Friday, May 8, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics: Part 9

I identified one final ideological-institutional cluster - or, more aptly, micro-cluster. A little further to the left of the Progressive cluster I noticed a very small network of several think tanks (e.g. Institute for Policy Studies and Center for Economic & Policy Research) that I called the Reformist Left. Associated with these institutions are a handful of figures such as Noam Chomsky (academic), Joseph Stiglitz (economist - formerly with World Bank and Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers), Barbara Ehrenreich (journalist), and Mark Weistbrot (economist). As far as I am aware, there is no significant corporate funding or affiliations with politicians, and it is primarily an intellectual domain.

The Reformist Left is more critical of The Establishment than the Progressive cluster, yet not exactly revolutionary either. It is certainly more sweeping and trenchant in its critique of globalization and U.S. foreign relations than the Progressive cluster. It is also incisive, like the Progressive cluster, in its criticism of structural inequalities. The economic position of the Reformist Left is also similar to that of the Progressive Cluster - Keynesianism, though possibly even stronger in its support for unions and public programs.

I chose the word "reformist" to place this ideological position in the context of the longstanding divide between the reformist and revolutionary left. The reformists are often derided by the revolutionary left, especially in Europe where their institutionalization in the form of Social Democrat parties seen as a sell out. Strict revolutionaries, for their part, are criticized as being incapable of enacting any social change. The revolutionary left, I should note, comprises a number of different ideologies, groups, and agendas.

Nothing left of progressivism has ever had much political clout in the United States, although presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (who, it should be noted, is running as a democrat) has apparently been fundraising quite well. From what I can tell, once working class whites in the U.S. overwhelmingly shifted to Liberal-Centrist, Religious Right, and Radical Right positions, the Reformist and revolutionary left remained as the domain of academics, with some non-academic activists of color included. That is not to say that all of academia is leftist, of course; just that a large proportion of leftists in the United States tend to have some connection or other to academia (even just as drop-outs). Therefore, I would place both the Reformist Left and revolutionary left (all its varieties) squarely outside of The Establishment, while noting that the Reformist Left is a little less adversarial to The Establishment.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics: Part 8

Loosely linked to the Liberal-Centrist cluster is another ideological-institutional cluster that I dubbed Progressive (back to the creative names, I know). It is, perhaps, comparable in size to the Neoconservative cluster. Also, somewhat similarly to the Religious Right, its ideological position seems to be driven primarily by feelings, values, and social issues rather than intellectual purity or well-defined economic or political principles.

Progressives do not seek to radically altar the status quo, but promote values of equality and fairness within the confines of the current system. They want capitalism, but they also want to blunt its sharpest edges and thus tend to opt for a Keynesian form of neoliberalism, often with paired with some support for unions. In the area of foreign policy, they do not object to war per se and are frequently taken by the humanitarian rhetoric produced by the Liberal-Centrist cluster, but they are cautious about military intervention and skeptical of the ends to which such intervention is often directed, generally preferring negotiations and sanctions. Like those in the Liberal-Centrist camp, they are enthusiastic about the ability of science and technology to drive human Progress and are interested in green alternatives. The biggest departure from the Liberal-Centrist cluster is progressives' willingness to identify the structural inequalities at the base of many civil rights issues, and they often advocate deeper changes in this area.

The Progressive cluster consists of think tanks such as the Center for American Progress, the New America Foundation, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; advocacy organizations like; media outlets like Air America, ThinkProgress, American Public Media, The Atlantic, and the Huffington Post; and figures such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, George Soros, Chris Hayes, Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria, Jimmy Carter, and Robert Reich. Funding comes from some of the same foundations that support Liberal-Centrist institutions (Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Foundation), along with others like the Open Society Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Kellogg Foundation. In addition to foundations, support also comes from labor unions, groups like AARP and NAACP, as well as foreign governments.

There is also a good deal of corporate funding of Progressive institutions. The predominant sources are the technology, telecomm, and entertainment industries, with significant support from the financial sector as well. One could surmise that the attitudes and values associated with the type of people in Silicon Valley and Hollywood explain their preference for Progressive institutions. When one hears stories about CEOs limiting their own pay or raising their employee's wages, it is usually a newer technology company of some sort. Furthermore, all three of the former industries have an interest in keeping the purchasing power of most people in the U.S. relatively high, so they can afford to buy their products.

It is possible to cynically view the willingness of Progressive figures and institutions to engage in identity politics as part of a base-unification/mobilization strategy similar to the way the Religious Right represents the Republican Party's cooptation of religious fundamentalists. From this perspective, the Progressive cluster allows an outlet for marginalized groups to express their frustrations with certain forms of oppression without too radically challenging the status quo, and to ultimately channel that frustration into political activity supportive of the Democratic Party (and hence, the status quo). I have not come across much empirical evidence of such overt strategizing, though that is not to say that it doesn't exist. This is an area for me to research further.

One thing is certain, though: after being virtually non-existent for several decades (especially during the Clinton era), the Progressive cluster has not only grown in size but also influence in recent years. Just as there has been a war within the Republican Party, one hears frequent commentary about whether Hillary Clinton will be able to win over the progressive wing of the Democratic Party (represented by Elizabeth Warren). Although, unlike the Republican Party, which has an entire ideological-institutional cluster representing the melding of different ideological positions, the Democratic Party remains substantially aligned with the Liberal-Centrist cluster and it only gets the support of progressives because progressives feel they have no other option and must choose the lesser of two evils (see Nader in 2000 election). Yet, the Progressive influence is strong enough that even an otherwise Liberal-Centrist Establishment media outlet like MSNBC has included voices to cater to progressive social concerns and gives hollow warnings about income inequality and corporate influence in politics.

The Progressive cluster occupies only a small niche within the Establishment, but it will be interesting to see how that position changes as it increases its strength.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Defining The Establishment

Or:  The Material Structure of Ideology and Politics:  Part 7

Of the ideological-institutional clusters I have described so far, Bridge Conservative is the largest. Rivaling Bridge Conservative is another cluster that I am calling Liberal-Centrist. I use the word "liberal" to signify affinity to classic liberalism - primarily a mix of economic liberalism, civil rights, and secularism, embedded within a grand narrative of Progress. Furthermore, Liberal-Centrist ideology corresponds most closely to the mainstream of the Democratic Party, although figures from both parties are prevalent in this cluster. I appended the word "centrist" to clarify that the word "liberal" was not synonymous with "left wing" in this case, as this ideological position is often identified as the center of the political spectrum.

The Liberal-Centrist cluster does not contain any shadowy advocacy groups writing legislation behind closed doors (at least, not that I am aware of), unlike Bridge Conservative; however, the Liberal Centrist cluster does not need this sort of activism to maintain political influence, because it is, more than anything else, The Establishment.

The infrastructure of the Liberal-Centrist cluster consists of highly influential think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment, the RAND Corporation (a think tank created to serve the interests of the Dept. of Defense), and the Council on Foreign Relations, along with advocacy groups such as the controversial National Endowment for Democracy (often accused of meddling in foreign affairs and supporting the overthrow of elected governments). The funding for these institutions comes from large foundations (Ford Foundation, Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Foundation, etc.), U.S. government agencies (the Dept. of Defense, USAID, the Federal Reserve, DHHS, etc.), foreign governments, the World Bank and other regional development banks - in other words, the most powerful governmental and financial institutions in the world. Allying with these institutions is an impressive roster of establishment political figures such as Leon Panetta, Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice, and Dianne Feinstein (notice all the connections to the State Department), along with equally establishment media outlets like The Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and MSNBC.

The ideology of the Liberal-Centrist cluster differs from Bridge-Conservative more in style than substance. Both are committed to neoliberalism, with Liberal-Centrist advocating some economic controls to ensure stability (and Bridge Conservative professing adherence to strict Friedmanism). Both support militarism (e.g. "stopping ISIS"), though the Liberal-Centrist support is framed in the secular rhetoric of humanitarian intervention and spreading democracy (Bridge Conservative employs more religious framing - good vs evil, etc.). Liberal-Centrist ideology is more amenable to civil rights than Bridge Conservative in theory, though often the commitment to competition, market freedom, and other matters take priority. In other words, Liberal-Centrist figures like to profess the value of protecting and enhancing civil rights - it sounds and feels very nice (whereas it makes many Bridge Conservative figures feel like they're being attacked) - especially as it pertains to other countries, but they are unwilling to make the deep, structural analyses that would allow them to actually do anything effective in that vein. One of the biggest differences between the Liberal-Centrist and Bridge Conservative clusters is that while the latter concerns itself with the assault on traditional values, the former takes a keen interest in technological innovations and "green" alternatives (environmentalism is perhaps the biggest point of departure between the two clusters). Another difference is that Liberal-Centrist ideology is more compatible with international collaboration, foreign aid, and support for transnational organizations, such as the UN, while Bridge Conservative, especially to the extent that the Radical Right and libertarians are influential, is more suspicious of internationalism and foreign aid - even though, in practice, foreign aid and transnational organizations are employed as leverage to further the same economic and political goals abroad.

The Liberal-Centrist cluster also enjoys a wellspring of corporate support. My own research indicates the financial, pharmaceutical, and arms industries to the be the most prevalent private benefactors. The support of the arms industry (which now also provides a variety of other important defense and security services) makes sense, considering that the military/defense/security establishment is embedded within the Liberal-Centrist cluster. Similarly, with the cozy relationship between the Federal Reserve/federal regulators/development bank execs and the financial industry - complete with revolving doors and bailouts - it is not hard to understand that source of support either. And the pharmaceutical industry has had success within The Establishment, writing the portions of the Affordable Care Act relevant to its interests

In some crucial ways, conservative politicians are correct when they align themselves with Main Street and link Democrats/liberals with the interests of Wall Street. It is true that the conservative ideological clusters have more power at state and local levels, hold more sway over teenage boys who've discovered Ayn Rand, blue collar workers who fear the effects of immigration, the 80-year-olds who spend the day watching Fox News, and the religious fundamentalist family next door. It is also true that the Liberal-Centrist agenda is hegemonic and institutionalized at larger - national and transnational - levels. Yet, there is a common substance of support for the ideas and institutions that constitute the global power structure - American hegemony, the military, capitalism, economic growth. In the one case it is packaged in a rhetoric of tradition and religion that resonates more with the wary masses who need something to fight for; in the other, it is packaged in the rhetoric of Enlightenment philosophy and science that appeals to the idealistic technocrats and professionals who work tirelessly within the global power structure to serve "the greater good."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics: Part 6

Tying together the Religious Right, Neoconservative, and Libertarian clusters is an ideological-institutional cluster that I have termed Bridge Conservative. This is where the heart of the Republican party and major organs of political action lie. I could have dubbed it "Mainstream Conservative" - however, I wanted to emphasize the most important aspect of this cluster: it is not a distinct ideological position in itself, rather a collection of material networks connecting (hence, "Bridge") and bringing together ideas and figures from Religious Right, Neoconservative, and Libertarian clusters - and to some extent even the Radical Right.

The Bridge Conservative cluster consists of numerous think tanks including the Heritage Foundation, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Citizens Against Government Waste; media outlets such as, The American Spectator, the Wall Street Journal, the National Review, and the Fox News Channel; and advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). All of the institutional infrastructure receives financial support from a wide array of corporations and foundations such as the Olin Foundations, the Bradley Foundation, Scaife Foundations, and the Koch Foundation.

What this coalition amounts to, in practice, is a solid foundation of neoliberalism (deregulation, privatization, spending cuts), general flag-waving and fist-shaking in the direction of terrorists and "bad guys" (though exact foreign policy positions vary, with support for intervention more likely when Republicans are in charge), and a good dose of "traditional values" and the White Christian Persecution Complex (one need only look at how gay rights issues are currently being handled by the Republican Party to see variations here as well).

As neoliberalism is the common thread uniting these institutions, neoliberalism accordingly serves as the focal point for political action. Perhaps the most notorious mechanism linking the intellectual world of think tanks to real legislative action is the work of ALEC. It has come to light in recent years how much influence ALEC has exerted at the state level. Ideas become incarnate via model legislation crafted by ALEC, which is then passed on to conservative lawmakers and often introduced word-for-word as bills in state legislatures. ALEC's legislation can predominately be characterized as neoliberal - e.g. Right to Work, opposition to environmental regulations, corporate tax cuts, privatization of education - although some effort goes into maintaining structures of discrimination against people of color (Stand Your Ground, Voter ID. Three Strikes laws, border security).

The extreme neoliberal policies promoted by this activist coalition certainly coincide with the interests of many corporations, and indeed, corporate funding in this arena is not lacking. Perhaps the most prominent source of corporate funding of Bridge Conservative enterprises is the energy industry. Although Exxon, the most profitable corporation in the industry, spreads its money fairly widely across the spectrum, it appears that most of the focus of the industry is on Bridge Conservative institutions. The oil companies certainly benefit from the relaxation of environmental regulations. It is worth noting that other significant contributors to Bridge Conservative causes also abide in existential conflict with government regulations - specifically, the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries. The latter is to some extent impeded by safety regulations, but more importantly, their extraordinary profits depend on a lack of pricing regulations - i.e. their ability to set prices arbitrarily high.

The Bridge Conservative cluster allows for the political collaboration of a variety of individuals and institutions committed to neoliberal orthodoxy, with support from some of the most profitable corporations. It definitely exists within the realm of the Establishment, but it is the next cluster I will discuss that really defines the Establishment.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Material Structure of Ideology and Politics: Part 5

Another ideological-institutional cluster bearing certain similarities to the Neoconservative cluster is the Libertarian cluster. The Libertarian infrastructure is composed of think tanks like the Cato Institute, the Ayn Rand Institute, the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, the Reason Foundation, and the Heartland Institute, along with the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government. Much of this institutional infrastructure has notoriously received financial support from the Koch brothers and their associated organizations.

The parallels between the Libertarian and Neoconservative clusters consist of the facts that both are more intellectually/academically based (though Libertarian much, much more so than Neoconservative) and that both have carved out niches for themselves within the Establishment from which they can exert varying degrees of influence over policy. The similarities end there. While the Neoconservative cluster has religious undertones, the Libertarian cluster is mostly silent on matters of religion (and some people associated with the "libertarian" label are anti-religious, though I will have more to say on the variation momentarily). Secondly, while neoconservativism almost verges on a form of "soft fascism" with its celebration of executive power and military conquest, libertarianism advocates the limiting of all federal government power and is predominately isolationist.

In this way, the political and economic agenda of the Libertarian cluster is nearly identical to that of the Radical Right, so much so that the two are sometimes conflated in popular discourse, and some individuals and groups whose views would more properly be categorized as Radical Right - such as the Tea Party and Gary North (representative of Christian Reconstructionism) - have associations with some Libertarian institutions. As a general rule of thumb, one can characterize the difference been the Libertarian cluster and the Radical Right as a matter of social liberalism vs. social conservativism verging on theocracy (and to a secondary degree, intellectualism vs conspiracy theory-laden populism). There are some figures, such as Ron Paul and Andrew Napolitano, who maintain connections to both the Radical Right and the Libertarian cluster and are difficulty to categorize. Ideologically, both Paul and Napitano are religious and pro-life, but otherwise tend to adopt liberal stances on social issues and advocate separation of church and state. Furthermore, and unsurprisingly given libertarianism's intellectual roots, within the Libertarian cluster there have been splits and schisms, and variations in the degree to which social liberalism is emphasized and affiliations with religious conservatives are tolerated.

Given that the Libertarian ideological-institutional cluster is a key source and exponent of the ideas of economic liberalism - the cornerstone of the Establishment order - the institutions and individuals comprising the Libertarian cluster are in a position of real policy influence and hence occupy a small position within the Establishment. However, the Libertarian opposition to most government functions and most military interventions ensure that its position within the Establishment will never be more than marginal.