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 townhall.com, 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.

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