For the Win: Failure!

A luminary named Bill Scher wrote a column in the New York Times yesterday arguing that democracy is dead, and we should content ourselves with occasionally letting corporations help us while helping themselves. As he puts it:

Democratic presidents typically pay dearly when they choose to fight corporations instead of deal with them...The realities of corporate power cannot be wished away by any president, no matter how tough the talk, because corporations can and will spend freely during the legislative process. And when they are unified, they have the resources to dominate debate.

To this, I say Bravo! We are lucky to have so courageous a man as Bill Scher to admit defeat on our behalf. The evidence is in: when corporate interests come into conflict with a democratically elected president, corporations will win, every time. After all, when Jimmy Carter tried to create a sensible energy policy, oil companies beat him like a drum. And when Bill Clinton tried to create a universal health care plan, the insurance industry humiliated him. Obama learned this lesson well, and would never try to do anything that corporations don’t want him to do. He knows better; he’s realistic.

Now, this doesn’t mean that our government is completely irrelevant. No, even in this beautiful era of corporate control, corporations occasionally still need the US government to do things for them. Take the Affordable Care Act, for example; as Scher points out, the health insurance industry needed Congress and the White House to put into place the legal mandate to buy private health insurance plans, so it briefly shielded the administration from the otherwise overwhelming force of the US Chamber of Commerce, and something amazing and miraculous happened. One branch of the US corporatocracy blocked the power of another, and in that brief and magical moment, the engines of democratic governance did what they were meant to do: put into place a health care plan written by the insurance industry.

As Scher describes our hero, swinging into action: "The key to President Obama’s success was enlisting drug companies to pay for pro-reform advertisements. He also persuaded health insurers to forgo a major opposition campaign — by accepting the industry’s proposal for the individual mandate to buy private insurance and dropping plans for a competing public insurance option. As the final vote neared, the United States Chamber of Commerce and other organizations spent millions of dollars on advertisements attacking “Obamacare.” But the pharmaceutical industry effectively matched the chamber’s money in supportive advertisements, blunting the impact of the criticism." Yea, verily, exactly as the founders intended!

You see, giving corporations total control of politics does come with certain difficulties. Corporations are accustomed to getting their way on everything, but the problem with that is that they aren’t always good at compromising with each other. So what happens when one corporate interest comes into conflict with another? What happens when every corporation can’t win on every issue every time? It doesn’t happen often, of course, but occasionally it does happen. Here is where we still need the semblance of a government by and for and of the people: to cast the tie-breaking vote and figure out which corporate sector will get to have everything they desire. The health insurance industry wanted a health care law requiring citizens to buy its products, but the Chamber of Commerce represented businesses that didn’t want to take away from workers’ life and death dependence on their employers for health care. It was quite a pickle! Luckily, the helpful hand of the US government was able to step in and negotiate a compromise.

As Scher describes a scene of utopian politics almost too beautiful to imagine: "when corporations are divided or mollified, reformers can breathe. The president can be heard. Business owners can be convinced that they will remain profitable. The dim prospect of perpetual gridlock can be trumped by the allure of regulatory certainty."

This is why we shouldn’t reserve the word “win” for getting the things we actually want, and here, again, Scher is to be praised for being brave enough to use the word “win” to describe a situation where liberals get not what they want. After all, be realistic; a president elected by sizable majorities -- with both houses of Congress in his party's overwhelming control -- can only be "heard" in brief moments when corporations are divided against each other. What voters thought they wanted is irrelevant next to the awesome, implacable, and majestic power of our corporate masters. Every other industrialized country in the world has universal health care, but that doesn’t mean we should hold ourselves to that impossible standard. It can’t happen here. And just because our overuse of fossil fuels threatens to radically transform the planet’s climate and destroy human civilization forever, well, again, that’s no reason to think that policies which don’t favor the oil and gas industries are anything other than an absurd joke for unrealistic people. But despite this utterly reasonable state of affairs, there is one minor fly in the ointment: because things we want are simply not possible to achieve, we run into the problem that the word “win” threatens to fall out of common usage. Once we’ve accepted permanent defeat, what would that word even be used to indicate? Luckily Scher has the answer to this conundrum: we’ll just change its meaning. Once you've so fully accepted defeat as to lose the power to desire, almost anything can look like a win. How would you know the difference? We can just use the word “win” to describe “whatever it is our side manages to do.”