excerpts from the book

Crashing the Party

Taking on the Corporate Government
in an Age of Surrender

by Ralph Nader

Thomas Dunne Books, 2002


Great societies must have public policies that declare which rights, assets, and conditions are never for sale.

... a working, deliberative democracy has few real champions in the Republican or Democratic parties. These parties , see their self-perpetuation in the narrowest of dimensions-largely by allowing business interests too great a say in local, state, and national agendas. There is a relentless lobbying industry that enlarges the privileges and immunities of corporations as compared with individuals and makes sure that governments leave the people defenseless and feeling powerless.

... Congress, the White House, and the state governments, have given away the store to corporations through deregulation, privatization, subsidies, reduced law enforcement, and limitations on civil lawsuits.

Third parties, which were the first to raise the seminal issues of our past-from slavery to abolition to the status of women, minorities, labor, and farmers - are now deemed "spoilers."

Today, much ... economic, political, and technological power is in the hands of global corporations wielding immense influence over our government in very intricate ways... The trajectory of this power is to centralize control - using our own government, wherever necessary, against its own people - and advance short-term commercial interests at the expense of the elevated living conditions and realizable horizons that should be the just rewards of all people.

The corporate quest for sovereignty over the sovereignty of the people is an affront to our Constitution and our democracy.

[Camden, New Jersey] a devastated place of eighty thousand people ... is an economic and living disaster. Indicative of the devastation in Camden is the absence of a single supermarket, motel, or movie theater within the city limits. Camden's woes are hard to exaggerate: two thousand debris-filled vacant lots interspersed between thirty-five hundred vacant buildings and block after block of poor families trying to send their children to run-down schools with dropout rates soaring over 50 percent. Property values are so low that Camden's tax receipts can't begin to meet school and city government expenses; the bulk of the dollars come from the state. Street crime and drug addiction surge through much of Camden's 210 miles of roads.

... In 1990 census figures put Camden, now the nation's fifth-poorest city, in destitution land. One-third of its people lived below the poverty level.

... Camden is emblematic of a systemic collapse in our smaller inner cities, with across-the-board unemployment, non-living-wage jobs going nowhere, pulverized lives of addiction, and serious crimes of violence and ghetto exploitation by loan sharks and unscrupulous merchants and landlords.

There are many Camdens in America-the world's richest and mightiest economy. Not just entire cities like East St. Louis and Bridgeport, Connecticut, but large areas of just about all our large cities. People left behind in the tens of millions with only the urban renewal of gentrification available to push them out. Nearly abandoned farm towns and villages, former factory towns with shuttered plants dot the scarred, contaminated landscapes and join with the longtime poor regions of Appalachia, the Ozarks, Indian reservations, the bypassed rural South, former mining and textile towns. These places represent the "other America" so graphically described by Michael Harrington, who helped motivate Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty in the mid-sixties.

President Nixon put forth a national minimum incomes plan as a start in the abolition of poverty in America. Congress rejected it, and the comprehensive national health insurance plan he offered, and the proposal to emphasize rehabilitation of drug addicts instead of such heavy reliance on incarceration. With glowing words, Nixon signed into law the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, the National Environmental Protection Act, NEPA, and legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nixon sent legislation to Congress that would have given the District voting representation in Congress-a goal verbally supported by the Democrats but never backed by any serious campaign during the past three decades. Would any Democratic politician in 1970 ever have predicted that Richard Nixon would be a favorable standard for comparison with today's party leaders?

Without mobilizing the political and civic energies of the citizenry ... the Democrats cannot deliver. So long as they continue to reward the very power brokers whose avarice contributed to the destitution and perpetuated social injustice, the Democrats might as well be Republicans.

During the eighties, it became ever more clear that the Democrats were losing the will to fight. Business money pouring into party coffers melded into the retreat from progressive roots and then into an electoral tactic that argued for defeating Republicans by taking away their issues and becoming more like them.

The energy to strike out on a path extending the great American progressive tradition was quickly leaking out of the Democrats like a tire losing air. The party would address its Democratic critics by defining itself by the worst Republicans instead of becoming better. "Do you know how bad the Republicans are on this subject?" would be the standard reply. Buying into the lesser-of-two-evils argument simply meant that every four years both parties would get worse and be rewarded for it. Abhorring the Republicans, progressive voters had indeed nowhere to go. I noticed how the political language began to change. Democratic candidates almost never criticized abuses of corporate power or concentrated wealth depriving millions of workers of their just rewards. There was no modern language update for what Theodore Roosevelt called the "malefactors of great wealth" or what Franklin Roosevelt called "the economic royalists." References to "the poor" or to "justice" were out of style in major addresses by Democrats. The press chased Michael Dukakis around the country trying to get him to admit that he was a "liberal" during his 1988 presidential race. Finally, a few days before the election, they cornered him in the Central Valley of California and he confessed-grudgingly.

I knew when Democrats ran away from the word "liberal" and began to use the word "neoliberal" as an adjective-as in "neoconservative"-that this semantic shift reflected a fundamental abandonment. The storied history of liberalism and its achievements in our country receded from contemporary memory under the onslaught of aggressive conservatives, their think tanks, and associated media. These corporatists in conservative garb pranced arrogantly, sometimes sneeringly, on the public stage, as if they had much historical record to brag about. Self-described conservatives (Tories) opposed the Revolutionary War and with their business cohorts maintained slavery, opposed women's right to vote, and pitted their power against workers trying to organize trade unions. They sided with the banks and the railroads against the rising farmer populist revolt in the late 1880s and continued their war against this most fundamental movement for political and economic reforms for the next twenty-five years. In the twentieth century, reform after reform initiated by liberals found conservatives and the dominant business community consistently arrayed in opposition. These included forward progress in civil rights, civil liberties, consumer and environmental protection, Medicare, Medicaid, workplace safety, labor rights and women's equality rights such as equal pay for equal work and nondiscrimination in the marketplace. No matter how much these great initiatives improved the health, safety, and economic well-being of the American people, the corporatist-conservatives and their business lobbies never relented in their blocking, delaying, diluting, or repealing of any reform that was vulnerable to their reactionary influences. This intransigence was not always the case. Conservative legislators like Senator Robert Taft supported the GI Bill of Rights and public housing. For the most part, however, they were on the wrong side of our history.

If I had to pick a date for the beginning of the latest cycle of giant business's big-time resurgence, it would be in the last eighteen months of the Carter administration. Basically, the combination of oil price surges, gasoline lines, and inflation panicked the Carterites and froze any programs and policies that business lobbies viewed as inimical. The elections of 1980 were great tidings for this lobby. In addition to Reagan's victory, a number of key senators-Warren Magnuson (Washington), Frank Church (Idaho), Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin), and George McGovern (South Dakota)-lost their seats, Democrats who championed issues centered on abuses by companies through detailed and publicized public hearings and legislative actions.

An unanticipated pattern began to emerge in that turnaround period between 1979 and 1981. It was an incremental pattern that was unforseen by most and therefore not given to forestalling. Emboldened corporations on the ascendancy observed their opponents inside and outside of government moving from resistance to retreat, losing even the sense of trumpeting their successes of the prior fifteen years in making America a better and safer place to live. Once on the defensive, it is very hard to go on the offensive. It was not lost on the numerous trade associations and corporate law firms that senators, representatives, leaders of labor unions, and citizen groups were experiencing ebbing energies. Unlike Ronald Reagan, either they no longer knew who they were or were confused about where they should be going. Historians often describe the engines of such ebbs and flows between contesting constituencies to be the rise of new ideas, dogmas, ideologies, or perceptions. In this case, it was more a flood of propaganda repeated with daily determination by business-sponsored institutions (the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation) through reports, conferences, and media programs attacking regulations and other allegedly "failed" government programs while touting so-called free-market solutions for what traditionally have been public responsibilities.

The doctrines of corporate supremacy filled a concentrating media, itself increasingly corporatized, led by those propaganda bullhorns-the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages and Forbes magazine. Instead of refining their programs, many established liberals were busy reinventing themselves as corporatizers to go with the Reaganite flows, getting along by going along. More and more business money flowed into their coffers as a continuing reward for their transformations. Noticing political decay, a weakening democracy, and an overwhelmed civil society in Washington, D.C., is not the stuff of headlines. But if they are not noticed and aggregated, illusion sets in and citizen groups find themselves working harder for less and less progress and justice within an ambiance of lowered expectations.

In between their daily struggles, retreats, defeats, and occasional defensive victories, citizen groups might have paused to reflect on how many liberal Democrats, once defenders against both the incursions of large corporations and arbitrary government violations of civil liberties and civil rights, were replaced by members of their party who took up the cudgels for capital punishment, for weakening habeas corpus, for corporate prisons, for the failed war on drugs, for the secret evidence practices of the INS and its runaway powers against due process of law. These replacements included Bill Clinton and Al Gore. While there remained some stalwart liberals in the grand tradition, such as Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California), the "new guard" reflected a political shell seduced by corporate money and overtaken by corporatists who viewed government as a "large accounts receivables" for business interests and as an instrument to be deployed against its own people.

What happened is the triumph of what Jefferson called "the monied interests."

Citizen groups, accustomed to some significant victories and the chance to take on the economic vested interests, were being shut out of the process, squeezed out of forums, rendered more voiceless and powerless with each year of rampaging corporatism over elections. There are various ways to illustrate this closing out of the civil society. One way to clarify the merger of business with government is to list the major departments and agencies in Washington, D.C., and simply ask who is the overwhelmingly most powerful influence over each of them. Seasoned reporters and commentators would scarcely be surprised by the following list: Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve (banks), Department of Agriculture (agribusiness), Department of Defense (military weapons companies), Department of the Interior (timber barons and the mining industry), Food and Drug Administration (food and drug companies), Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inside the Department of Labor, no less (corporate employers), General Services Administration (business vendors to the government), NASA (space industries), Federal Aviation Administration (airlines and aircraft manufacturers), and so it goes.

Of course, this has been the case for decades. The difference today is that these agencies have become more symbiotic with their clientele companies, often being led by former executives of these very industries. The difference is also that Congress is far less a countervailing force than a cheerleading crowd. The judiciary, composed of corporatist judges, is more prone to roll over on economic issues. Moreover, industry and commerce have become far more organized, more media-aggressive, and richer at the same time that organized labor's influence had declined as an opposing force across the spectrum of public decision making. When this severe imbalance of power becomes institutionalized, the sovereignty of the people is diminished.

Still, the citizen groups plod on, as if riding a treadmill that keeps slipping further behind. They cling to dwindling hopes: the remaining progressives in Congress, a defensive court victory on the environment, a new Clinton administration in 1993, a major investigative report on national television or in a major newspaper or magazine, a push from Western Europe on global warming or genetic engineering, a successful labor-organizing drive for janitors. It has been said that hope springs eternal, but for these groups, hope has been springing many contemporary leaks. They could never imagine, if told in the 1970s, that the economy was going to double in thirty years yet the problems of energy, poverty, lack of health insurance coverage, inadequate housing, real wages, consumer debt, the savings rate, criminal justice systems, disrepair of public works, family farms, wealth inequality, trade deficits, food safety, and others would either be at a standstill or sliding backward at the beginning of the twenty-first century. All this in a period of restrained inflation, booming corporate profits, surging stock markets, massive capital accumulation (heavily from pension and trust funds), and more recently a period of federal and state government surpluses.

... the corporate influences on our political parties and the media have dulled our imaginations about what the agenda should be for creating a better society.

The decision to run a full campaign came to five principal reasons rooted in disturbing realities. I jotted them down over Thanksgiving weekend.

1. The "democracy gap" had widened and deepened over the past twenty years. Citizen groups were working harder and harder and achieving less and less. It mattered less and less which political party was in putative power. Both were morphing into each other.

2. Solutions to our nation's injustices, needs, and unfilled promises abounded. They were being applied, as with inner-city schools or organic farming, on the ground in a few places but without any engines of diffusion behind them to overcome bureaucratic, avaricious, or nontechnical obstacles.

2. In their finest hours, however infrequent, the major newspapers, magazines, and television shows repeatedly headlined investigative stories about the failings of big business and government, but nothing was happening. This was a telltale sign of a weakening democratic society unable to provide the linkages that bring serious misdeeds reported by the major media toward a more just resolution.

4. Having to spend so much time and so much of one's conscience and dignity raising money from interests you don't favor or like has turned away too many good people from running for office in America. A political system that turns off good candidates can hardly be in a position of ever regenerating itself.

5. People's expectation levels toward politics and government had reached perilously low levels. Why try? Why bother? These words become the mantra of withdrawal.

There is a major problem for anyone who runs for president, especially a third-party candidate. No matter how long or extensively you campaign in every state of the union, no matter how large your audiences become, you cannot reach in direct personal communication even 1 percent of the eligible voters. In essence, you don't run for president directly; you ask the media to run you for president or, if you have the money, you also pay the media for exposure. Reaching the voters relies almost entirely on how the media chooses to perceive you and your campaign. In short, this "virtual reality" is the reality.

Since the media controls access to 99 percent-plus of your audience, it is not shocking that 99 percent of most candidates' strategies is born and bred for media play. The media is the message. When George W. Bush nuzzles next to two little schoolchildren, his handlers make sure that the AP and other photographers on his campaign have good positioning. When A1 Gore stands near some national park in his L. L. Bean attire, his handlers know they succeeded only if the image and a few choice words are played throughout the country. There are very few rallies anymore. Instead there are carefully orchestrated photo opportunities that often leave some locals resentful, feeling they have been used. And, of course, they have been used, just as the candidates use journalism for their poses, or try to, and just as journalism uses them.

There can be, though, alternatives to such contrivances. The people could have their own media, a point I made repeatedly at my press conferences. The people own the airwaves. "The people are the landlords," I would say, "and the radio and television stations are the tenants. They pay us no rent to our real estate agents, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), yet they control who says what and who doesn't, for twenty-four hours a day. What is needed are our own stations, well equipped, our own audience network, both controlled and funded by viewers. A portion of the rent that should be charged for this vast public asset, which since day one we have given away, would amplify the viewers' stations." The camera crews and attendant reporters first would appear curious, then amused, knowing that this was one long sound bite that would never make it onto the evening news. Neither did my words reach the newspaper columns. The media itself was never viewed as an issue in the campaign. A few years ago I asked a candidate why not? His reply stuck in my memory: "The media represents that part of my voice that gets through to the people. I'm not going after my voice."

There is another, much older and inexpensive way to reach people. Once under way, word of mouth is the most credible, quickest, and most lasting medium of all. It goes from friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor, worker to worker, relative to relative-between people who afford each other longtime credibility. Word of mouth goes on all the time, but it is very hard to escalate to high levels of velocity or intensity. It would take a veritable cultural revolution of civic interest, awareness, and engagement to change the tide. We are far from that nexus as a society, except for a few hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control, which possess their own intense grapevines.

In an age of deepening concentration of conglomerate media corporations, their executives have their own interests to defend and expand. More and more, newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations are caught up in larger megacorporate strategic objectives, which shape the nature of campaign coverage. During the summer, on the television in my hotel room, I saw Sumner Redstone, boss of Viacom, which bought CBS, being interviewed about his reportedly strained relationship with CBS boss Mel Karmazin. "Nothing to it," replied Redstone. "Mel and I are both driven by our stock price." Shades of Herbert Hoover and Edward R. Murrow, who saw the public airwaves as a public trust. That being Redstone's yardstick means that hypercommercialism becomes ever more the governing standard. This results in downgrading respect for the public service requirement of the 1934 Communications Act and its famous provision for licensees to reflect "the public interest, convenience, and necessity."

When they are not merging or joint venturing, these mass communications giants are in a frantic race down the sensuality ladder, filling the airwaves with what John Nichols and Robert McChesney call the "trivial, sensational and salacious." These authors published a little paperback in the middle of the presidential campaign titled It's the media, Stupid, where they illuminated the connection between "media reform and democratic renewal." This little volume is a factually immersed brief for their thesis, best expressed by their own words:

The flow of information that is the lifeblood of democracy is being choked by a media system that every day ignores a world of injustices and inequality, and the growing resistance to it. No, the media system is not the sole cause of our political crisis, nor even the primary cause, but it reinforces every factor contributing to the crisis, and it fosters a climate in which the implementation of innovative democratic solutions is rendered all but impossible.

The closer a story gets to examining corporate power the less reliable our corporate media system is as a source of information that is useful to citizens of a democracy. Commercial indoctrination of children is crucial to corporate America.

It is at least permissible to assume that corporations such as Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, Viacom, Seagram (Universal), Sony, Liberty (AT&T), and General Electric, which rely heavily on corporate advertising revenue for their expenses and profits, are not likely to go out of their way to cover candidates who are critics of their major advertisers who are big contributors to both the Republican and Democratic parties. It's just simple business sense.

As these media giants become ever more global, along with global advertisers, their self-importance and impact become almost unreal. On the occasion of announcing Time Warner's merger with AOL, Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin declared exuberantly that the global media is "fast becoming the predominant business of the twenty-first century" and is "more important than government, it's more important than educational institutions and nonprofits."

Even with fewer and fewer key individuals controlling more and more print and broadcast media properties (one company now owns eleven hundred radio stations), much of their power to frame the agendas and confine the issues is the result of a two-party default. Twenty-one years ago, the especially perceptive Duke historian James David Barber wrote about the "emergence" of mass communication

to fill virtually the whole gap in the electoral process left by the default of other independent elites who used to help manage the choice. Their power is all the stronger because it looks, to the casual observer, like no power at all. Much as the old party bosses used to pass themselves off as mere "coordinators" and powerless arrangers, so some modern-day titans of journalism want themselves thought of as mere scorekeepers and messenger boys. Yet the signs of journalists' key role as the major advancers and retarders of presidential ambitions are all around us.

In Barber's view, the political parties failed because "their giant ossified structures, like those of the dinosaurs, could no longer adapt to the pace of political change. Journalism could adapt . . . journalism took over where the parties left off."

Well, maybe some Democrats and Republicans were reading Barber, because they decided to take back from the media the management of choice in one area of crucial importance to any political challengers to them: the presidential debates. Until the late eighties, the League of Women Voters sponsored these debates. In 1980, they allowed independent candidate Congressman John Anderson to join Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which helped Anderson considerably in national recognition and the polls. At one point he scored 21 percent in the polls, and he ended up with 7 percent on Election Day. The two parties did not like the League-a nonpartisan civic group-setting the rules and running the debates. So a private corporation was formed, given the official-sounding title of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) and headed by cochairs who were the former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic National Committees. Its phony purpose was voter education. The debates cost money, so the CPD found corporations to write big checks. These firms have included Anheuser-Busch, Philip Morris, Ford Motor Co., and other companies that also gave soft money to the parties' national committees.

In 1992, Ross Perot came on the scene, and his wealth and widespread polling support led to his being allowed to join the debates. His polls went up, too. He received nineteen million votes, shaking the political establishment with his Reform Party and his paid televised lectures. Never again, vowed the two parties. Fully ninety-two million Americans saw the debate among Perot, Clinton, and Bush, more than double the average of the three 2000 debates. Too destabilizing for the duopoly. Perot was barred in 1996 by a series of vague criteria based on interviews with columnists, pollsters, and consultants who concurred that he could not win. He was also barred by the national television networks from buying the same kind of thirty-minute time slots that brought his message of deficit reduction and political reform into the living rooms of millions of households.

Speaking with him after the election, I said, "Ross, at least you've proved that the big boys can keep even a megabillionaire off the air."

In the year 2000, the CPD revised its criterion for third-party candidates: 15 percent or more as measured by the average of five private polling organizations (which just happened to be owned by several major newspaper and television conglomerates). So if their parent companies did not cover the third-party candidate, the polls would not likely move up. Without moving up, there would be little media, and so a catch-22 was built in the CPD's entry barrier. How can a private company get away with this? By virtue of the mass media default, of course. There's absolutely nothing stopping the major networks and newspapers from sponsoring their own debates.

The televised debates are the only way presidential candidates can reach tens of millions of voters. Several polls during 2000 showed a majority of the voters wanted Pat Buchanan and me at the debates, regardless of folks' voting preferences. Larger audiences and ratings would almost certainly follow. People want a wide variety of subjects, viewpoints, forthrightness, and candidates. They do not see the presidential debates as a cure for insomnia. However, the great default is now on the shoulders of the media moguls, and the major parties are back in charge of the ticket for admission to the public.

This is all about giving small starts a chance to have a chance. This does not mean that there be only three debates. It doesn't mean there are no criteria. An Appleseed Foundation project suggested in a report for campaign 2000 that candidates be included who meet one of two tests: (1) the polls show that a majority want the candidate included; and/or (2) the candidate has at least 5 percent support in the polls (the statutory minimum for receiving federal matching funds) and is on enough state ballots to theoretically be able to win a majority in the electoral college. Law professor David Kairys, who advised us on the debate matter, wrote in the Washington Post:

The nation's broadcast media have so far been accomplices in this charade. CPD debates should at least be accurately labeled as Republican-Democratic campaign events, rather than as "presidential debates." . . . [T]he rules of the debates should not be left to the major parties or their handpicked representatives, who have a history of excluding candidates and ideas the public wants-and deserves-to hear.

We did not take the CPD's autocratic exclusionary mission passively. Throughout the spring, summer, and early fall of the campaign, I denounced the CPD to one rally or audience after another. We encouraged citizens to communicate with the CPD, as we did, and demand the opening of its doors to competition. I sent letters to the major networks asking them to sponsor their own multicandidate debates. Two replied sympathetically but to no result. In September, I wrote the heads of the major industrial unions in the critical, close states of the Midwest urging that they cosponsor presidential debates with special emphasis on neglected labor agendas. No one from the Steelworkers, the Machinists, the Teamsters, or the United Auto Workers responded. I urged national civil rights organizations, including the major Hispanic civil rights association in Southern California, but to no avail. Granted, they had their reasons-the CPD debates were already scheduled, logistics, and the risk of being turned down and viewed as powerless. Now, with plenty of time until 2004, I call on people and institutions who want robust and diverse debates to join together and form a People's Debate Commission.

The newspapers take elections more seriously, comparatively speaking, than the broadcast media. Television and radio have many ready-made excuses for their shrinking coverage. A twenty-two-minute national television news program, excluding advertising time, is not sprung from holy writ. The format of the local television news, with its nine minutes of ads, with several leadoff accounts from the police crime blotter, four minutes of sports, four minutes of weather, one minute of chitchat, and the prescribed animal and medical journal health story, is not carved in stone. Apart from public radio and the few nonprofit community radio stations, commercial radio and television devote about 90 percent of airtime around the clock to entertainment and advertisements. News is sparse, abbreviated, and very repetitious. When radio is not singing or selling, it is traffic, weather, and sports with headline news spots. The number of reporters and editors has been cut to the bone. No more are there FCC requirements for ascertaining the news needs of the community. Gone are the Fairness Doctrine and the Right of Reply. In 1996 there was near silence on the tube regarding the congressional fight to block the giveaway of $70 billion worth of the new spectrum to the television stations-a giveaway opposed even by the Republican candidate that year, Robert Dole. The notorious Telecommunications Act of 1996 received the cold shoulder, notwithstanding its paving the way for a massive binge of mergers and further concentration of media power. In 2000 the FCC, under its chairman, William Kennard, started granting community radio licenses to nonprofit neighborhood associations. The formidable media lobby, led by the National Association of Broadcasters, descended on Congress. They pummeled into line a majority of Congress-Democrats and Republicans-to pass legislation, which Clinton reluctantly signed, that blocked the FCC from licensing these little stations which could accept no paid advertising. A minor Hollywood celebrity's DUI received more television and radio coverage than did the FCC's attempt to give people a radio voice of a few miles' radius.

John Kenneth Galbraith, from an article written in the July 1970 issue of Harper's magazine, titled "Who Needs Democrats? And What It Takes to Be Needed."

The function of the Democratic Party, in this century at least, has, in fact, been to embrace its solutions even when, as in the case of Wilson's New Freedom, Roosevelt's New Deal, or the Kennedy-Johnson civil rights legislation, it outraged not only Republicans but the Democratic establishment as well. And if the Democratic Party does not render this function, at whatever cost in reputable outrage and respectable heart disease, it has no purpose at all. The play will pass to those who do espouse solutions.... The system is not working.... The only answer lies in political action to get a system that does work. To this conclusion, if only because there is no alternative conclusion, people will be forced to come. Such is the Democratic opportunity. Oddly, I do not think the prospect entirely bleak.

Harvard anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, in his 1950 book Mirror for Man.

America's chief claim to greatness, he observed, is not in its illustrious writers or in its outstanding scientists or thinkers. It is in being the "first country to dedicate itself to the conception of a society where the lot of the common man would be made easier, where the same opportunities would be available to all, where the lives of all men and women would be enriched and ennobled. This was something new under the sun." He went on to a deep insight: "Ideals of flourishing freshness that adapt to changed conditions and to what is sound and creative in the distinctive American Way are the only sure antidote for our social ills. Only those ideals will spread and be accepted which correspond to the culturally created emotional needs of the people." He believed that "visions" must offer men and women that "common nobility of purpose, which is the vitalizing energy of any significant culture." While "ventures," he added, will "be proved only if diminished anxiety and greater gusto in day-to-day living transform the lives of us all."

Our country's independence was declared in 1776 by patriots, many of whom would be considered very young by contemporary standards. Thomas Jefferson was thirty-two, James Madison was thirty-five, John Hancock was thirty-nine, and John Adams was forty-one. Their leader, George Washington, was only forty-four. Today our society is borrowing heavily from future generations and debts of all kinds are mounting. As history conveys to us, it is again up to the young to give new character to their times, to forge the civic personalities that will bring old wisdoms, new thinking, and new democratic institutions to bear upon the torments of our world.

It is always the young who can give the people and their collective judgments that "new birth of freedom," in Lincoln's words, who can constrain greed and power-those classical Molochs-by civil society's motivation and action. It is always the young who break through the shams and frauds and raise our expectation levels beyond our eroded horizons. It is always the young who see the "impractical and the impossible" as entrenched excuses by the established interests to avoid realizable caring futures. When three hundred of the richest people on Earth have wealth equal to the bottom three billion people on Earth, extreme affluence is built on the backs of extreme mass poverty.

In the forward march of history, it will always be the young who look at the conventional "can't be dones" and demand that "they can be done, they must be done, and they will be done." The questions remain: Are our younger generations in America up for establishing the democratic sovereignty of the people? Or will they continue to grow up corporate and let ever larger global corporations increasingly plan our futures-economically, culturally, politically, militarily, environmentally, and genetically right into their obedient brave new world?

The civic personality, in contrast, sees through the politically dominant ideology of commercial supremacy and evaluates what it is doing by the measure of civic values. The tobacco industry works ceaselessly to addict kids and sell its products to ever more people. That millions die every year around the world from tobacco-related diseases does not deter this industry. The processed-food companies want to sell ever more fat and sugar to a population, young and older, suffering serious diseases and disabilities from such diets. The drug companies then push their pills onto children and adults with ever less restraint and ever more overwrought marketing mania. A serious published study in the American Medical Association's journal estimated that more than one hundred thousand hospitalized patients die from adverse drug reactions each year. The military weapons companies search the world to sell, with taxpayer subsidies, more and more of their lethal armaments to whoever can pay, regardless of their customers' intent or uses. When companies commercialize childhood, accelerate sprawl, imperil the environment with contaminating fuels and chemicals (the EPA estimates that sixty-five thousand Americans die each year from air pollution), block sustainable technologies, encourage more debt, own politicians, skew public tax dollars in their favor, oppress labor, and gouge defenseless consumers, they are simply following their commercial imperative without limits. Civilization as if people are first is not just about opportunities; it is about limits and boundaries around antisocial, criminogenic behavior whose limitless logic eventually would spell omnicide for this very limited home we call Mother Earth.

The British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once wrote that a society is great when its businessmen think greatly of their calling. The young are very adept at searching out or creating such models, and a good place to start is the Social Venture Network, which consciously strives to inject civic values as the framework for their successful midsize businesses. Reading, learning, and thinking in a time of megamedia obfuscation and confusion are a prerequisite for the civic personality. Just what are the proper functions of an accountable government that is not paid to play favorites and forfeit its trust and integrity? What is meant by the commons or commonwealth of public property and public assets that the American people own together but do not control? How did our forebears motivate their fellow citizens to organize person to person, reaching levels that organizers today, with all their communications technology, view with unalloyed awe? Just how did the power of creeping corporatism over the past two hundred years take an artificial legal entity chartered by the state, called the corporation, and have it endowed with the rights of real human beings plus privileges and immunities denied human beings?

There are also distinct elements of courage to the civic personality. Thousands of men and women each year in our country blow the whistle on abuses in business and government, universities, unions, and other institutions to the detriment of their jobs, careers, and livelihood. Civic values drive them to expose avarice and wrongdoing. Keeping an open mind to revisit positions and policies is part of the way civic personalities maintain touch with reality and other people's wishes. When I held a news conference with New Mexico's Republican governor, Gary Johnson, a former businessman, during the campaign, he again spoke out, urging a rethinking of the self-defeating and cruel war on drugs. Johnson is the only sitting governor to open such a taboo subject, even though he told me that other governors privately agree with what he says but think it too politically delicate to raise similar questions in their states.

A civic personality possesses a keen awareness of how large corporations have institutionalized the shifting of their avoidable costs to police, soldiers, taxpayers, consumers, workers, and the environment, and how governments waste or redirect tax dollars to wealthy recipients who make up the corporate government. Being sensitive to how some other democratic nations essentially abolished poverty, as we know it, years ago and provided other safeguards and services for workers, children, and needy citizens informs the civic personality to be more insistent. Similarly, such a commitment is strengthened by an expanding grasp of available solutions or achievable ones shelved not because of any technical objections but because of the resistance of the entrenched powers that be. Solar energy in all its historic and modern active and passive forms remains a prominent illustration of the penalties society pays for not democratizing technology.

During the nineties when a new generation came of age, the United States exhibited a dominance that Clinton and Gore called "peace and prosperity." Apart from the sweeping veneer over real conditions that this phrase obscured domestically and internationally, it does raise the central question: What did we do with all this peace and prosperity? Did we regenerate our culture, strengthen our democracy, and launch a drive to abolish poverty? Did our rulers keep a majority of workers and families from falling behind? Did we meet long-delayed public needs? Did we improve industrial efficiencies that reduce environmental degradation and enhance the productivity of natural resource inputs? Did we strive for world stability by reasonably demobilizing following the demise of our traditional adversaries and instead vigorously waging peace and justice to help humanity and the genius of other societies to join in common efforts for sustainable living standards? Did we move to a new way of thinking and acting apropos of William James's notion of "the moral equivalent of war" back in the late nineteenth century? Why didn't we ever wonder about what we missed? Are we a society stuck in traffic?

What does this decade-long respite from the conventional excuses and red herrings tell us about our political economy's unwillingness to rise to such wonderful occasions and beckoning opportunities? It tells us what happens when power is too concentrated and when the dreams of avarice supplant the dreams of justice-the great work, as Daniel Webster put it, of human beings on Earth. The remarkable persistence of these human frailties throughout centuries and millennia, despite dramatic secular changes, technologies, and pretensions, is one reason why people can relate to ancient plays from Euripides to Shakespeare. It is why the sayings of the ancients remain so relevant today in an otherwise dramatically different world. It is why the civic personality-to be true, resilient, productive, and respectful of itself-cannot ignore these personal failings and insecurities that can remain apart from but dominant over intellect, knowledge, or one's desired contribution to higher priorities in our world and community.

Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that "character is destiny." One might add that "personality is decisive" for the capability of people building civic cultures. It is character and personality that spell the steady sense of commitment, that give recognition to others in similar endeavors, that enable growth and development of civic skills, perspectives, and frames of reference, that provide the necessary pauses for reevaluation, for improved strategies and modes of self-renewal, for keeping alert and alive the public's imagination of life's possibilities for human beings everywhere.

It is indeed the young who take the risks, who break new ground, who locate or create solutions to widespread needs, who think the unthinkable, who show how prevailing ideologies regularly lie to themselves through phony symbols and images. However, it is also the young who can be most dissuaded by a sensual, tempting corporate culture, who can be seduced into trivializing their lives and postponing their potential. As I have said to many college undergraduates, you have about fifteen thousand days or a little over two thousand weeks before you turn sixty-five. Whether you wish to relax and smell the roses after that age or continue making this a better world, there is little time to lose. Put your knowledge and your vision to work. Keep thinking of the valiant efforts from the past and the children of the future. Put your beneficent mark on your world. Become good ancestors. Let it never be said by future generations that, during your days in the sun, your generation declined to give up so little in order to accomplish so much.

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