- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005


By Jarol B. Manheim

Lawrence Erlbaum, $34.50, 216 pages

While the Democrats’ party leaders flummox around trying to decide why they lost the November election and what to do about it, a number of their allies on the left have been working steadily and stealthily to do nothing less than bend to their will that cornerstone of American capitalism — the corporation.

In “Biz-War and the Out-of-Power Elites,” Jarol Manheim, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, tells us why and how the left has adopted what he calls “anti-corporate” campaigns to demonize particular businesses in order to get them to adopt its agenda. He writes, “Every so often in American politics there comes a moment of pristine clarity … when everything changes.” For liberals, “the 1980s Reagan-Bush assault on their dominance of the political culture was such a time.”

After a brief history of the American left, Mr. Manheim notes that the issues agenda of the FDR New Deal and the LBJ Great Society had accomplished all they were going to accomplish by the 1960s. By then, liberalism had two strains, the Old Left of labor and class struggles, and the New Left, comprised of antiwar and anti-authority activists who, along with environmentalists, had a deep distrust of free enterprise and wanted to replace it — or reshape it — with a “social justice” model.

Many on the left subscribed to the ideas of C. Wright Mills and other sociologists of the 1950s and ‘60s who believed American society was controlled by a power elite of interlocking interests in business, finance and politics.

With Ronald Reagan’s victory and the defeat of several liberal Democratic senators in 1980, the left found itself on the ropes. A significant, but little noticed event that year was a Colorado retreat for a group of young heirs and heiresses convened by one Joshua Mailman, son of a well-to-do philanthropist. The group, which called itself the Doughnuts (after a cloud that floated overhead), decided to pool funds in order to make significant donations to causes that would have a political effect. From this was born the Threshold Foundation and, later, its lineal descendant, that favorite of Teresa Heinz Kerry, the Tides Foundation.

Gradually, the Reaganites had managed to demonize and discredit the word “liberal” (the “L-word”). Liberal activists decided they needed a new label for their movement. They chose “progressive.” Despite their best efforts at word substitution, however, the left is still unable to escape the discredited “liberal” label. Republicans attached it repeatedly to Democratic candidates in the 2004 election, as in “extreme liberal positions.”

Mr. Manheim documents a variety of methods the “progressives” use to wear corporations down. Funding activist groups is one. Conservative foundations turned to liberal purposes, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, fund a number of them, but the Tides Foundation may be the most prolific. In one recent year it provided grants for 21 activist groups with the word “justice” in their names and 36 with “rights.”

Some of these groups push for codes of conduct by companies and industries, realizing that the impossibly high standards set by such codes will be difficult to meet, thus setting up the targeted companies to be attacked for “bad faith.”

The author shows how these groups spread rumors, file lawsuits, make complaints to regulators and mount shareholder proxy campaigns. One, Institutional Shareholder Services, gives “independent” advice to institutional investor managers on how to vote their proxies, without disclosing that it may have been involved in stirring up the proxy issue in the first place.

There are examples of each of the seven main tactics used in these campaigns: legal, regulatory, legislative, political, financial, commercial and public relations. The author provides a useful reader’s guide to groups in the categories of environment, “social responsibility,” religion, unions, pension funds and foundations.

True to his academic training, the author attempts to visualize many of the leftist networks with charts — with mixed results. Some are clearer than others. What is clear throughout, however, is his understanding of how the latter-day “progressive” movement came about and where it is going.

Parallel to the Republican and conservative political ascendancy from 1980 to the present — and in response to it — some determined and skillful leftists have been working to undermine the underpinnings of democratic capitalism. Anyone worried about this trend will find this book a well-documented exposition about the phenomenon. Any conservative not worried about it should be.

Peter Hannaford is the author of “Recollections of Reagan.”

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