their working conditions and wages. When that number is added to the 17 percent of the workforce who are already union members, it provides a rough measure of how much the power relationships in politics have been distorted. Roughly half of the working population identifies with labor's interests, yet labor is confined by law and politics to a position of weakness.

The statistics also confirm that the yearning for collective expression is alive and widespread, though effectively blocked. Labor is in retreat and unable to defend its own members from further loss, much less the weak and unorganized workers. Yet these two groups represent half of the nation's workforce -- the people who are not heard.

***

In the spring of 1989, various Democratic senators complained privately that Teddy Kennedy was forcing them to cast a "money vote" that might hurt them with campaign contributors but wouldn't accomplish anything since President Bush was' sure to veto the measure anyway.

The "money vote" was Kennedy's proposal to raise the federal minimum-wage floor modestly. Roll calls on such business-labor issues normally follow the obvious party division, but Democrats also feel the underlying tension of voting against business interests that have the power to finance a Republican opponent in their next campaign.

"A senator tells himself: You got an antibusiness reputation and you better work on it," Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas explained. "When it's a money vote -- minimum wages, mandatory health insurance, the capital-gains tax -- and you're perceived as antibusiness, you have to think about it. Even if you know you're not going to get their money, you think about keeping them quiet. You won't get their money but you can at least tranquilize them."

By 1989, the federal minimum-wage law had not been changed in a decade and, given the yearly erosion from inflation, the real value of $3.35 an hour had fallen by roughly one third during the 1980s -- one reason, among others, why the lowest-paid tier of workers was falling behind so drastically. Kennedy proposed only to restore the lost ground -- no more than that -- by raising the minimum in three stages to $4.55 an hour.

Even that proved to be too ambitious for political consensus. After much back and forth and a presidential veto, Congress settled on $4.25 an hour by 1991. The final deal was brokered between labor leaders and the White House so that no one would be embarrassed when President Bush addressed the AFL-CIO fall meeting. The wage increase, as the reluctant senators had predicted, was not enough to make much difference to anyone. [7]

Despite the elaborate complications piled onto the subject, the arguments about job losses and so forth, the straightforward effect of raising the minimum wage is not disputed among economists. Overall, it produces a net shift in incomes from employers to employees, from companies to workers. The secondary effect, if the wage floor is raised significantly, is to push up wage levels for jobs that are above the minimum but compete for workers in the same labor pools.

Thus, this approach is a very direct way to reorder the imbalance in rewards generated by the private economy and get money to those who need it most, not just poor people but the vast ranks of workers, such as the D.C. janitors. The people who pay for this are not the taxpayers, but the business owners and, to some degree, the consumers who have benefited from the cheap labor. Instead of spending public money to compensate for private injustices, it uses public authority to direct private behavior to just results.

Labor and business both understand these effects well enough and that is why they will always be on opposite sides of the question. For different reasons, neither wishes to speak too clearly in public about the underlying transaction. Instead, the issue was treated by all sides as a familiar anachronism and the congressional debate was spiritless and predictable, smothered in false pieties from both sides. Republicans made speeches that sounded like canned material from the Chamber of Commerce or the National Association of Manufacturers. Democrats gave speeches that sounded like boilerplate from the AFL-CIO. Neither side talked about the millions of workers like the D.C. janitors who were paid somewhat above the federal minimum but would benefit directly if a serious measure were passed.

While organized labor is always the main locomotive driving minimum-wage politics, this time it was following more than leading -- repeating slogans that no longer stirred its energies. "Kennedy got it in his head to pass a bill and we went along," Rex Hardesty, chief spokesman for the AFL-CIO, acknowledged.

Throughout the Reagan years, labor had been wary of trying to increase the federal minimum wage for fear the outcome would be the enactment of the so-called "training wage" for youth that Republicans and business always push. Creating a subminimum would permit employers to hire teenagers at cheaper wages for the training period, then fire them and hire new ones, thus displacing older workers whose incomes support families.

For the major industrial unions, the minimum wage had never been a core issue, but in the past they always lent their muscle to their poorer cousins, unions like the SEIU, the garment workers' union, the food and commercial workers' union and others that represent the weakest workers. This time, given the new realities of American incomes and global economics, the heavyweight unions were fighting on other fronts that seemed more crucial to them. The AFL-CIO supported the Kennedy bill, but not with its old vigor.

The transformation of labor wages in the last two decades has opened up a new divide between the economic self-interest of industrial unions and the plight of those unorganized service workers at the bottom of the ladder. Both are losing ground, but the bottom tier is falling faster. This divide provides another explanation for why the political voice for those people has weakened.

"When the minimum wage was 50 percent of the average manufacturing wage, as it used to be, you could really push the wage structure up from the bottom," said David Smith, New York City's business development commissioner and a former aide to Senator Kennedy. "But, when the minimum wage is now only 26 or 27 percent of the manufacturing wage and there are virtually no minimum-wage workers in factories except for the garment industry, the gap between labor unions and the working poor is wider. If we push up the wages of cleaning people and security guards and nursing-home attendants by $1.50 an hour, we're still not bumping up against the bottom of the industrial wage structure."

If Congress were to raise the federal wage floor substantially, bringing it back to a level around 50 percent of the manufacturing wage level, the 20 million or so workers now dispossessed by politics would benefit enormously. Even though most of them earn more than the minimum, the action would inevitably create upward wage pressure in their labor markets too. Yet such action is highly unlikely so long as organized labor's power is atrophying and its rear-guard battles are concentrated elsewhere. That describes the vicious circle the janitors and others are caught in -- their only champion is weak and distracted.

During the Senate debate, Republicans needled Kennedy by asking him why, if he wished to help the downtrodden, he didn't propose a minimum wage of six dollars or seven dollars. Kennedy danced away from the debating trap, but it was actually the right question. A steep increase in the wage floor or a shorter work week for everyone would be most disruptive to existing economic relationships, too controversial for even ardent liberals to endorse, but if the political community were serious about attacking the grosser inequities of American life it would require such disruptive measures.

The minimum-wage law is one of those inherited forms that endures from previous reformers, but only as an empty shell. The original purpose has been lost in politics, but the measure still gets passed with appropriate fanfare -- and even the conservative president's signature -- because it satisfies old bromides and looks like an enlightened act of social conscience. In the real world, nothing much is changed.

If politics ever approached the subject seriously again, the old form could itself be drastically revised. Labor's original purpose in promoting the federal wage law was, in part, to prop up wages in the impoverished South and thus slow the migration of industrial union jobs to cheaper labor markets. That purpose has been obliterated by the changed economy and global production. Therefore, it is now possible, for instance, to draw up a more sensible and flexible version of a federal wage standard that allows for the disparities in regional or rural labor markets, just as federal pay standards now accept that a federal employee in Washington, D.C., needs more income than one in Mississippi.

A modernized minimum wage, furthermore, could redefine the coverage to distinguish between part-time jobs mostly filled by teenagers and the jobs that are filled by those millions of service workers suffering from inadequate incomes. Middle-class teenagers do often fill the jobs in fast-food restaurants. They do not generally work as nursing-home attendants or security guards or janitors.

Some low-wage jobs, it is true, might be driven overseas in search of cheaper labor if the federal minimum were raised substantially. But the overwhelming preponderance of these jobs, especially in the service sectors, are not portable. Companies cannot hire people in Mexico or Indonesia to clean office buildings in Washington or harvest crops in Florida or answer telephones in New York City. A redefined minimum-wage law could make some distinctions between what work is portable and what is not. It would attack especially the exploitation in jobs that are not going anywhere, but are essential to daily life.

The minimum-wage debate in 1989 did not talk about any of these questions or even hint at any of these possibilities. Instead, the discussion was almost exclusively about the "poor" -- as officially defined by the federal government -- and whether raising the minimum wage would help them or hurt them.

Republicans spoke for the "poor" by opposing the minimum wage on the grounds that a higher wage floor would eliminate some low-wage jobs, as 'indeed it would. Democrats argued for the "poor" by pointing out that several million full-time minimum-wage workers are officially poverty-stricken, as in fact they are. Nobody talked about those millions who are a bit higher on the wage ladder who might also benefit from a higher floor.

Like the janitors in downtown Washington, not only have the "nonpoor" been rendered invisible, but their identity has been perversely distorted in the public-policy debate. A critique of the minimum-wage bill published by the Progressive Policy Institute, another Washington think tank, pointed out that 85 percent of the minimum-wage workers are not "poor" and, indeed, many are suburban teenagers working in hamburger joints. With facile arithmetic, the institute's policy thinkers described an economy in which it seemed that most of the crummier jobs are actually filled by middle-class white kids.

The institute's report had a devastating impact in Washington political circles. After all, if "progressives" are against the minimum wage, then who can be for it? In this case, "progressive" was a slight misnomer since the institute is aligned with center-right Democrats trying to move their party rightward and it is financed by wealthy business contributors from Wall Street and elsewhere. Among the institute's "progressive" board members was Robert Kogod, president of the Charles E. Smith Company, the same Washington real-estate company targeted by the striking janitors, the same firm that paid its workers $4.75 an hour, with an extra quarter for cleaning toilets. [8]

The unintended effect of the federal government's so-called "poverty line" is to obscure the existence of the vast pool of struggling families who are above the line -- the officially "nonpoor" -- and to push them out of the political equation. Just as affluent Washington does not see the black and Hispanic janitors in its midst, the political community as a whole cannot see this class of exploited workers. So long as basic economic issues are defined by the government's narrow and misleading statistics on "poverty," the minimum wage and many other effective reform measures will indeed sound anachronistic.

When liberal economists invented the so-called "poverty line" in the early 1960s, it was a brilliant stroke of political imagination. By devising a quantifiable definition of who was poor, they made the vast deprivation in American society instantly visible to others. The public was shocked by the numbers and politicians could proceed to make decisions about government programs based on crisp estimates of how many millions would be lifted out of "poverty."

Over the years, the poverty statistics steadily became less meaningful. The measure was never realistically adjusted to rising living costs, but it remains the focal point of political debate -- the 13 percent or so who are identifiably impoverished in the midst of fabulous wealth. Helping the "poor" is considered virtuous, even among Republican conservatives. Helping the "nonpoor" is thought to be. wasteful or even fraudulent. In fact, most of the so-called "welfare cheaters" denounced by politicians and the public are actually low-wage working people who collect food stamps or other federal benefits on the sly, even though they earn a bit too much to qualify as officially "poor." [9]

The official recognition of "poverty" has become an especially cruel instance of old reforms that imprison the politics of the present. The "war on poverty," leaving aside its failures and successes, left behind a deformed perspective in public policy that is oddly disconnected from the present realities. Instead of defending the livelihoods of working people who do not make enough money, politics focuses primarily on the most disabled and disaffected group below them -- people who either cannot or will not fill the low-wage jobs their neighbors do every day. A convenient ideological stalemate has developed around this perspective, in which the liberal experiments prove ineffective while conservatives will not discuss any alternative that might disrupt business clients.

The illusion that doomed the "war on poverty" was the assumption that education and training could "solve" the problem of poverty, and this illusion still reigns in the higher realms of politics, shared by liberals and conservatives alike. The problem of poverty is presumed to reside in the poor people themselves, not in the structure of wages available in the private economy. It is assumed that the personal weaknesses of the poor must first be repaired in order to prepare them for better jobs and higher incomes.

This reasoning perversely focuses political attention on the most impaired people -- the hardest cases -- and skips over those virtuous folk who are already working, doing society's dirty jobs for the rest of us every day. The training-and-education approach is popular, however, and much less controversial because it does not disrupt the private labor markets. The ethic of self-improvement and personal effort is central to the American experience and almost everyone believes in it.

"Fixing up" poor people, however, even when the federal programs succeed, does not alter the structure of the wage ladder in the slightest. Some people may climb up, but someone else must still do the same jobs, the ones that pay too little to support families. The logic of this, though generally evaded, is inescapable. Imagine that education programs were so universally successful that everyone in the society was someday magically brought up to a level of higher education and awarded a college degree, even those cleaning women in D.C. If everyone were transformed into computer technicians or lawyers, then who will sweep the floors and clean the toilets? Someone has to do it.

Since politicians will not confront these wage questions in the private economy, they turn instead to the public treasury for relief. Aid is delivered in various forms to people to make up for the shortcomings in their incomes. Since those programs mostly only reach the officially "poor," political sentiment has turned to another approach that will reach some of the low-wage workers -- an earned-income tax credit that gives a cash rebate to those who do not earn enough to support families. Even younger Republican conservatives, anxious to demonstrate their social conscience, have embraced the idea. Among its political virtues, the earned-income tax credit is discreet -- a subsidy that other citizens don't see.

But using the tax system has the same effect as the other forms of federal welfare that are provided to workers: The net effect is to subsidize the low-wage employers by relieving them of the responsibility for paying living wages. Instead of the office-building owners and their tenants, the burden of providing for the janitors is shifted to the general taxpayer (and may ignite considerable resentment if people ever figure it out). When the federal tax structure was progressive, placing the heaviest tax burden on those with the most income and wealth, the tax-credit approach had much merit. Now it adds injustice -- a discreet transfer of money from one group of struggling wage earners to another group just below them. [10]

Most obviously missing from the political debate are the people who will be most affected by these decisions. Their experience and understanding are not present and they cannot be heard through the layers of expert opinion and old political formulas. If the janitors found a political voice, it might or might not alter the decisions, but it would certainly blow away many of the illusions. If they could be heard, what would the janitors say to the politicians? They might say what Lucille Morris said: We're "tired of this mess." And what Leila Williams said: "We don't want no treats. We want the money."

***

After many weeks of pressure and rude confrontations, the D.C. janitors found that some people do respond to the tactics of public embarrassment. After twice rebuffing them, officials at the Urban Institute agreed to support the janitors' plea for better wages. Mortimer Zuckerman also evidently had a change of heart, for his real-estate company abruptly agreed to bargain with the union for contracts at three buildings. The Charles E. Smith Company retreated too after the expressions of community concern generated by the janitors' appearance at the charity dinner. [11]

These breakthroughs for "Justice for Janitors" might be taken as heartwarming evidence that "the system works," as Washington political columnists like to say. But the real meaning was the contrary. The janitors' union, like others, has figured out that the way politics gets done nowadays is not by electing people to office or passing bills in Congress. Politics gets done by confronting power directly, as persistently and rudely as seems necessary.

For all its weaknesses, the irregular methodology exemplified by "Justice for Janitors" has become the "new politics" of the democratic breakdown. Other labor unions, large and small, have adopted similar strategies designed to "shame" corporations into accepting decent labor relations. They confront prominent shareholders at public gatherings or testify against the companies at zoning hearings and before government agencies. They assemble critical dossiers on a corporation's environmental record that will shock the public and drive off consumers. These and other corporate-campaign strategies are sometimes effective in forcing a company to respond to its workers. Like the "Justice for Janitors" campaign, however, the tactics are driven by the workers' essential weakness, not the potential power that lies in their collective strength. In the present circumstances, what else works?
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:32 am

9. CLASS CONFLICT

An unpleasant fact of contemporary politics is that many conscientious citizens have created their own barriers to power. They have become "citizens" of a purified form -- free to speak frankly on the public issues they value, but utterly disconnected from the power structure where those issues are decided. Disenchanted with the muck of formal politics, demoralized by the existing alignments of power, people keep their distance on principle. They do this for many good reasons, but the withdrawal itself guarantees their weakness.

In other words, citizens with the best intentions have been so battered by events that their own idea of citizenship becomes miniaturized and confused. They have been taught by the realities of modern government to do politics based on the narrow premises of interest groups, organized around isolated issues. As a result, their own experience is fractured into small pieces, their civic values divided into artificial subcategories. Many have lost the capacity to think more expansively about the possibilities of politics.

On one level, the confusion leads to a random politics of theatrical display or attempts to mimic the mass-marketing prowess of the powerful economic forces in opposition. On another level, it promotes an idealized -- an unrealistic -- conception of what individual citizens are supposed to do in order to make the system function in a democratic manner. Just as politicians evade hard choices, some engaged citizens manage to avoid their own contradictions. They fasten on moralistic themes and. pretend that self-interest is an illegitimate motive for political expression. They presume to speak for everyone, but evade the deeper conflicts of class within their own ranks.

The confusion of contemporary citizens is traceable, in part, to a surprising source -- the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement was, after all, the greatest triumph for citizen politics in our time. Yet, as a powerful political experience, it left many citizens with the wrong message.

***

The memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., still looms over the modern political landscape as the heroic model for how powerless citizens can make themselves heard. King, of course, stands in memory as the icon for a much broader political experience -- the civil rights movement and all of its disparate aspects -- in which the least-advantaged citizens rose up and changed the nation. The movement's methodologies, the moral tone and tactics were so dramatically triumphant that they are now endlessly copied and elaborated, often unconsciously, by citizens of every class and color.

The essential political fact facing black citizens was that electoral politics was a closed door for them. The civil rights agenda had some northern political support, but it was never going to win an election anywhere in the South. Indeed, both in Congress and across the southern states, the nation's formal structure of electoral democracy was the principal barrier to change -- resistance supported by racial prejudice and the indifference of the white majority. The black millions in the South were disenfranchised; the racial caste system was enforced by terror and by law itself.

So black Americans had to invent different ways to move the majority -- irregular events outside the system. At Montgomery, Alabama, and Greensboro, North Carolina, and Oxford, Mississippi, and hundreds of other places, vastly different approaches to power were tested by brave individuals and groups. Over many years, the competing approaches were refined and gradually coalesced into a cohesive political movement, strong enough to overcome the status quo. The civil rights movement, it is true, did not entirely achieve racial equality, much less economic justice for the impoverished black people at the bottom. Still, as a profound expression of the democratic promise, it surpassed anything accomplished by electoral politics in modern experience. [1]

At its core, the power of this political upheaval was rooted not in its tactics or even King's great sermons, but in what people believed about themselves. Gradually, one by one and then collectively, black people attained heightened self-awareness, and that new sense of themselves led to courageous political expression. The legislative victories they eventually won confirmed this new self-awareness, rather than the other way around. In other words, this was not the political system doing something for people. The people did this for themselves. The distinction is a crucial point to grasp -- essential to understanding the full, rich promise of democracy and also its frequent disappointments. [2]

The elusive, redeeming paradox of American democracy is that people are made powerful, despite all of the political obstacles, when they come together and decide that they can be powerful. The thought flickers like a small candle in contemporary politics, held aloft hopefully by countless advocates. Its truth is regularly confirmed in the experiences of ordinary citizens.

More than two decades after Selma and Birmingham and the other dramatic victories, a black auto worker in northern Ohio grumbled to me about the fear and passivity among his fellow auto workers.

"People don't understand," Lessly Holmes complained, "the ultimate power is in their hands."

Holmes was talking specifically about the auto workers who were unwilling to go up against General Motors, but he also spoke to the larger context of American politics. ''The ultimate power is in their hands. " His words echoed Tom Paine's famous declaration: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

Lois Marie Gibbs, a leader of the grassroots environmentalists, expressed the same conviction: "People have more control than corporations if they choose to use it. The problem is getting people over that feeling that they can't change things. More and more, as people win these small fights, they do feel empowered."

The largest legacy of the civil rights movement is its power as a living example of what can happen when passive citizens mobilize themselves. It stands also as a constant rebuke to contemporary Americans: If the oppressed and isolated black citizens in the South could accomplish this, why are other Americans so inert and helpless?

Beyond the inspiration, however, the movement has probably taught a generation of Americans the wrong lessons about how to do politics. In contemporary citizen politics, it sometimes seems that people emulate the civil rights movement in order to re-create its original handicaps. Black people in the South, after all, started their struggle with the starkest disadvantages -- utterly isolated from political power, through no choice of their own. They had to invent ways to overcome those obstacles, but their tactics are now copied by people who are not so handicapped. Those who attempt to duplicate the movement's style and method usually discover the results are no longer triumphant.

King's genius, for instance, was moral theater. The civil rights movement created a drama of conflict, sometimes including civil disobedience, that compelled distant bystanders to take sides (even if only in the privacy of their own thoughts). Sweet-faced school children marching into a storm of fire hoses and police dogs presented the reality of racial segregation, via television, to even the most indifferent Americans. They could no longer claim innocence.

Once confronted by the harsh moral question, people longed to be relieved of the burden of the discomforting contradictions. The formal political system eventually responded. The civil rights movement did not defeat the local sheriffs and politicians who were enforcing segregation laws; it leveraged the national guilt.

A similar drama of moral guilt underlies much of the irregular politics that has flourished in the decades since the 1960s. From antiwar demonstrators to Christian antiabortion activists, many groups have attempted to create a moral message to incite the larger public. The approach seems especially suited to groups like the gay-rights movement -- people who were likewise reviled and isolated -- because their cause also poses an elemental demand for justice.

But moral claims become hopelessly splintered and confused when citizen groups try to channel them through the larger complexities of governance. Environmental activists may save dolphins by harassing StarKist -- dolphins, after all, are objects of universal human affection -- but public outrage is not so easily harnessed to the dense task of rewriting federal regulations or the difficult class issues embedded in government economic policy. Moral outrage simply does not reach the fine print of hollow laws or bureaucratic deal making and can be easily deflected into false victories. Meanwhile, the public audience hears so many competing moral claims, it may instead feel benumbed or skeptical.

the politics of moral drama, furthermore, leads invariably to a preoccupation with the news media -- even dependency on them -- since the political dramas will have no meaning whatever unless someone transmits them to a larger audience and to embarrassed authorities. To capture the media's wandering eye, frustrated causes find themselves escalating the terms of theatricality to the level of bizarre stunts or ersatz versions of civil disobedience. Police everywhere are now quite familiar with the routine of mass arrests and do not use dogs or fire hoses. What was once a stirring event has been reduced to a paperwork problem.

In the competition for attention, the outlandish and fraudulent drive out what is sober and real. A handful of self-styled guerrillas, one faction within Earth First!, gained far more celebrity for their vague threats of environmental sabotage than all of the substantive struggles underway by grassroots environmentalists across the country. Political voices expressing serious ideas are eclipsed by the street action that displays simple rage, since rage is always more videogenic.

Mass-media politics worked powerfully for the civil rights drama, but it is a trap for most citizens' political aspirations because it defers to someone else's judgment -- the news media's -- to decide what qualifies as authentic political expression. By depending on stunts and celebrity to attract the press and television, people are essentially surrendering to the media -- and sometimes making themselves look clownish in the process.

J. Hunter O'Dell, one of King's early lieutenants in the movement, recognized the fixation with media developing among civil rights activists and lamented the consequences.

"We all recognize that technologically this is a media age," O'Dell wrote. "But it was disastrous for us to rely primarily upon these corporate forms of mass communication to get our message and analysis out to the public.... In the end, it means a new kind of addiction to media rather than being in charge of our own agenda and relying on mass support as our guarantee that ultimately the news-covering apparatus must give recognition to our authority."

O'Dell's point is that the civil rights movement acquired its "authority" to articulate large political aspirations, not because network television came to Selma or Birmingham, but from the hundreds and even thousands of meetings in black churches, week after week, across the South over many years. The dramatic spectacles that appeared on TV were the product of those mobilizing sermons and dialogues, not the other way around.

The movement's organizing processes, O'Dell noted, contained all of the functional elements of a responsible political organization -- mass education and communication as well as continuing accountability between the leaders and the supporting throngs. "The power of any movement for democracy," O'Dell emphasized, "is always dependent on such reciprocal relations between the mass of people and their leadership."

These elements are missing, it seems, from much of the irregular citizens' politics that tries to emulate King's heroic model. Activists hold press conferences or arrange dramatic events to prod the political system. But patiently built reciprocal relationships between leaders and followers, the laborious tasks of education and communication, are often not even attempted. To be blunt, there is a hollowness behind many of the placards and politicians know it.

Succeeding generations of political activists, it often seems, copied the glamorous surfaces of the civil rights legacy -- the hot moments of national celebrity that are so well remembered -- while skipping over the hard part, the organizational sinew that was underneath. In many organizations, of course, real relationships do form and flourish, especially in the groups that arise indigenously in local communities. The further one gets from the grassroots, however, the more likely it is that national leaders are only distantly connected to their own followers or accountable to them.

Many prominent organizations, from labor unions to national environmental groups, have "memberships" that have never met and never will meet. People become "members" in many citizen organizations simply because they sent in a check -- perhaps as their own weak gesture of connectedness or just to get a young canvasser off their doorstep.

Some citizen organizations pull together impressive coalitions of allied groups that are united behind their agenda, but these coalitions exist only as lengthy letterheads. Some popular causes appear in politics (or disappear) as no more than a packet of press clippings -- news stories artfully generated by activists pretending to represent vast throngs.

Elected politicians are generally on to this. They are aware of the shallow connection in much of citizen politics and they resent it: These self-appointed tribunes can arouse public opinion on various issues, but where are their troops? Whom do they really speak for? And whom do they answer to?

The organizational weaknesses are well known to the participants of citizen politics and the subject of continual introspection and exhortation among them. To do more is necessary, they agree, and developing deeper roots consumes considerable effort. Yet the task seems overwhelmingly difficult, given their limited resources and the other obstacles. Instead, they take up one thing at a time -- one scandalous situation or another -- and dramatize it sufficiently to create at least temporary visibility in politics. Sometimes, it works.

In that regard, citizens behave like creatures of the modern governing system, as much as politicians do. The post-New Deal administrative state defines political opportunity in terms of interest groups, so, in order to proceed, citizens organize themselves in the same manner. They define themselves by the policy language of a particular issue, whether it is arms control or child care or abortion, then stand on that narrow ground. In fact, once they have defined themselves this way, they are stuck on that ground, unable to speak beyond it.

People adapted to the confines of interest-group politics find it hard to think seriously about a more inclusive kind of politics. Instead, they often nurture the frail hope that, somehow, someday, a moment of spontaneous combustion will occur in American society -- a flash of public consciousness and anger -- that miraculously produces the cohesion to unite people of diverse interests and outlooks in genuine collective action. In the meantime, waiting for the miracle, they concentrate on the small contests that might actually be won.

Spontaneous combustion is an extremely unlikely event and the model of Martin Luther King misleads his many imitators most profoundly in this regard. The purposeful cohesiveness achieved by the civil rights movement cannot be easily duplicated by others, regardless of their issue, because what naturally united people in that movement was a single overarching fact -- the fact of race. Black citizens, whether they were schoolteachers or sharecroppers, funeral directors or dishwashers, did not need to he told that they had shared interests. The fact of racial discrimination was the everyday burden in all of their lives.

If that point seems obvious, then and now, what is less obvious are the political benefits that flowed to the civil rights movement because of this unifying fact. First, there was no necessity to parse out difficult political arguments between public morality and personal self-interest: The two were fused perfectly. For black people, self-interest was inseparable from their larger moral claim, the demand for justice. Their political task was to demonstrate to the white majority that this would be true for them as well.

In his lofty manner, King actually preached to both morality and self-interest. The white South, he explained, could cleanse its soul, but it would also be freed for self-development. King was right about that in many dimensions, including the economic development of the impoverished South that, as many white southerners now recognize, was made possible by the civil rights movement. Very few other political causes, however, have the capacity to reconcile the tensions between self-interest and morality so easily or universally.

The unifying fact of race served the civil rights movement in another, even more important way -- it was the cloak that covered conflicting class interests within the movement's own ranks. All blacks, regardless of their educational or economic status, would gain something if their political mobilization succeeded. That was enough to smother difficult arguments about goals and priorities that might have divided their own ranks.

In hindsight, it has become obvious that, while all blacks benefited, they did not benefit equally. Legal liberation opened vast opportunities, North and South, for black Americans with middle-class skills and aspirations. It did little to alter the bleak prospects for millions of black citizens at the bottom of the economic ladder. In his last years, after the great legal victories, King himself turned to confront the underlying economic questions, but by then the movement was splintering. Some former allies in the white political structure turned hostile once King's sermons began to address basic questions of wealth and poverty and economic power. From the other side, the "black power" militancy derided him as a middle-class reformer who had done nothing for the truly oppressed.

Other political causes that aspire to mobilize a broad assembly of Americans face the same divisive fundamentals -- the conflicts of class, the natural tension between moral claims and self-interest -- but without the benefit of a unifying cloak. Both barriers are formidable and help to explain why so many politically alert citizens do not really try to develop a broader political base for their enterprises. To overcome these obstacles, active citizens would first have to talk out quite a lot among themselves, searching for the common perceptions that might dissolve their deep differences.

Instead, they mostly stick to their own narrow issue -- a grievance that arouses like-minded citizens -- and ride its energy as far as it will take them. In time, if they are successful, they will acquire some real influence in public affairs. But they will still not have many people marching in the ranks, a fact that every observant politician will discern.

Faced with these barriers, other citizens withdraw even further from political engagement into a kind of exclusionary fundamentalism. Enormous energy is devoted to discussing millennial visions of what the society should someday look like, but no effort is made to connect the vision with people or everyday political action.

Scores of organizations, on left and right, devote themselves to this sort of "soft" politics -- drawing up plans for the distant future, whether the focus is on moral reform or world peace or designing an economy in harmony with the natural environment. Books and pamphlets filled with their provocative ideas are produced in abundance, but mainly consumed by people who already share the vision.

To create a democratic reality with any substance, active citizens have to engage others across these various boundaries. They have to search for real bridges that connect one class perspective with another in common goals. They have to define goals that fuse the broad moral meaning of their politics with the visible self-interest of everyday citizens. This undertaking would put them at the messy center of a democratic dialogue -- the arguments between ideas and values and the real experiences of real people. It would entail taking up the burden of teaching and listening and searching patiently for collective resolutions.

Genuine democracy is very difficult to do, regardless of the issue or context, and citizens understandably shrink from a challenge that is so hard. Because it is so daunting, many retreat instead to a kind of moral high ground, from which they can implore and incite their fellow citizens, while hoping for the miraculous day when collective action might spontaneously arise.

***

If one single governing issue aroused general public anger and promised to unite people across party or class lines, it was the savings and loan bailout for which taxpayers were providing hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet, the efforts of some alert citizens to mobilize the anger into political action mainly demonstrated the impotence of the classic tactics of moral theater and public outrage. The Financial Democracy Campaign rallied others in coalition, staged dramatic demonstrations in dozens of cities, and testified intelligently before congressional hearings. And on the whole, it was ignored.

On Valentine's Day in 1991, the FDC demonstrators appeared on the sidewalk at chosen locations in twelve cities and began handing out heart-shaped red lollipops stamped with the message: "I'm tired of being played for a sucker." In Washington, D.C., their target was the Resolution Trust Corporation, the federal agency presiding over the vast billions of the savings and loan bailout. "No more sweetheart deals," the placards declared.

At several locations, a country singer identified as "S&Lvis" entertained reporters and curious onlookers with the lyrics of "Bailout Rock," a song mocking the rescue of banks and S&Ls at the expense of the taxpayers. "When the party ended and the smoke had cleared! The biggest banks were bigger, the rest disappeared."

Bureaucrats at the RTC offices in Washington came out on the sidewalk to listen and were so amused, they asked for extra lollipops to give to their colleagues inside. In Abilene, Texas, small-business owners joined the protest because their bank credit had been cut off. In Baltimore, Maryland, the low-income members of ACORN turned out to picket because of the rotten housing available to inner-city black families. In Los Angeles, hotel and restaurant union workers picketed because high-flying financial deals had destroyed many of their jobs. The financial scandals, in theory at least, represented a rare moment of opportunity for political reformers to unite people with disparate interests around a common cause.

Thanks to the Financial Democracy Campaign, Capitol Hill was flooded with brown paper bags sent in by citizens -- "Don't Leave Us Holding the Bag." The politicians, in fact, were quite nervous about the public anger -- fearful that it would turn up on election day in unexpected forms of retaliation.

None of this, however, did much to divert the political system from its usual behavior. Client-representative relationships held firm in Congress and the Bush administration. The press likewise played its accustomed role -- ignoring the citizens who were trying to be heard. The bailout agency continued to award lucrative deals to favored banks.

"The real decision making at the RTC didn't miss a beat," Tom Schlesinger, the Financial Democracy Campaign's chief organizer, conceded. At forty-two, Schlesinger had spent fifteen years of his life in the laborious politics of community organizing; he has an idealistic commitment to politics but no fanciful illusions about what lollipops and song might accomplish.

Like the civil rights movement, the Financial Democracy Campaign was attempting to foster moral education on a vast scale -- teaching scandalous facts that would mobilize the public anger. But this issue was far too complex to be captured in street theater. It was also not going to wait for Americans to wake up and get smart.

"Our objective," Schlesinger said, "is to take our slingshot and hit Goliath in the ankle or the wrist -- and then keep reloading." Then what? "Then we hammer on the people who have power in this country," he said. "As a first step, no more sweetheart deals for bankers. As a second step, reverse the drift of government policy and start making the financial system respond to what the public wants and needs from it."

Educating people on specific outrages, however, does not necessarily lead them to a larger conception of the problem or their own potential. Their anger may temporarily grow, but will remain incoherent if it finds nothing solid to attach to -- no organizational framework to provide a continuing relationship to the realms where issues are decided. Unlike many citizen activists, Tom Schlesinger understood the weakness in what he was doing.

"What we're doing is very, very far away from real power," Schlesinger said, "and is blinkered by all the habits and shortcomings we've brought with us in the last twenty years, trying to do special pleadings in grassroots politics."

Over time, he suggested, a larger political structure would have to emerge, an organizational framework that could mobilize citizens across a much broader front of issues. But no one imagined this stage of political development was at hand. Even the most engaged citizens, Tom Schlesinger observed, find it hard to think of politics in those larger terms.

"By and large, our folks don't have a sense of the main chance -- of seizing the moment and changing the country," he explained. "Obviously, some of us have grandiose thoughts like that. But given our limited tools and resources and personal shortcomings, I'll be as surprised as the next person if we even come close to changing the country."

***

Ralph Nader, though obviously less influential than Martin Luther King, has been another important political model for active citizens -- the man who singlehandedly inspired a generation of resourceful watchdogs for the public interest. Nader's own story provided an exemplary tale of what one person might achieve -- a solitary individual who came to Washington fresh from law school, armed only with his own intelligence and idealism. With this humble start, Nader succeeded in spawning an extraordinary system of active citizens- tens of thousands of people examining and challenging the government on behalf of consumers and the broader public interest.

Nader also relied on the media, but his basic technique was critical analysis -- assembling the damning facts about government and industry. Nader's investigations were always guided by values most Americans share -- honesty and openness, fair dealing and respect for human life -- and the shocking revelations repeatedly shamed the government. His style of dramatic exposure has been mimicked endlessly by others, including the environmental movement, and with great success.

The strength of dedicated individuals, it turns out, is not a substitute for the power of "organized people." Because of him and like-minded critics, the government reluctantly amended its processes, opening decision-making channels to citizen participation and providing more detailed accountings of its deliberations. But, as he evidence has demonstrated, the reforms did not succeed in altering the long-term balance of power. Once monied interests countered with their own escalation of political resources, citizens were trapped again in a position of weakness. Nader and other public-interest activists were depicted by business apologists as tiresome scolds.

The core of Ralph Nader's politics was an exalted idea of the individual and what individual citizens could be expected to achieve. If the government will not enforce the law, he argued, then citizens must do it themselves and become prosecutors for the public interest.

The idea is now embedded in many federal statutes. The major environmental laws all include provisions for citizen-initiated enforcement. The tax code provides bounties for those who turn up large-scale evasions. Rewards are paid to those who "blow the whistle" on cheating in government procurement. Since 1986, for instance, 274 lawsuits have been initiated by citizens charging government contractors with fraud, mainly in defense, and have recovered $70 million for the government. When the savings and loan scandals proliferated, Nader's Public Citizen proposed yet another version of the same approach -- citizens empowered to prosecute financial fraud, consumers organized as the watchdogs of financial institutions. "Citizens should insist," Michael Waldman wrote, "that they be given the tools to enforce the law themselves." [3]

The watchdog approach to politics engages the energies of thousands of citizens and produces regular victories, some of them quite spectacular. But this approach is based on an idea of citizenship in which individuals are supposed to share responsibility for fulfilling the government's duties. The idea usually defines citizens in the narrow role of aggrieved consumers and assumes that ordinary people are capable of functioning as the equivalent of bank examiners.

"It's like serving on a jury," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "Citizens are responsible for enforcing the law -- that's citizenship.... The concept of citizen involvement means it has a purity that cannot be corrupted."

The intent is certainly noble, but the net effect may be further dislocation in the relationships between government and citizens. Once the responsibility for enforcement is shifted to private citizens, some agencies are happy to let them do the hard work of challenging violators. When public-interest lawyers win a court order for enforcement, the political heat is directed at them, not at the government officers who failed to do their duty in the first place.

Furthermore, only a relative handful of private citizens are equipped to carry out this form of citizenship -- those with the leisure time and professional skills. Once again, the less educated and less articulate, the people who must spend their energies supporting their families, are left out.

The notion that citizens will bring "purity" to government is another problem: Some do and some don't. Any mechanism created for citizen participation will also be available for manipulation by any other interest group, whether its motives are self-interested or public- spirited. If everyone has to be a watchdog in order to make government work, then the foxes will also volunteer to serve.

The public-interest movement, in fact, revived the civic values of the Progressive reformers from early in the century (reformers who were themselves well-educated middle-class professionals and managers). They distrusted politics in general, just as Nader does, and wished to keep government insulated from its messy influences. The Progressives tried to create a sanitized democracy that would adhere to principles of good government, but they were disdainful of the party mechanisms that gave ordinary people representation in the debate. Their high-minded brand of individualism became a weak substitute for collective accountability.

In public-interest lawsuits, the inevitable bargaining over final decisions often gets left to the capable few who have the capacity to undertake this work, especially those people with law degrees. Whether virtuous or otherwise, these agents bring their own particular values to the table and their own class biases, which mayor may not harmonize with the larger public that cannot be present and has lost reliable representation.

Nor should citizenship require people to do the government's work for it. Government, in theory, is constituted to do the things that citizens individually cannot do for themselves, including making the laws and enforcing them. Assigning that function to individuals is not a solution to the democratic problem, but a subtle form of resignation -- another way of accepting that the political system will never perform responsibly and that citizens will never be able to make it do so. If ordinary people are supposed to do the work of government, why, they may ask, are they paying taxes?

***

Citizens remain weak because their inherited ideas of how to do politics allow them to evade the class conflicts within their own ranks. The environmental movement, though its broad values are almost universally shared by the public, is unable to mobilize its potential impact because it cannot resolve its own differences.

The movement is splintered into many different pieces, including different social classes that do not even talk to one another, much less try to work out a common political agenda. On one end are Ivy League lawyers, urbane and well educated and completely comfortable in the inner circles of government. On the other end are the thousands of home-grown neighborhood activists, utterly skeptical of government and engaged in "rude and crude" politics at the factory gates.

A few years ago, Lois Marie Gibbs of the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes tried to build some bridges across this social chasm. She organized a series of roundtable discussions and invited thirty or so community activists from the grassroots to meet with Washington-based lawyers and lobbyists from the so-called Big Ten, the leading national environmental organizations.

"It was hilarious," Gibbs said. "People from the grassroots were at one end of the room, drinking Budweiser and smoking, while the environmentalists were at the other end of the room eating yogurt. We wanted to talk about victim compensation. They wanted to talk about ten parts per billion benzene and scientific uncertainty. A couple of times, it was almost war.

"We were hoping that, by seeing these local folks, the people from the Big Ten would be more apt to support the grassroots position, but it didn't work that way. They went right on with the status quo position. The Big Ten approach is to ask: What can we support to achieve a legislative victory? Our approach is to ask: What is morally correct? We can't support something in order to win if we think it is morally wrong."

Most of the citizens drawn into grassroots environmental activism are unusual; they come from the social ranks that are least active politically, people who are poor or who are familiarly described as "working class." On the whole, these "middle Americans," as sociologist Herbert J. Gans called them, are the most disaffected and culturally inclined to practice "political avoidance." They are wary of elections and formal politics and even large civic organizations, cynical about government at all levels. Instead of political activism; Gans noted, they normally concentrate their energies on nurturing and defending their own small, private spaces -- family or church or immediate neighborhood. [4]

On the other hand, most of the citizens who lead the major environmental organizations are the offspring of the affluent managerial class, people who feel at ease in the higher realms of politics and skilled at the rationalistic policy analysis. Many are idealistic professionals, committed to large intellectual conceptions of the environmental problem but not personally confronted by the risks of poisonous industrial pollution.

These class distinctions were playfully delineated by Outside magazine when it published a consumer's guide to the environmental movement. Citizen's Clearinghouse: ''Typical member: quit the church choir to organize toxic dump protest." Natural Resources Defense Council: "Typical member: Andover '63, Yale '67, Harvard Law '70, Pentagon anti-war marches '68, '69, '70." Environmental Defense Fund: "Typical member: lawyer with a green conscience and a red Miata." Conservation Foundation: "As connected as they come and is quite friendly with many less-than-pure corporations like Exxon and Chevron." [5]

The environmental movement is a complicated spectrum of tastes and aspirations, ranging from the aesthetics of bird watchers to the radicalized politics of angry mothers. All share a generalized commitment to the environmental ethic, but have very different conceptions of what that means and how to accomplish their goals. These differences are rooted in their economic classes. An environmentalist who graduated from an Ivy League law school is more likely to believe in the gradual perfectability of the legal system, the need to legislate and litigate.

However, if one lives on the "wrong 'side of the tracks," downwind from toxic industrial fumes, these activities look pointless and even threatening. The idea of passing more laws seems a futile diversion. There are already plenty of laws. The problem is political power. "It's not illegal to build an incinerator and it's not illegal to poison people," Lois Gibbs said. "Poor people know that they need to organize and fight to win." [6]

The corrosive consequence of this underlying conflict is lost political power -- a popular cause that is unable to realize its full strength because it cannot reconcile its own internal differences. "It does hurt us," Gibbs agreed, "because we don't have any people lobbying on the Hill, while the Big Ten lobby could turn out the people -- if they were connected to the grassroots. But they don't have the constituency we have. They don't want to dirty their hands, dealing with these people from the grassroots."

Some leaders in the major environmental organizations recognize the same dilemma. Richard Ayres, chairman of the Clean Air Coalition formed by the Big Ten groups, sees Washington-based lobbyists like himself trapped between the grassroots demands for fundamental change and a political system that will not even consider them. The Big Ten works for incremental victories and, when even those are watered down by Washington politics, the grassroots activists become even more disenchanted. Young people sign up for Greenpeace, not the Audubon Society.

"If the central government won't respond to a situation, it drives the moderates out," Ayres said. "People far from Washington are saying we ought to be doing recycling and changes in the production processes that will prevent pollution. But we're caught in the middle, having to say: 'We can't do that. Congress won't touch it.'"

Major organizations in Washington cannot easily align with the fervor of the grassroots environmentalists: This would threaten their own standing within the political establishment. When a GE lobbyist wanted to cut a deal on CFCs in the new clean-air legislation, he phoned a lobbyist from the NRDC to see if his organization would go along with the compromise. That's real power -- having a putative veto on insider negotiations -- but it is usually quite limited. The Big Ten groups have such influence only so long as they adhere to the constricted terms of the Washington regulatory debate.

"If I represent an industry, I can always get into the argument in the Executive Branch or Congress by nature of the fact that I have money," Curtis Moore, former Republican counsel for the Senate environmental affairs committee, explained. "But if you're an environmental group, you can't get into the argument unless they want to let you in. And they're not going to let you in if they think you're crazy, if you don't think in the same terms they do. So you have to sound reasonable or you won't even get in the room. And you don't find many people in the major environmental groups who are willing to be seen as unreasonable."

Moore's point is crucial to understanding the compromised performance of citizen politics. The admission ticket to the debate is: "You have to sound reasonable. " The broad ranks of citizens whose own views have become "radicalized" by experience, as Lois Gibbs put it, will always sound "unreasonable" to the governing elites. They not only won't get a seat at the table, but may conclude that the Big Ten environmentalists are in collusion too, bargaining settlements with government and business behind closed doors.

Grassroots leaders, for instance, attacked the League of Women Voters for accepting grants from Dow Chemical and Waste Management to finance educational projects on hazardous wastes. The LWV in New England sponsored a series of conferences at which environmentalists and business representatives discussed their differences on key policy issues, but community-based leaders were not invited. "We were told that grassroots people are too ignorant or too hysterical to be able to participate meaningfully," Lois Gibbs complained. [7]

The grassroots suspicion of collusion between big-name environmentalists and industrial polluters is not entirely imaginary. When the CEO of Waste Management wanted to lobby EPA Administrator Reilly in 1989 to block state-enacted restrictions on hazardous wastes, he arranged a breakfast meeting through a mutual friend -- the president of the National Wildlife Federation. The industry lobbyists warned Reilly that a "balkanization" was being fostered in many states by the grassroots agitation for tougher restrictions and the federal agency must "make its presence felt." Reilly, himself the former president of the Conservation Foundation, obliged. [8]

Class conflict is, of course, a persistent theme in popular politics throughout American history. Differences of culture and class have always set citizens against one another, separating the people who, in theory, ought to be allies. Racial antagonism remains the most divisive barrier between people, white and black, who have common interests. Differences of region and religion are now much less influential than in earlier eras, but the differences of income and economic perspective are greater now than they were a generation ago. The inability of people to confront and overcome the class biases that divide them is one of the oldest failures of American democracy.

Eras of popular reform usually fail to produce genuine change, political scientist Samuel P. Huntington has argued, because they nearly always embody unnatural marriages of conflicting class interests. "Middle upper strata [of citizens] may have an ideological commitment to political reform, but they also have an economic interest in not permitting reform to alter significantly the existing distribution of income and wealth," Huntington wrote. "The poorer classes, on the other hand, may have an interest in substantial economic change, but they lack the ideological motivation to make that change a reality and, indeed, they are mobilized for political action by appeals to values which guarantee that major economic change will not become a reality." [9]

Citizens from the lower economic ranks seek to preserve the independence of their own community institutions and are skeptical of grand causes that intrude, especially if these seem to be controlled from above. Middle-class reformers, on the other hand, are willing to use governmental power on behalf of good-government reforms, but not in ways that will change power relationships in the economic order. "Upper-class and upper-middle-class hypocrisy combines with lower-class cynicism to perpetuate the status quo," Huntington concluded.

This bleak view wrongly presumes an endless stalemate for democratic possibilities, but it does accurately describe the present reality, both in the environmental movement and in many other public-spirited reform campaigns. Middle-class reformers, whether they are environmentalists or consumer advocates, tend to focus on perfecting the processes of government, not changing the underlying arrangements of power. Grassroots advocates have the advantage of being able to see the underlying power realities more clearly and are therefore willing to confront power directly. But they are handicapped by their own lack of access to the debate -- and their "unreasonable" attitudes.

The other great obstacle within the environmental movement has been the inability to reconcile bedrock tensions between its moral claims and economic self-interest. The civil rights movement could finesse this conflict because of the unifying fact of race. The environmental movement has mostly tried to smother it with righteousness. Everyone wants to advance the environmental ethic, of course, but the underlying conflict is about jobs and profit and economic growth versus environmental protection. This is not a question the mainline organizations have wished to face directly, nor have many of the grassroots advocates.

Penny Newman, a community activist who led the fight against the notorious Stringfellow acid pits in Riverside, California, observed: ''Too often the only time community-based environmentalists meet the workers is when we are protesting against corporate practices and the workers are bused into public hearings to advance the company's agenda -- so that the company can orchestrate the conflict between workers and the community."

In the Los Angeles basin, for instance, enforcement of the increasingly stringent air- pollution standards needed to free that city of its terrible smog will directly threaten scores of furniture-making factories that release highly toxic fumes in the air -- and also employ seventy thousand workers, most of them Mexican-Americans. The companies, especially smaller firms that cannot afford new emissions-control systems, threaten to close down and move their production to Mexico. Some of the upper-class environmentalists regard this as an acceptable solution since, after all, many of the furniture workers were themselves migrants from Mexico. Send them all back to Mexico -- the jobs and the people.

Again, low-wage workers wind up paying the price for everyone else's well-being. Groups like the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles are trying to mobilize an alternative approach that speaks for both the low-income communities and their workers -- that represents both their environmental complaints and their economic interests.

"Industry begins the battle with a captive army of workers whose livelihoods are in some way dependent upon the production of toxics and who are predisposed to believe company claims that environmentalists are well-to-do, anti-working-class crybabies," wrote Eric Mann, director of the Los Angeles Strategy Center. "Workers may argue in turn that if life is reduced to a battle between one self-interested force (the environmentalists) attempting to take their jobs versus another self-interested force (corporate management) attempting to 'save' their jobs, then they have no other self-interested option but to side with corporate power." [10]

Community organizers in many places are trying to break out of this self-defeating conflict by synthesizing the community's overall concerns -- the right to protection from industrial poisons and the requirements for promoting stable economic prosperity. This approach entails a much more complicated politics, of course, but it has the virtue of facing the buried conflicts more honestly.

An environmental politics grounded in the perspectives of communities would undoubtedly lead to different kinds of public policies -- transitional assistance to threatened workers or small businesses, for instance, or government-sponsored centers for treating hazardous wastes in a serious manner. It would encourage people to ask the larger strategic questions about the production processes themselves. It would assume from the start, as grassroots activists say, that the poisonous stuff should not be dumped in anybody's backyard.

If any of the major environmental groups were to realign their own politics with these positive energies emanating from the grassroots, they would necessarily have to rethink their own policy priorities and methods -- and listen respectfully to what these people from the communities are trying to say. Inevitably, this would put at risk the environmentalists' good standing as "reasonable" participants in Washington politics. But they would also discover a source of new political strength -- the power that comes from real people.

***

There is one other, distasteful explanation for why many citizen organizations, including the major environmental groups, are disconnected from the politics of ordinary people and hesitant to advocate far-reaching solutions. That explanation is money. Many citizen groups depend on tax-exempt contributions from foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals to finance their political efforts. The dependency guarantees that they will never move beyond a purified version of citizenship. In truth,' much of what passes for "citizen politics" on both right and left would disappear if the wealthy benefactors withdrew.

Under the federal tax code, tax-exempt grants are fully deductible for the donors only if the recipients stay clear of partisan politics, and many organizations accept these limitations on their politics. They may develop "educational issues" or create "civic projects" for citizens, but they cannot take these concerns into the arena of accountability that matters most to those in power -- elections. Thus, the tax code itself fosters a limp kind of interest-group politics for citizens -- the same splintering that in government has proved so debilitating to democracy.

The law thus draws an unnatural circle around the political ambitions of citizens at large -- especially the citizens who are the weakest and most dependent. Every organization that relies on tax-exempt contributions lives constantly with the complications of what it can or cannot do; many flirt at the edges of what the Internal Revenue Service would allow. "Every local project that I've ever been involved in," community organizer Arnie Graf said, "has had a lawyer who was a friend and was always telling us, 'Oh, my God, you're going to get in trouble. You say you're nonpolitical but look what you're doing.'"

The tax-exempt financing provides still another means by which wealth -- including corporate wealth -- defines the political agenda for others. In the arena of public affairs, private wealth exerts enormous influence over the scope and direction of what citizens will undertake because the giving is conditioned by the giver's own sense of what is an appropriate political cause. Though a few foundations are famous for launching provocative and even radical causes, the overall effect of political charity, as one might expect, is mostly conservative -- guaranteed to preserve the status quo. Charity is another form of political power.

Many citizen organizations expend enormous energy packaging "proposals" that will appeal not necessarily to people at large, but to foundation officers and very wealthy citizens. These projects will be accountable not to rank-and-file members but to the sources of financing.

Corporations, including the major polluters, have discovered, for instance, that they can buy into the environmental movement itself through tax-deductible contributions to the mainline organizations. Waste Management, Inc., the largest waste-disposal company and a company frequently fined for its environmental violations, has donated more than $1 million to various environmental groups in recent years. The company's generosity bought its CEO a seat on the board of the National Wildlife Federation. The National Audubon Society, which got $135,000 from Waste Management, expected its corporate gifts to top $1 million in 1989, up from $150,000 a few years earlier. The Conservation Foundation received money from Chevron, Exxon, General Electric, Union Carbide, Weyerhaeuser, Waste Management and a long list of other corporations during the year before its president, William Reilly, became EPA administrator. [11]

Naturally, the companies depict these gifts as a tangible way to affirm their commitment to the environment, but in the usual manner of Washington connections the money also builds political bridgeheads -- access to the opposition camp. Some of the Big Ten groups are leery and keep their distance from certain corporations; others take the money and curry favor with the corporate donors.

"American philanthropy is a system of 'generosity' by which the wealthy exercise social control and help themselves more than they do others," wrote Teresa Odendahl, an anthropologist who examined the lives and attitudes of several hundred wealthy philanthropists. Most major contributors, she found, are guided by a very narrow conception of democracy and "do not believe that the common people constitute the source of political authority." [12]

To escape from dependency, citizens would have to learn to depend on their own financial resources (as some already do) or to take only contributions that impose no limits on their political vision. Ultimately, only a general reform of the fraudulent distinctions in the tax code will remove the special political influence that private wealth derives from its charity.

In any case, money is never going to be a reliable source of political power for unorganized citizens. The other side will always have more of it and politics based on the generosity of others can never attain maturity or independence. The political strength of citizens can only be aggregated by assembling the collective aspirations of the many into a coherent, reliable whole. This is the daunting challenge of democracy and it is difficult to do in any era. But it is not impossible.

In fact, there are many citizens who are already doing this in different parts of America and with 'tangible success. They are building their own political organizations and formulating their own political agendas and acting on them. They are accumulating real power because their political aspirations have been authenticated. not by experts or opinion polls, but by the authority of real people.
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Re: WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE -- THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN

Postby admin » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:37 am

10. DEMOCRATIC PROMISE

The maldistribution of power in American politics -- embedded in the governing processes, reinforced by inequalities of private wealth, protected by the existing relationships -- is not the last word. In scattered places, a vibrant minority still believes in the idea of democracy and acts as though its promise is still possible to fulfill. Where would one find these faithful? In the most unlikely places.

Some are in the drug-ridden neighborhoods of Queens and the South Bronx or the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Some are in the Mexican-American neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. Others live in the west side wards of San Antonio and the black neighborhoods of Houston and the border towns strung across south Texas. Some are in Jersey City and Baltimore, Memphis and Prince Georges County, Maryland, suburb to the nation's capital.

They are not running anyone for public office or even thinking about doing it. For them, democracy means building their own political organizations, drawing people together in a relationship that leads to real political power. In a sense, they are reinventing democracy from the ground up, starting in their own neighborhoods.

In Brooklyn, people first came together in 1978 as East Brooklyn Congregations, sponsored by Catholic and Protestant churches, a synagogue and two homeowners' associations. After years of patient conversations and thousands of meetings, they were, among other things, building homes for real people. Their Nehemiah project has built two thousand moderately priced houses in Brooklyn. Their accumulated political clout arranged a patchwork of public and private financing that provided low monthly mortgage payments for the buyers.

In Southern California, three allied organizations turned out seven thousand people to lobby Sacramento in a successful campaign to push up the state's minimum wage.

In Texas, a statewide network of ten such organizations has won state legislation for health care for the indigent and $100 million in financing to build sewer and water systems for impoverished migrant-worker settlements in the Rio Grande Valley.

In Baltimore, a citizens' organization called BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) canvassed neighborhoods on their political priorities and drafted its own agenda for the city -- education, housing, jobs -- then collected endorsements from seventy thousand citizens. One political candidate embraced BUILD's agenda as his own and he became the first black mayor of Baltimore.

These victories and many others, though real and substantial, do not quite capture the essence of what these people are attempting: the reconstruction of democratic values in their own lives. Jan Wilbur, a leader in a multiracial Houston organization known as TMO (The Metropolitan Organization), expressed the idea at a meeting of the ten allied Texas groups:

"While the Founding Fathers spoke those values, they did not live out those values. What we're trying to do has never been done before. We're trying to make those values that we've heard all our lives into something real. That's radical and new."

Father Leo J. Penta, a priest who is active in the East Brooklyn organization, described the organizing process as "weaving a network of new or renewed relationships" among alienated and powerless people. The undertaking begins, he said, with "the wounded and struggling institutions which mediate relationships: families, congregations, churches, workers' organizations, civic and cultural associations." The objective is "to establish islands of political community, spaces of action and freedom in the sea of bureaucrats, political image mongers and atomized consumers." [1]

Skeptics, of course, dismiss this sort of politics as hopelessly old-fashioned and impractical in the age of mass media and high-tech campaigns. But what these people from different parts of America have come to understand is a basic idea nearly lost in American democracy: Politics begins in personal relationships. Indeed, without that foundation, politics usually dissolves into empty manipulation by a remote few. People talking to one an other -- arguing and agreeing and developing trust among themselves -- is what leads most reliably to their own political empowerment.

That is the core of what's missing. In an earlier era, the kind of community organizing these people have undertaken would have aroused immediate suspicion and probably hostility from existing political parties. But that no longer happens. Arnold Graf, an organizer who helped to launch several of these organizations, described the reality:

"When I'm out organizing in a community, I always feel like I'm in a vacuum. There's nothing to hook up to. There's no political party or labor movement. We're trying to imagine what all those organizations would do for people because none of them exist. People are just out there -- lost.

"In places like San Antonio or Baltimore, we are as close to being a local political party as anybody is. We go around organizing people, getting them to agree on an agenda, registering them to vote, interviewing candidates on whether they support our agenda. We're not a political party, but that's what political parties used to do."

All of these organizations and a number of others are linked by a national organization and a common heritage -- the inspiration of Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Areas Foundation. Alinsky created a national team of organizers in 1940 to help low-income communities discover their own political power. He is another important model for contemporary citizen politics, like King or Nader. The community-organizing approach to politics lost favor after the 1960s, partly because the federal government borrowed loosely from Alinsky's ideas and corrupted them in the "community action" programs of the war on poverty. The notion that the government could sponsor citizen organizations in opposition to itself -- or that entrenched power would allow them to succeed -- was a doomed concept from the start.

A University of Chicago sociologist, the charismatic Alinsky developed his own version of "rude and crude" politics during the 1930s and, for several decades, showed poor people in Chicago and other industrial cities how to use confrontational strength against City Hall and the political establishment. Alinsky-style organizations multiplied for a time but many did not endure, especially after his death in 1972.

The Industrial Areas Foundation lived on, however, and contrary to popular impressions, it has flourished, though its methods are now quite different. During the two decades when conventional politics was atrophying, the IAF organizations began to grow rapidly as its conception of democracy spread to more and more communities. IAF organizers launched a dozen or so organizations between 1973 and 1985, then doubled that number in the next five years. It now has twenty-four organizations in seven states, encompassing twelve hundred congregations and associations with nearly two million members, plus another five or six communities that are in the formative stages. By 1996, it hopes to be operating in fifteen or sixteen states. [2]

Alinsky's radical conviction is still the core premise. He believed that the ignored and powerless classes of citizens are fully capable of assembling their own power and leading their own politics. But the modern IAF has transformed Alinsky's fractious style into a deeper and more patient understanding of human nature. It does not start out with a "policy issue" or political purpose. It starts with conversations in people's homes. It does not spring itself on a city or town, but begins by establishing relations with the enduring community institutions that people rely on -- churches and synagogues and civic associations, from Catholic bishops to black Baptist ministers. The modern IAF, unlike Alinsky, espouses a political doctrine that is rooted in the language of the Gospels.

Edward T. Chambers, an Alinsky protege who is now IAF executive director, explained the approach to the Texas Observer:

"Our culture is very simple. We' start with family, a congregation. We start with the teachings of the Bible. We start with basic values that are given us. Then we try to practice a genuine democracy -- not the artificial democracy of the sound bite."

What exactly does that mean? "You believe that men and women are the most precious treasure this country has," Chambers said, "and the most important thing we can do is to develop them, let them grow, let them flower, let those talents flourish." [3]

This version of democracy still makes house calls -- thousands of "house meetings" held in private homes -- where organizers get to know people and their ideas for the community and, in passing, scout for those who will become the community's leaders. The organization, as it develops, gives the people a regular place to meet and discuss their ideas with others -- a place that belongs to them, not to someone else. Conventional politics no longer fulfills either of these functions, but then neither do most of the prominent organizations in citizen politics.

In other words, this politics starts with people -- not scandalous revelations or legislative crusades, not candidates or government agendas, but ordinary people. The overriding political objective, whatever else happens, is to change the people themselves -- to give them a new sense of their own potential.

One Alinsky principle, known to all IAF members as "the Iron Rule," is frequently invoked during their meetings: "Never do anything for someone that they can do for themselves. Never." The organizations, for instance, are launched with financial aid from the sponsoring parishes and churches, but the members must immediately develop their own capacity to be self-sustaining and financially independent.

Their concept of the political arena echoes the theology of Paul Tillich -- a realm ruled by both power and love. "The world as it is -- that's power," said Ernesto Cortes, Jr., the lead organizer for the IAF Texas network. "The world as it should be -- that's love."

A citizen schooled in democracy understands that he or she must live comfortably with both forces. "We learn that power and love go together," Cortes explained, "that they are conjugal, that they both come of the need to form relationships." In a sense, that is a more erudite way of saying that self-interest and competing moral claims must become fused in order to produce effective political action. The definition also provides a way to escape the confinements of "purity" that the modern political culture has taught citizens to accept for themselves. [4]

This language has a resonant quality for contemporary America because, in general, Americans are obsessed with the question of "relationships." The bestseller list is dominated by how-to books on the subject; television talk shows and popular experts endlessly examine the dimensions of personal loneliness, alienation, addiction and the frayed bonds of kinship. The popular obsession with relationships, however, is usually grounded in a narrow and egotistical context -- repairing one's relationships with husband or wife or lover, with children or parents, even with one's own true self.

The IAF theology of politics asks people to think of relationships in a context larger than themselves. Politics, after all, was originally understood as a process through which people would work out the terms for living with one another -- the shared rules and agreed-upon commitments of the social order. A successful family that is bound together by trust and loyalty and mutual purpose can be thought of as an intense microcosm of a larger society that has developed the same capacities. If families are wounded and struggling in modern America, so too is the political order.

The two realms -- the personal and the political -- are, in fact, intimately related, since much of what decimates contemporary family life originates in the matters that are decided by the larger political realm. The isolation that haunts Americans in their social lives is not really very different from the alienation that also undermines American politics. It is possible that Americans will be unable to repair their damaged personal relationships without eventually facing their deteriorated political relationships too.

"What we're trying to do," said Ernie Cortes, "is to draw people out of their private pain, out of their cynicism and passivity, and get them connected with other people in collective action."

***

On a weekend in June 1990, 150 community leaders from across the state of Texas met for a day and a half in a San Antonio hotel to discuss and refine what they called their "vision paper" on public education. The first draft had been written a year earlier, based mainly on experiences in Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and other places where IAF groups were working with school systems and particular schools on various self-improvement projects. The San Antonio meeting was one in a series of continuing deliberations, intended to sharpen the document further.

The meeting had a second purpose, which was to ratify plans for a huge statewide convention in October when the Texas IAF network would turn out ten thousand people and formally declare itself" a new power in Texas public life." It had taken sixteen years to reach this point, starting in 1974 with a feisty San Antonio organization called COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service). COPS endures and is now the largest and most experienced among the Texas network's ten organizations. The rally would also mark the fiftieth anniversary of Saul Alinsky's creation, the Industrial Areas Foundation.

Statewide candidates from both parties would be invited to attend the celebration and experience an "accountability night. " This is an IAF ritual in which the politicians are required to sit and listen, while citizens stand at the rostrum and do most of the talking. The network's agenda, including the education "vision paper" and others on jobs and housing, would be made public. Both Republican and Democratic candidates would be asked to endorse it.

"You really feel empowered when you see the politicians come to our accountability night," Marilyn Stavinoha of San Antonio explained to some women from Dallas. "Instead of politicians talking to us, we talk to the politicians."

At the planning meeting at San Antonio, community leaders would talk earnestly about these matters for many hours, but not in a manner likely to excite much outside interest. Democracy at this level is simply not very newsworthy. It lacks the sense of conflict that makes "news" in other political arenas, the stories of winning and losing. No angry voices are ever raised. The people arrive at a consensus on things, yet there are never any votes taken -- no climactic moments or soaring orations, no drama whatever. That is not what these people come for nor what they take home.

Before the community leaders convened, Ernie Cortes gathered the seventeen other IAF organizers, who are each responsible to specific communities, for a pre-meeting meeting to critique the preparations. Afterward, the organizers would meet again to critique the meeting's outcome. In IAF doctrine, the organizers submit to a self-conscious process of arduous accountability. Where are people? Do they understand? Do they really agree?

Are the organizers comfortable, Cortes asked, with the quotas assigned to each organization for getting people to the October rally? As he went down the list, the quotas elicited some groans and sarcastic asides, but no dissent. Transporting thousands of citizens across the vast state of Texas is itself a formidable task, but IAF would have to fill the arena in San Antonio (or make it seem full) for its rally in order to make its point.

"The question is how much do we want to put in this," Cortes said. "It means raising money. It means building momentum. It means this would be our big political event of the year, where we literally use all of our political capital to get the candidates to the meeting." An organization-by-organization tally of what seemed doable produced a total of eighty- eight hundred. "Okay, that's short," he said, "but that will be hard to do."

What do the organizers think of the new draft of the "vision paper" on education? Sister Pearl Caesar, a nun who is an organizer for the Metro Alliance in San Antonio, thought it was very good. "It tells you where we want to go," she said. Others were mildly critical. Too wordy, too repetitious, too specific.

Cortes explained the purpose once again. "The reason we're doing this document is to have a tool to build a constituency at the local level, " he said. "The audience is you, the key leaders in the organizations, educators and others around the state, legislators and editorial writers. None of these are original ideas. It's a synthesis, but it's an implicit attack on some things."

Ernie Cortes, one might say, is a mellower, Mexican-American version of Saul Alinsky. He has the same charismatic quality -- a mixture of the cerebral and the tough -- but Cortes seems less brusque and manipulative than the legendary Alinsky. His manner is more patient with other people and, indeed, more democratic. A few years ago, Cortes was awarded one of the MacArthur Foundation's "genius" fellowships and he has become a minor legend among political activists because of his brilliant organizing work in Texas. Slightly balding and pot-bellied, with stringy gray hair, he often has a scowling expression that can seem, oddly, both menacing and sweet.

Ernie Cortes likes to think of himself as a teacher. He dropped out of graduate school at the University of Texas to become a political organizer among migrant workers in the Rio Grande Valley, but he lives for ideas as well as action -- a rare type in politics who devours books on an awesome scale (history, economics, philosophy, politics). Cortes sees the IAF organizations as a university for the people -- a school for democracy where they learn how the world around them really works. [5]

Politicians in Texas probably see the organization in a less benign way. The IAF network is a strange new force in their midst -- potentially capable of disrupting their own power relationships because it includes so many real people. Something is being built in Texas politics that does not respond to the usual alignments of money and influence. The politicians may not understand the theological talk about "love and power" but, when IAF speaks to power, they listen respectfully. After all, those are live voters going to all those IAF meetings.

When IAF started in San Antonio in 1974, its style was by necessity hard-nosed confrontation. Andres Sarabia, a computer technician at the local Air Force base who became the first president of COPS, described the anger felt by the powerless Mexican- Americans on the west side of town. The city was run by the anglos on the north side and the west side's most modest pleas for public service -- street lights or decent drainage -- were ignored by City Hall. ''I'm not a Republican or a Democrat," Sarabia still likes to say. ''I'm Angry with a capital A." [6]

"The issue then was recognition," Sarabia recalled. "We were considered Mexicans. There was a statement made: 'Leave them alone, they're Mexicans. They'll be dead in six months because they'll get drunk and kill each other. They can't organize themselves.'"

To get the establishment's attention, COPS organized "tie-up" actions at banks and department stores -- overwhelming clerks and tellers with a flood of Mexican-American customers. "People would try on clothes and fur coats and not buy anything -- even the sisters," Sarabia remembered. "They had fun. People used to have fun at these actions. It struck me as tragic -- here we are doing this to have fun."

The local business elite eventually got the message and, sure enough, City Hall did too, but only after some brutal conflicts. The people who held power accepted that the Mexican- Americans on the west side would have to be given a share too. Over the years, COPS has won many issues and lost some, but its presence fundamentally redirected the flow of political power in the city.

As the people won tangible victories through their new organizational power, they also recognized the connection with electoral power. The voter turnout among Mexican- Americans in San Antonio has risen steadily ever since -- a fact that contrasts with those campaigns of empty exhortation mounted periodically by national foundations to encourage voting.

"You have to teach people at a very local level that voting makes a difference right in their own neighborhoods," Cortes said. "In that sense, we are doing what a political party used to do -- giving people a reason to vote. " In 1981, for the first time, the inner-city wards of San Antonio outvoted the anglos on the north side.

The other IAF organizations that developed later in Texas were usually less confrontational than COPS because the word spread among Texas politicians that it was easier to talk with these people than ignore them. "When somebody is willing to deal with you, for you to be confrontational, you're being a bully," Cortes explained. "We're trying to teach people politics. Politics means negotiating and being reciprocal and thinking about the other person." [7]

Nevertheless, entrenched political power usually does not yield recognition without a fight, whether in San Antonio or East Brooklyn or El Paso. When Ernie Cortes was organizing along the border, someone fired a shot into his home one night. Utility companies warned their employees not to mess with these new-fangled political organizations. The Houston Post ran a series of stories "exposing" the dangers of these agitators.

"We go right for the center of power -- governance -- and there's always someone in power who fights you very hard and they get nasty," Arnie Graf explained. "Once you fight for three or four years -- and I mean really fight and things get really tense and polarized -- then it's easier to get to the table and negotiate things. Once you have that fight, then they look at how to accommodate you."

Of the 150 community leaders who gathered in San Antonio to discuss the "vision paper" on education, many had already been through such "fights" to establish their own presence in local politics. Others were still learning the rudiments of power. The hotel conference room was nearly filled with IAF people who had come from all over Texas. They are known simply as "key leaders" in their community organizations -- black, white, Mexican- American, middle class and working class and poor. There appeared to be more women than men, with a few priests and nuns and black ministers scattered among them. After the greetings, Cortes immediately called a fifteen-minute recess so the groups could caucus their own members. When the meeting resumed, a roll call of the organizations followed -- a procedure that used up most of the evening.

City by city, town by town, leaders introduced their delegations and designated members delivered progress reports on local projects. Fort Bend Interfaith had persuaded local school superintendents to let them do a school-by-school assessment and so far they had talked with forty principals. El Paso reported good news (a higher number of students who achieved a B average) and bad news (the business community was very slow in raising the money promised for scholarships).

Valley Interfaith, representing border towns such as Brownsville and Harlingen, had raised more than $10,000 from member dues -- twelve dollars a family. Dallas Interfaith, still in the formative stages, had signed up fifty-one sponsoring congregations, with financial commitments of more than $100,000. Port Arthur, with seven black delegates present, was just beginning the same arduous groundwork and eager to learn from the others.

Jean Marcus gave a more detailed account of the "parental empowerment" project that ACT (Allied Communities of Tarrant) had pursued in Fort Worth schools for four years. "We've become active on eight campuses," she said. "We have schools with a lot of very low-achieving students and we have schools with high levels of violence. Without parental involvement, we aren't going to be able to turn those schools around."

At the middle school where ACT first concentrated, the children's achievement scores had already risen from last in the school district to third. "We help the parents to identify their self-interest," Marcus explained. "They already know more than they think they know about what's wrong with the schools. As they become more active in the schools, parents become more active in the community at large."

The organization is also a university, as Cortes said, and the next day the 150 leaders were taught a succinct history of public education in America, from Horace Mann's "common school" to the "factory model of schools" that has prevailed in the twentieth century. Sonia Hernandez, a former leader of COPS and now a national education consultant, was the teacher, providing a larger framework for people to think about their own schools and the troubling questions about whether their own children are being prepared for the work of the future.

Schools are also about political power, Hernandez explained. "If teachers don't have power," she said, "guess who else doesn't have power -- parents. So we wind up in conflict with each other and neither of us has the power to change things."

The review of the education document was, above all, orderly and good-natured. Each delegation was given responsibility for a particular section and they studied it overnight, then came forward the next day to comment and lead the discussion. The contents of the "vision paper" were a collection of old and new ideas about school reform, ranging from school-based management to greater parental involvement to new methods for accountability.

Some people wanted a stronger "moral statement" in the preamble. Others worried that the emphasis on "competitiveness" sent the wrong message to kids. A spirited exchange developed on the nature of work in the future and whether schools were preparing children for the next generation of jobs.

Father Rosendo Urrabazo, a key leader from San Antonio, brought the discussion back to its central purpose -- political action. "We have people trained now so they feel comfortable going into City Hall and talking to the officials," he said. "But they don't feel comfortable going into the schools. What we did in City Hall, we have to do now in the schools."

The only discordant note was quickly smothered by Cortes. A priest rose to speak in behalf of the "school voucher issue" -- a means of providing public financing for struggling parochial schools -- and one mother seconded his plea. The public schools are hopeless, she said, and parents need help getting their kids out of them. Cortes responded with a soliloquy on Thomas Jefferson and the need for a unifying "common culture" in America -- a diversion that seemed to close the subject.

Outside in the lobby later, Cortes bluntly warned the priest to back off, lest he provoke an argument that might break up the multidenominational coalition. "I told the monsignor it was not in his interest to push the voucher issue," Cortes said, "because we would have to fight him on it. The first thing we have to do is demonstrate our commitment to the common school, to preserve the common culture, or we're going to wind up with a fractured, two-tiered country and that won't be good for any of us."

The "voucher issue" was not mentioned again. Strange as it might seem to anticlerics, an organization that is greatly dependent on the Catholic church was deliberately deflecting a political issue that is most important to the church-in order to preserve its broader political purposes. Such trade-offs are the natural consequence of collective conversation.

When the education discussion concluded, Cortes reminded the delegates: ''This paper is not finished. Go back to your communities and review it. Form an education committee and critique it and come back to us. Are we on the right track in developing a teaching document for ourselves to use?"

Meetings, then more meetings, hours and hours of talking and listening --the process of building political relationships can be almost as exhausting as tending to personal relationships. But the IAP's procedures for fostering deliberation clearly succeed for these citizens. The San Antonio meetings posed a tantalizing question: Is this what the dialogue of a genuine democracy would sound like?

The discussion certainly did not resemble the fractious debates of a town meeting, where everyone pops off on whatever subject moves them. There was no debate to speak of. The format was highly structured and, ultimately, designed to avoid random digressions and encourage consensus. Ernie Cortes was the principal teacher, but also essentially the leader. One could imagine that an audience of hyperactive citizens, full of strong opinions and personal agendas, might rebel impatiently.

Yet it seemed to work. At least, the process worked for the people who were in the room, who had come great distances to join this discussion and dozens of other meetings like it. What did they get from the exchange? A sense of participation and also a sense of sharing in power.

The format, for one thing, is subtly but rigorously all-inclusive. One way or another, before the discussions were over, literally all the people in the room -- even the most awkward and shy -- were required to be on their feet, facing the entire assembly to make some small contribution to the dialogue, if only to give their names and express solidarity with what their own community leaders had said. For the inexperienced and least articulate, the meeting itself was the teacher.

Beyond the personal transformations, the dialogues also yielded the feeling that something important had been accomplished. Agreement had been reached on important matters. The participants knew that they had collaborated in developing a consensus with very different people from many different places and that the consensus would be put to political use in the future.

The "relationships" that have formed around a set of political ideas will be more important than the details, for as these people understand, the relationships are the source of their political power. It was the desire for this consensus, not a thirst for conflict, that brought these people to the meeting. Year after year, it is why they keep coming back.

On October 28, the months of meetings and countless hours of talk came together in an impressive demonstration of political purpose. The arena in San Antonio was filled with ten thousand people, the newspapers reported, and respectful politicians attended to hear from the people. "Coalition Jells into New Force," one headline declared. "Meeting Signals New Texas Politics," said another.

Clayton Williams, the Republican candidate for governor, did not show (though he met separately with the network's leaders). Ann Richards, the Democratic candidate and the eventual winner, did appear and enthusiastically endorsed the IAF network's agenda on education, housing and jobs. Richards promised, as governor, to consult them regularly (and, once in office, she has).

Were the headlines right? Was this new political force for real? Ernie Cortes demurred slightly.

"If I believed my press clippings, I'd say we are a major political factor," Cortes said. "Off the record, I'd say we're not quite there yet. But I believe we're on the threshold. It's in the interest of the political establishment to let us look strong, so they don't look too greedy. It's not in their interest to let us be so strong that we can stop them from doing what they want to do. We haven't got that kind of power yet. But I think we can get it."

***

The resonant language of love and power, the earnestness and dedication of the IAF organizations, tempts some to romanticize these citizens into something more than they are. The IAF organizations, from East Brooklyn to East Los Angeles, are succeeding on their own terms, but they are still a long, long way from the centers of power. Their politics delivers on its promises to people and that is why these organizations survive and flourish. But there are still many, many obstacles before them.

These citizens have not overcome all of the barriers to democracy but, one by one, they are at least trying to confront some of them in a straightforward way. They may reasonably be regarded as a living model for the democratic promise not yet realized in America. It is also not unreasonable to imagine them as the vanguard, perhaps one of many, for the restoration of American democracy.

The skeptical questions about a politics that originates with people are obvious. Door-to- door politics takes time, for instance, years and years of it, but established power does not wait for citizens to get themselves in motion. This tension is felt by the IAP members themselves: Their organizing processes cannot be rushed without subverting the integrity of the human relationships, yet political events are deciding important questions right now.

In a society conditioned by technology to expect instant responses, the IAF methodology assumes that human development requires patience. Their strategy for gaining political power requires, above all, heroic patience and an abiding optimism about the country -- a belief that gradually, community by community, the public's voice can be reconstructed in American politics.

In the media age, that approach is widely regarded as obsolete -- even reactionary -- since it ignores the reality of mass-communications technology and its supposed blessings. But the IAF groups stubbornly insist that the only way to overcome the alienation fostered by the modern political culture is by doing politics the old way -- face to face, precinct by precinct. But can the politics built on personal relationships ever make itself heard in the clamor of mass communications? The IAF has not, as yet, found a way nor has it really tried, since it does not wish to dilute its deeper purposes by getting drawn into "sound bite" politics.

The quality that makes the IAF organizations so distinctive is their relentless attention to the conditions that ordinary people describe in their own lives. Their authority is derived from personal experience, not from the policy experts of formal politics. Most other varieties of citizen politics start at the other end of the landscape -- attaching to the transient storms of "public opinion" or "policy debate" that play out abstractly on the grand stage of high-level politics. IAF gives up short-term celebrity on "hot issues" in order to develop the long-term power of a collective action that, is real.

In fact, because of its obvious strength, IAF is frequently invited to join the coalitions assembled by other citizen groups for campaigns on major national issues, but it nearly always declines, partly because of what IAF leaders see as hollowness in many of those campaigns: Real people are absent from the ranks. The IAF leaders are also wary of using their people as fodder in someone else's crusade. Other citizen groups typically try to form working alliances with the politicians in power and generally define their Own goals in terms of what seems possible within the reality of Washington politics. These practical compromises, IAF leaders believe, effectively cut out the "unreasonable" voices of people at the community level.

"We have to build a strong constituency of people who care about things that are important and who free themselves, both spiritually and practically, from either party so that both parties will want them," Cortes said.

Like all other citizen politics, the IAP organizations face the daunting barriers of class conflict and racial differences, but at least they are confronting those obstacles in different ways. The organizing successes to date confirm Saul Alinsky's original conviction -- that the poor and powerless can be drawn out of their passive anger and mobilized into effective political action -- but it is not yet clear that the same techniques would succeed with other kinds of communities. The process, after all, mainly teaches racial minorities or low-income neighborhoods the sense of political entitlement that already comes naturally to the white middle class and upper middle class -- a belief in one's right to be heard on public issues, the self-confidence to speak for oneself.

By itself, the personal enhancement of the disaffected classes is valuable, but insufficient. Alinsky himself conceded, late in life, that "even if all the low income parts of our population were organized -- all the blacks, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Appalachian poor whites -- if through some genius of organization, they were all united in a coalition, it would not be powerful enough to get significant, basic, needed changes." [8]

Unless an organization can learn to build bridges across the class divide, it will never attain the kind of political girth that might threaten the status quo. In various places, IAF organizations are already at work on the bridge building. Some of the Texas organizations, for instance, are truly diverse, with memberships that leap across the usual lines of race and class. Many white middle-class members, drawn by their Christian or Jewish faith and progressive civic values, have a conscience-driven commitment to their communities and a sense that this is the only politics that produces anything meaningful.

Cortes does not think the IAF Texas network will achieve full status as a major power in the state until it succeeds at creating a presence among the white blue-collar workers in East Texas and elsewhere -- people who have common economic interests but are in social conflict with blacks and Hispanics. The organizers are looking for such openings.

In Phoenix, Arizona, the IAF organization (Valley Interfaith Project) was deliberately founded across class lines -- bridging both sides of town. It encompasses Hispanic neighborhoods on the south side of the city and white working-class and professional neighborhoods on the north side. Many white people are drawn to participate, organizer Peter Fears explained, by a sense of the deteriorating quality in their lives -- crime and pollution, overdevelopment, traffic jams and the rest. The good life is crumbling and, unless citizens mobilize themselves, the political order will do nothing to stop it.

Such organizing ventures will seem wildly idealistic to cynics who are familiar with the present context of racial and class antagonism in American politics. Still, American political history suggests that this kind of politics, difficult as it is, is the only kind that leads to genuine change. Eras of great reform usually began with the emergence of new political demographics -- either newly arrived immigrants who finally found their voice in American politics or large sectors of citizens who had been held down by the system. Their political strength crystallized when they bonded with others unlike themselves with shared political goals.

In history, it is the least powerful, the outsiders, who have often been the principal agents for democratic growth. Therefore, if democratic regeneration is to occur in the years ahead, it is likely to be led by people such as these -- women and men who are now the weakest and most disregarded citizens, the politically orphaned -- rather than by middle- class reformers with professional skills. Mexican-Americans or blacks, Asian-Americans or working-class whites -- these are the people most injured by the decay of democratic representation and the people who have most to gain by restoring equity to politics. It is perhaps the case that the democratic promise waits for them.

One other crucial barrier stands in the way of groups like the IAF: They cannot at present reach beyond their own boundaries. Vibrant democracy has always been easier to accomplish in localized settings, closest to the people, but that is not sufficient to address the present breakdown. In order to imagine a restored democracy, one has to imagine a politics beyond cities and states that can speak convincingly to the national government in Washington.

In other words, how can people create a political presence that links them to large and complicated issues like taxation or the savings and loan debacle? The IAF organizations, like almost everyone else in America, are a long way from establishing that kind of link to power, though they are taking small, careful steps toward the higher realms of politics.

This is absolutely essential. The harsh fact is that the fundamental well-being of San Antonio or East Brooklyn is not determined at City Hall or even ultimately at the state legislature in Austin or Albany. The fate of these communities, their families and parishes, is embedded in a web of distant governing decisions in Washington where elite influence is concentrated.

In their cautious, deliberate manner, the IAF organizations are trying to develop channels with which to speak in unison on larger national or regional questions. For the last couple of years, Andres Sarabia and key leaders from the other cities have been meeting regularly in Washington with their congressional delegations, exploring the landscape of national legislative politics, trying out modest proposals and establishing relationships with those in power.

These contacts are only a first step and IAF now intends to expand its national base more rapidly. Cities in virtually every region of the nation have urged the organization to come in and help repair local politics: The pace of growth depends partly on recruiting able organizers who truly grasp the human dimensions of this politics. Arnie Graf, who is recruiting for the expansion, explained the strategy:

"Generally, our hope is that by 1996 we would be in twice the strategically located states as we are now and that would give us the capacity to develop either the regional or national base to look at national policies. If we were in the right fifteen or sixteen states, we wouldn't have to be in all fifty states. That would give us enough clout to be able to affect policies, whether it was through political parties or corporations."

With Texas, Arizona and Southern California already well launched, for instance, when IAF adds a presence in Colorado and New Mexico, it will have the beginnings of a common regional base -- one that can talk collectively to the region's congressional delegations and also to economic enterprises based in the Southwest. At the very least, it will have a platform larger than the boundaries of communities or even states. Coherent and authentic citizen politics takes time.

What would the IAF communities talk about if they develop a strong voice in national politics? Organizers already know the answer, because the same concerns arise again and again in community dialogues. These are: the terms of work and wages, the precariousness of family incomes.

"In some areas, where there is no hope, we've brought people a certain measure of hope," Arnie Graf reflected. "However, we're not bringing them better incomes. It's our feeling it's all going to be short-lived if we can't do something about getting people a family wage that's livable. What is the wage that a family needs to survive and live well? We have to aim at the incomes of families. We know this about ourselves: We have to look at the large issues and we can't do that from a seven-state base."

Ernie Cortes envisions that, as the Texas network develops a stronger presence, it can begin addressing large economic issues from the perspective of workers. Some of the ideas may be small and pedestrian, some may be large and radical.

"We can then raise questions about work, which raises questions about investment patterns," Cortes said. "Can we create some fundamental institutions that allow reinvestment in communities? If we all come to a conclusion that the cost of capital is a serious impediment to economic development, then we're going to have to have a new institution to provide low-cost capital.

"People also ought to have some say-so about the conditions in which they work. One of our ambitions down the road is to create some workers' associations that would deal with issues like job safety and workmen's compensation. We don't want to get under the NLRB, but we think we're in a position to negotiate with corporations about an American perestroika. We are talking now to a major company about restructuring work, with schools in the plant. Workers need to be paid in accordance with the things they control. They get demoralized when they have no control and produce lousy products. If you have intelligent management of the economy, these things are possible."

These political ideas are all cast well into the future, not tomorrow or next month, not even next year. But they exist as possibilities -- a political program that goes to what most people would say is the heart of the matter, work and family and incomes. The fact that some citizens are getting a handle on politics in order to force these matters into the political debate is perhaps the most hopeful evidence of all.

If they succeed, they will inevitably confront the underlying power relationships in government and, thus, provoke stern resistance. But what makes these ideas plausible, if they do someday invade the narrow national debate surrounding government, is that they will not enter as abstract policy prescriptions. They will have originated from the experiences of real people and real people will be gathered behind them.

***

The tragic quality of contemporary democracy is that circumstances have alienated the most conscientious citizens from the principal venue for speaking to power -- elections. Even the most active citizens' groups have lost faith in the idea that elections are the best means for making government accountable or advancing the public's aspirations.

American democracy is thus burdened with a heavy irony: The nation is alive with positive, creative political energies, yet the democratic device that grants citizens their sovereignty is moribund. Elections exist like a vacuum jar at the center of the political disorder: the most interesting and important action flows outside and around them.

When citizens set out to influence governing decisions, they usually begin with the assumption that electoral politics is inoperable or a trap. The three popular models for citizen politics -- Saul Alinsky, Ralph Nader, Martin Luther King, Jr. -- all began by distancing themselves from the most direct and legitimate source of political power. This is a fundamental handicap.

Most of the barriers to electoral politics are well known: the daunting cost of entry, the disconnectedness of mass-media political messages, the manipulative marketing techniques of campaign strategists and, above all, the gargantuan flood of money that pays for all these. Mere citizens -- even if they recognize a plausible motive for participating in this contest -- will find very little they could afford to contribute. Political power, as Ernie Cortes likes to say, comes from either "organized money" or "organized people." In the electoral arena, the money is organized, the people are not.

The citizens who do exert important influence on elections are usually organized around the most narrow objectives and often then in a defensive crouch. The National Rifle Association is famous for exerting negative influence because the issue of gun control arouses deep emotions and class resentments that mobilize its members. The NRA can frighten incumbent representatives, with both its votes and its money, though it cannot legislate much in a positive manner. The antiabortion forces, likewise, rallied crucial swing votes on the margins of close contests and that was intimidating to many elected representatives, until the tide turned against them. The League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups exert some electoral influence by targeting their campaign contributions on worthy contestants. The pro-Israel lobby works its will much more powerfully in the same manner.

The entry points for citizens, in other words, are quite narrow: either through money, the more the better in order to compete with other interests, or through an intensely organized focus on a single issue. Elections do not work for those who are unwilling or unable to squeeze through those gates. For those who wish for a broader dialogue between the governed and the governors, the electoral route seems barren.
All the electoral barriers are real and formidable, yet they do not fully explain the vacuum. In many instances, it is not simply that active citizens are shut out, but also that they have deliberately chosen to stand apart. The formal handle exists for citizens who wish to share in the governing power, yet many shrink from using it. Why do they turn their backs on the lever that is available and potentially the most powerful?

The blunt answer in some instances, of course, is that, if they participated in elections, they might lose. For some frail causes, it is wiser to stand aloof, claiming to represent the people's unrealized political aspirations, than to submit those claims to an up-and-down vote by secret ballot. Opinion polls, whose results are easily manipulated, have become the surrogate elections for groups that do not wish their true strength to be tested with the voters.

In other cases, the investment of time and energy in the tedious mechanics of the electoral process itself often seems counterproductive -- not the best use of people and limited resources. In San Antonio, for instance, COPS put together the equivalent of a full-scale precinct organization in order to campaign for a citywide referendum on reforming city council districts. It won the referendum, but the organization was exhausted by the effort. "It's very mechanical," said Arnie Graf, "and it doesn't get at what politics is really about. It doesn't allow people to talk about the broader issues."

A less tangible, but possibly more important factor that separates citizens from electoral politics is their own sense of purity -- the conviction that elections are corrupting (or at least perceived as corrupt by the general public) and that righteous causes will lose their glow if they become entangled in the fortunes of mere politicians. For years, people have implored Ralph Nader to run for office -- if only to provide a substantive alternative to the dross of party candidates -- but he never took the suggestion seriously. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, explained why:

"Ralph's presumption is that, if he runs for office, he would lose power because he would then become dependent on the political processes and so forth. So he's willing to rely on less resources and be called a 'national nanny' and lose some battles in order to remain independent."

Sister Christine Stephens, an IAF national organizer and a leader in the Texas network, expressed a similar reluctance; "We think the work of being a citizen is too important to be corrupted by [electoral] politics. Once the person gets in there, they can be corrupted. Even the best people will lose their soul. The most we can do is keep a countervailing force to keep the balance even."

Nader, nonetheless, took a first, exploratory step into electoral politics in the early presidential primaries of 1992 -- offering voters in New Hampshire and Massachusetts a chance to protest the regular order by voting for him. "I am campaigning for an agenda, not for elected office," he said. Many more such ventures, led by many different insurgents, would be needed to restore the public's voice in elections.

Electoral politics, in its present format, reduces the role of citizens by attaching them to a single candidate's fortunes, not to a political program they helped develop. ''I'm not interested in teaching people how to be appendages in anybody's movement," Ernie Cortes said, "because, in the final analysis, a political campaign is a movement. It's built around a single candidate. It will evaporate when he or she gets elected."

On a local level, the IAF groups move deftly around the edges of elections with their "accountability nights" and politicians usually get the message; These are real voters facing them. IAF does not run candidates or endorse them, but it does register people to vote and those voters do not need a TV commercial to learn that a candidate has ignored the community's agenda. If citizen organizations create a new framework for how people think about politics, Cortes argues, then electoral results will follow, not the other way around.

The objections all have practical validity to those citizens struggling to generate an authentic politics. To working politicians, however, the reluctance of citizens seems overly precious -- people who want to have it both ways. They wish to influence government, but not to get soiled by the muck of politics. They want to become powerful in the public arena, but without themselves being responsible for the awesome machinery of government. A purified citizen who is above electoral politics, one might say, is someone who has not yet come to terms with the psychological burdens of accepting responsibility for the government's coercive powers.

The disjunction between voters and elections is itself a central element of the democratic problem -- another expression of the damaged relationship between people and authority. Elections are the most visible, most legitimate means of maintaining those relationships and the only sure way to establish accountability to the governed and to develop a general trust in those who are given the power to govern. People who want responsible government are bound to be disappointed so long as they turn away from this central mechanism of power.

A genuine democracy will not likely develop until the two realms are reconciled -- the irregular citizens and the formal structure of power. After all, like the two-way mirror, democratic accountability runs both ways -- between those in power and those who put them there. This requires a reliable organizational framework that at present does not exist -- a viable political party that provides the connective tissue between the people and the government.

Conceivably, the steady development of citizen organizations like IAF may eventually create a workable substitute and heal this breach. It is not far-fetched, for instance, to imagine that a decade hence a broad alliance of citizen-based political organizations may have formed that can effectively exercise the power of "organized people" once again in elections. The vanguard is visible now. In the best circumstances, this enterprise will take time -- years of patient rebuilding by people everywhere.

In the meantime, the machinery of power is held comfortably in other hands. The principal political institutions that dominate conventional politics -- the two major parties and the media -- once provided the connective tissue that linked citizens to government but, in different ways, each has abandoned that responsibility. It is to those familiar structures of politics that we will turn next -- the main institutions that surround both the electoral process, where the power to govern is legitimized, and the governing process, where the power is exercised. Each of these, in different ways, has lost its connection~ to ordinary citizens and each has gravitated toward the powerful elites that dominate the politics of government.

The models of democratic politics that some citizens at large have already created mayor may not succeed someday in salvaging democracy. But, in the meantime, they exist as a living rebuke to the important political institutions that have failed.
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