The Peristaltic Testator (peristaltor) wrote in liberal,
The Peristaltic Testator

The Powell Memorandum At Work

Behold, a simple political cartoon (this one got to me by agoodcartoon. Ha, ha, we all laugh. Look at the pretty conservatives and the ugly liberals. Ha, and ha again.

But, a serious question: could there be a deeper reason for this beyond the simple tropes trotted out as explanation? Perhaps. Bear with me here. Let's consider the advice given to conservatives—and here I specifically mean business conservative, or political leanings that elevate the needs of private interests above those of folks that believe words like "society" and "community" are spelled with more than four letters. The advice comes from a man who in just a few months after this advice was given was himself elevated to the Supreme Court by President Nixon.

Lewis Powell wrote a now-famous memorandum to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr., then Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in 1971. He gave advice for what direction business interests should take against the growing specter of non-business forces amassing against business in the United States.

There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy.

But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

I would encourage everyone to review Powell's letter in its entirety every few years. It's amazing to me how prescient it is, predicting the turn in our country since about 1970 that led eventually to the Reagan revolution and everything that came with it, from the collapse in the standard of living for working folks to the societal adoration of the "job providers"—damn, how I detest that phrase—as folks looking out for more than their own interests.

I decided to focus my attention on only one bit of advice here, though, the advice directly relating to the above cartoon. In decrying the forces against "enterprise", he notes "the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction."

Moreover, much of the media-for varying motives and in varying degrees-either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these “attackers,” or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.

There is for him a less-than-subtle irony at work here, as he notes in the final paragraph in this section: "Most of the media, including the national TV systems, are owned and theoretically controlled by corporations which depend upon profits, and the enterprise system to survive."

Powell's Solution

Here, things get a bit shaky when applying them to the country today. You see, Powell was a literate man, one more comfortable with a book or periodical than simply passively watching a television. It's obvious just by reading the memo that he only watched the more supercilious programming and eschewed less intellectual content as below his attention or esteem.

Therefore, he notes a very strong preference for mobilizing the forces of enterprise in education and publishing. In education, cheerleaders for business "should insist upon equal time on the college speaking circuit" to thwart the "many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum."

There was no corresponding representation of American business, or indeed by individuals or organizations who appeared in support of the American system of government and business.

Importantly, the forces pushing speakers onto this circuit must aim:

(i) to have attractive, articulate and well-informed speakers; and (ii) to exert whatever degree of pressure — publicly and privately — may be necessary to assure opportunities to speak.

(I bolded the hell out of this.)

Powell also said of publishing: "Incentives might be devised to induce more 'publishing' by independent scholars who do believe in the system." Translate "incentives" to "pay them well" and you get the idea. Why?

The news stands — at airports, drugstores, and elsewhere — are filled with paperbacks and pamphlets advocating everything from revolution to erotic free love. One finds almost no attractive, well-written paperbacks or pamphlets on “our side.”

(Me being bold again!)

So the forces of enterprise would have to write them themselves, or at least provide "incentives" for them to be written.

As clear as the memo is on publications, it is less so on television. Powell must have seen the telly and all its incarnations as some mysterious force that should be approached with caution, if not with zeal. For example, he says "national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance."

This applies not merely to so-called educational programs…, but to the daily “news analysis” which so often includes the most insidious type of criticism of the enterprise system. Whether this criticism results from hostility or economic ignorance, the result is the gradual erosion of confidence in “business” and free enterprise.

And if they fall short of business? He recommends "Complaints — to the media and to the Federal Communications Commission — should be made promptly and strongly when programs are unfair or inaccurate", and "Equal time should be demanded when appropriate."

Why not just buy television stations and, just like he recommended on publishing, put out their own content? Mr. Powell may have simply been thinking too small. Ah, but after his memo started to circulate through the US Chamber of Commerce, others saw the big picture as it pertained to both the small screen and the radio dial and did exactly that.

So the US got a US Chamber of Commerce guided reality bubble in its television and other publications, with anti-business liberal forces—er, sorry, Mr. Powell, "this massive assault upon its fundamental economics, upon its philosophy, upon its right to continue to manage its own affairs, and indeed upon its integrity"—bought, fired, and quashed.

Seriously, the above cartoon shows only one television personality in the Liberal camp, while the Conservative smattering shows only one politician; this is an unfair (but still funny) selection. But whenever I deign to watch commercial telly in any form, I find the network that hires this Liberal bastion of opinion to be so conservative and anti-liberal in its pronouncements that I am disgusted usually after only a few minutes. Instead, the network shows the requisite attractive and articulate speakers blathering on about issues quite ancillary and secondary to truly liberal topics, and almost directly avoiding the important topics such as growing income inequality and tax reforms. I suspect their bosses might be a bit peeved if their help started advocating cutting the bosses salaries.

Just as Lewis Powell intended.
Tags: conservatism, corruption
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