Friday, February 07, 2003

A little more from "Sloan Rules", David Farber's lovely little book on Alfred P. Sloan of GM, and (among other things) his dealings with government. Sloan was an initial supporter of the New Deal, but quickly turned on it, fearing interference with his business in general. And, as an advisory board member of the "Liberty League", that landed him in with some pretty strange bedfellows:

The Liberty League ... raised and spent almost the same amount of money as the national Democratic Party. Of that money, at least $10,000 (about $122,000 in current dollars) came from Alfred Sloan.

...Sloan helped to fund the Liberty League, even as the league's alliances and rhetoric became ever more frantic and fanatical. For example, it helped fund the fascistic, anti-Semitic Sentinels of the Republic ("Every citizen a Sentinel! Every home a sentry box!"). The sentinels believed the New Deal was a "Jew Deal" and that Roosevelt and his minions were part of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Sloan sent at least one check for one thousand dollars directly to the Sentinels.

Another Liberty League beneficiary was the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution .... This committee and its candidate mixed anti-NewDeal populist diatribes with fervent racism. Infamously, they circulated what they called "nigger pictures": photos of Eleanor Roosevelt with black Americans. Soon after the photos appeared and were nationally publicized, Alfred Sloan sent the committee one thousand dollars.

And then, of course, there was the Ku Klux Klan.

Sloan associated with these unsavory characters because he was desperately trying to find a way, any way, to stop a political juggernaut. In one of his few public statements on politics, Sloan appealed to listeners of the NBC Radio Hour to vote against the New Deal, without quite bringing himself to call it by name:

Help us perpetuate the American way of life --- its free enterprise --- its alertness for the new and better --- its rewards for the deserving... Hold fast on through future years to the American system of industry that has brought us these benefits and is still the envy of the entire world.

In the middle of the Great Depression, the American public somehow didn't think they were getting the rewards they deserved, or that their situation was much for anyone to envy. Roosevelt won by a landslide.

Cut to today, where as David Neiwert notes, we once again have well-endowed businessmen sloshing funds to just about anyone, no matter how extreme, who can be motivated to say a bad thing or two about government regulation:

... during the 1990s, [r]esponding to the serious law-enforcement crackdown on their activities, the white supremacists in the Christian Identity movement -- which was the driving ideology at Hayden Lake -- began morphing in the early part of the decade into the Patriot, or militia, movement. This was essentially an effort by Identity leaders to mainstream their belief system, primarily by locking away or disguising the racial components of their belief systems and instead emphasizing their political and legal agendas, all of which are bound up in the movement's métier, conspiracy theories.

And the Patriot movement has thrived during that period on its mutability, its ability to confront a broad range of issues with its populist appeal, all wrapped in the bright colors of American nationalism. In the Patriot movement, just about any national malady -- unemployment, crime, welfare abuse, drugs, abortion, even natural disasters -- can be blamed on the "un-American" federal government or the New World Order. If you don't like gun control, or the way your kids are being taught in school, or even the way the weather has affected your crops this year, the Patriot movement can tell you who's to blame. ...

... the really interesting -- and equally enigmatic -- meeting-ground between the far right and the apparent mainstream comes in the field of money. Namely, the funding of the far right tends to be relatively mysterious, since many of them work under the aegis of a religious organization and are thus exempt from reporting the identities of contributors. But it was interesting to see the money flowing from ostensibly mainstream rightist organizations into several neo-Patriot outfits who specialized in spreading numerous conspiracy theories that were clearly Patriot in origin. Most noteworthy of these was the Western Journalism Center and WorldNetDaily, originally financed by Scaife. Moreover, there was a lot of Scaife money underwriting publication of the anti-Clinton material I saw distributed at militia meetings.

Scaife was probably the most visible case. Many observers, myself included, suspect strongly that outfits like Militia of Montana and Bo Gritz' operation are being funded by right-wing sugar daddies who make their livings in real estate or development, perhaps manufacturing. Vincent Bertollini, the right-wing Silicon Valley millionaire who underwrote Richard Butler at the Aryan Nations for a number of years, is another such case -- though as it happens, he is currently on the lam from a drunk-driving charge that is likely to land him in the slammer. ...

These likely are people who are not public about their beliefs but are sympathetic to Patriot causes, and more importantly, see right-wing extremists as a useful lever, a threat that helps keep "leftists" in line. As Matthew Lyons of Political Research Associates has often argued (especially in the book he co-wrote with Chip Berlet, the excellent Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort ), the extremist right has long been a very useful tool of the corporatist right deployed purposely for precisely this function, as well as to drive wedge issues such as race between labor unions and working-class people.

Neiwert has plenty of other interesting things to say --- about the role of mainstream media, and cable networks like Pat Robertson's, in "transmitting" fringe ideas to the conservative mainstream, and on the willingness of Bush to associate directly with fringe groups, like the "White Pride" group Stormfront, which supplied some of the muscle for the Florida "Bourgeois Riots".

In short, what we have here is a replay of the 1930s attempts to rouse the rabble against government regulation like Roosevelts' --- the shrill rhetoric, and the hidden ties and funding of any group that will say a word against the idea of regulation, no matter how vile their own agenda. The only difference: as we can see everywhere from the environment to telecom, we have an administration that is determined to roll back regulations that its corporate sponsors find inconvenient.

We have the protests, in short --- but no Roosevelt.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home