MAY 1982 - VOLUME 3 - NUMBER 5
Wall Street v. Main Street
Conservatives bluster against a big business takeover the reagan administrationby Alan Crawford
In late January, appearing on the ABC-News program This Week with David Brinkley,
Richard A. Viguerie, the New Right fundraiser, blamed the problems of the Reagan administration on two groups - "a fair number of liberals and... a lot [of] more moderate people who have a big-business, Wall Street view of how to run the country."
Another guest, Howard Phillips, executive director of the Conservative Caucus, repeated the charge, arguing that the future of the Reagan presidency depends on its answer to the question of "whether the strategy of Wall Street or the strategy of Main Street is the sound one."
Conservatives, Phillips said, must understand that they cannot win "by uniting the two factions of the Republican party," those of Wall Street and Main Street. lnstead, he advised, conservatives should reach out to the New Right coalition of blue, collar workers, religious fundamentalists and middle-class Republicans who backed Barry Goldwater over Nelson Rockefeller in 1964 and Ronald Reagan over Gerald Ford 12 years later.
Though rightwingers seldom speak of "multinational corporations," a construction they consider a liberal buzzword, the role of U.S. corporations in the natural gas pipeline linking the Soviet Union and West Germany, the loans made by U.S. banks to the communist government of Poland, and the eagerness of corporations like IBM and the Control Data Corporation to sell computer technology, some of it with possible military applications, to the Soviets, has angered conservatives-leading a growing number of their spokespeople to agree, with Lenin, that American capitalists are selling rope to the "Free World's" hangmen (MM, February, 1982).
A random sampling of conservative movement comments - drawn from Human Events, Conservative Digest, Patrick J. Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly and John Lofton - reveals them shrieking with indignation over corporate ties to the East: "You're Forced to Bail Out Big Banks," "Gulf Lobbies for Soviet Imperialism," "Exxon Should Stop Fueling Its Enemies," "Where Does Administration Really Stand on Soviet Pipeline?" "Call the Loans, Mr. President," "Greedy Bankers Don't Deserve Bail Out."
In a column under the headline ' "Business Uber Alles," Buchanan, the former Nixon speechwriter, reacted to recent remarks by David Rockefeller about trade with communist countries, writing: "When FDR spoke of driving the moneychangers from their high seats in the temple of our civilization, he was not entirely wrong. It is a sentiment to which Mr. Reagan should hastily subscribe, for the good of the party to which Rockefeller and his like-minded banking friends profess allegiance." (Rockefeller had outraged conservatives by saying that the presence of Russian advisors and Cuban troops in Angola "has no direct bearing on American business operations. Clearly it has not interfered with our own banking relations." Dealing with communist regimes, he said, "really does not cause us [at Chase Manhattan] any problems at all.)
The president, Buchanan advised, should "speak with appropriate disgust of a rank political amorality that masquerades as worldly sophistication," making plain that the Reagan administration "stands for higher values than the bottom line on a balance sheet; that what is good for Citibank and Chase Manhattan is not necessarily good for America; that the Republican Party is something more than the political action committee of the Fortune 500; that, unfortunately, our party, too, is rife with the collaborationists Lenin had in mind when he coined the phrase, `the useful idiots."'
There is no doubt some measure of genuine anger here, but these right wing attacks also serve a pragmatic, political purpose: appealing to disgruntled middle class and working class Americans.
New Right leaders such as Viguerie, Howard Phillips, Paul Weyrich of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, and others have deliberately labored to cultivate a constituency traditionally antagonistic to the long-standing Chamber of Commerce base of the Republican Party, which has been described by John T. "Terry" Dolan of the National Conservative Political Action Committee as a "social club where rich people go to pick their noses."
But even if the cynicism is minimal, there are other reasons to doubt whether New Right animosity toward Wall Street will ever result in 'I legislative action to control the activities of multinational corporations.
New Right attacks on international business institutions and East-West trade generally may be so misplaced as to be ultimately irrelevant, claims Sheldon Richmond of the libertarian Council for a Competitive Economy.
"The New Right people talk a lot about the amorality of the Big Business community, but they never zero in on the real problem," says Richmond, who edits the Council's newsletter Competition. "The real issue here isn't the freedom of private banks to make bad loans or the freedom of Western business to trade with the Soviet bloc, but the system off safeguards - the federal financing banks, the Ex-Im bank and others - that encourage it."
These are issues the New Right has yet to discuss, preferring, Richmond says, to launch ad hominem attacks on the businessmen themselves. "They talk about evil big business leaders with dubious loyalty to the United States, the Rockefellers and the Trilateral conspiracy, but that doesn't really explain very much."
One reason, perhaps, why the New Right hasn't explored the issue more carefully is that they would bump up against their own ideological totems. Any attempt to regulate business activity they would view as an assault on the "free enterprise" system and a threat to capitalism itself. The New Right is not about to make common cause with leftist critics of corporate power - that would be tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy.
Finally, the New Right may not wish to go head-to-head with big business for reasons of financial self-interest: corporations hold the purse strings in the battle for political funding.
The New Right organizations and political candidates subsist not only on a life-support system of small contributions from millions of names on the Viguerie mailing lists but of relatively large ones from corporate donors, many of them Fortune 500 companies. These corporate grants constitute the source of funds for many of the New Right and traditional Republican conservative "think tanks" like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Educational Affairs. Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to subsidize what Nicolas von Hoffman has called the "enormous whore corps of academics, journalists, and media hustlers" and the "interlocking chain of institutions [that] recruits, trains, and plans for the political agglomeration that embodies the ideology" of contemporary conservatism, New Right or old. It is naive to think that its leaders would ever do anything to seriously jeopardize this largesse.
More rhetoric than substance, the New Right's denunciations of international bankers and businessmen provide a convenient ideological excuse for the failure of Reagonomics and Reaganism.
Any mistakes by the Reagan administration can be attributed not to Reagan himself nor to the conservative program he has traditionally championed, but to White House treachery - to subversion from within by non-Reaganite Republicans whose real loyalties lie with the dreaded Rockefeller wing of the party, Wall Street and international business interests soft on communism.
"Has Ronald Reagan's Presidency Been Captured By Wall Street-Big Business-Corporate Executive Suite-Big New York/Houston Law FirmEastern Liberal-And/Or Establishment-Non-Reaganite Republicans? ran the caption on a Conservative Digest cover cartoon depicting the President as Gulliver bound by countless Lilliputians.
"Do You Have To Ask?" was their reply.
Alan Crawford is the author of Thunder on the Right: The 'New Right' and the Politics of Resentment, Pantheon 1980, now available in paperback.