A cabal of rich corporate donors is funding and in some cases calling the shots at the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP). Ken Silverstein and The Nation get big points for sticking to principles for this great investigative report on the center’s ominously bland-sounding “Business Alliance.” Here’s a small taste of what they found:
Last year, when [solar energy firm] First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised [the company] in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees….Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation.
Members of the Business Alliance, according to Silverstein, include “Comcast, Walmart, General Motors, Pacific Gas and Electric, General Electric, Boeing and Lockheed.”For a magazine that sees itself as the moral and political conscience of the American left, this is hitting paydirt. The bit about staffers being “very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors” is a portrait of Beltway cronyism at its crassest and ugliest. If we were giving advice to a think tank fellow who got this kind of instruction, we would tell him to move as quickly as possible to develop and implement an exit strategy before his reputation was tainted by foolish and incompetent bosses. Negotiating between the wishes of funders and the requirements of decorum and transparency that institutional credibility demands is what think tank administrators are supposed to do for a living. The CAP guys clearly aren’t up to the job.Yet the clumsy incompetence of CAP management aside, there’s a bigger problem here that The Nation doesn’t want to confront. The American Left, whose soul and conscience the magazine purports to be, wants to give Washington politicians more and more influence over the economic reins and resources of the country. This inevitably drives more money into the political process and creates more incentives for exactly the kind of behavior The Nation deplores.The problems of the American Left are much deeper than amateur-hour leadership of a think tank. Left politics in America are caught in a trap. The Left doesn’t pose a serious threat to the broad contours of the capitalist system in the US; the Constitution and public sentiment block any real shift in American politics away from liberal market capitalism. Thus the Left oscillates ceaselessly between a futile politics of “purity” with no prospect of ever affecting anything important and a toxic “partnership” with the powers-that-be—a relationship in which it is inevitably manipulated and abused.The chief function of the American environmental movement, for example, is to paint green lipstick on corporate pigs like Solyndra or the ethanol scam. The Nation is right to chide the Center for American Progress for becoming the servant of corporate interests rather than an opponent of them; what it misses is that this relationship describes the limits within which the movement as a whole is bound to operate.There is no actual or potential social or political basis in America for genuinely anti-capitalist politics. Those who try to convince themselves otherwise are indulging in the kind of petty bourgeois self-deceit for which Karl Marx reserved his fullest and most biting contempt.[Fifty dollar bill image courtesy of Shutterstock]