[dc]A[/dc] Clockwork Orange and Carnal Knowledge were box office hits. Joy to the World (Three Dog Night) ranked high on the pop charts. Charles Manson was guilty of murder. Jim Morrison (The Doors) died. The year? It’s 1971.
Something else happened in 1971—the focus of this essay—something that was unknown to most Americans. But today, nearly a half-century later, what was hatched back then pulsates though the veins of America’s institutions and political life.
What is it? How so?
The “it” is a roughly 7000-word private memo to key American business leaders written by soon-to-be-appointed (by Richard M. Nixon) U.S. Supreme Court jurist, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. The document is a Conservative call to arms and includes a road map to achieve valued ends. It’s known as “The Powell Memo” or “The Powell Manifesto.”
It’s a must-read for every American, especially Progressives, the primary target of Powell’s ire. Powell’s words ring true today, nearly a half-century after they were written. And, more importantly, not only did business leaders and others at the time take Powell’s urgings to heart, they—together with subsequent generations of Conservative advocates—worked over time to bring those ideas to life.
But back in ’71?
- Fox News? Bill O’Reilly? We don’t know those names.
- The Koch Brothers? Who are they?
- The Tea Party? What’s that?
And on and on … with words and phrases that had little or different meaning back then….
- Political Action Committees
- The 1%
- Income inequality
- American Exceptionalism
- Revising textbooks
- Political correctness
- Supreme Court activism
- “Spin” and branding
- Tax cuts
- Less government
- 2nd Amendment.
So many of the things we know to be true in 2016 are manifestations, in part, of Powell’s critique and recommendations.
The connections are stunning. The implications are clear. The infiltration in American life is undeniable, onerous.
Memo tells us—in bold terms—how important it is to frame the essence of a movement and, then, to sustain political action over an extended period of time.
You have to read it to believe it. With that in mind, a 1500-word summary of “The Memo” is reprinted at the end of this essay. This version is reduced in verbiage, but the author’s words are presented as written.
If you’re reading Powell’s words for the first time it may be a revelation to know there was—and is—a roadmap for the right-wing agenda. The Memo tells us—in bold terms—how important it is to frame the essence of a movement and, then, to sustain political action over an extended period of time.
Powell, a primary source of change, wasn’t brilliant as much as he was observant, committed, and influential. In the ‘60s he saw the outcomes of political action as citizens protested the Viet Nam War, engaged in the Civil Rights Movement, and expressed growing concern for the environment (Earth Day). He felt that Nixon was capitulating to “liberal interests,” taking unnecessary and problematic actions, such as establishing the Environmental Protection Agency.
Powell figured that it would be possible to model a Conservative agenda after “Leftist” political action strategies. His goal: protect and advance elite interests. And it worked. History tells us so.
Consider another lesson from history: Powell didn’t become—or want to be—leader of the movement he proposed. “The Memo” wasn’t written to make a White House run. Conservatives, like Ronald Reagan, did that; and Reagan became the first and, subsequently, historic face of the movement.
If Reagan is the patron saint of the movement, then Powell was its architect.
Today they are many faces, including governors who wave the neoliberal flag that Powell hoisted high: Walker in Wisconsin, Brownback in Kansas, Scott in Florida, and Snyder in Michigan, to name just four.
Powell’s role back in ‘71? He was uber-concerned. He felt “his people” were facing a crisis. He was a thought leader, an analyst who combined critique with action proposals. He put pen to paper in a way that spoke to millions—then and now.
[dc]“H[/dc]is people” took note. They organized. They charted strategy. They took action … for years, then decades, and to this day. They’re taking action still.
It’s no secret what we need today: something of like-nature for Progressives, something that subsequent generations can read, sign, and pursue.
45 years from now Progressives need to say: “Yes, by God, we did it!”
Dimensions of the Attack
No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. The assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.
Sources of the Attack
The sources are varied and diffused. The extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society than ever before in our history. Moreover, the media allows them to exploit the media for their purposes.
Tone of the Attack
There are countless examples of rifle shots which undermine confidence and confuse the public. Favorite current targets are usually described in the media as “tax breaks,” “loop holes” or “tax benefits” for the benefit of business…and…such tax measures would benefit “only the rich, the owners of big companies.” This setting of the “rich” against the “poor,” of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.
The Apathy and Default of Business
What has been the response of business to this massive assault upon its fundamental economics?
In all fairness, the traditional role of business executives has been to manage, to produce, to sell, to create jobs, to make profits, to improve the standard of living, to be community leaders, to serve on charitable and educational boards, and generally to be good citizens. But they have shown little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics, and little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate.
Responsibility of Business Executives
The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people. If our system is to survive, top management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself. This involves far more than an increased emphasis on “public relations” or “governmental affairs” — to counter-on the broadest front-the attack on the enterprise system.
Although origins, sources and causes are complex and interrelated, the campus is the single most dynamic source. The social science faculties usually include members who are unsympathetic to the enterprise system. They are often personally attractive and magnetic; they are stimulating teachers, and their controversy attracts student following; they are prolific writers and lecturers; they author many of the textbooks, and they exert enormous influence. As “bright young men,” from campuses across the country, seek opportunities to change a system which they have been taught to distrust — if not, indeed “despise” — they seek employment in the centers of the real power and influence in our country, namely: (i) with the news media, especially television; (ii) in government, as “staffers” and consultants at various levels; (iii) in elective politics; (iv) as lecturers and writers, and (v) on the faculties at various levels of education.
What Can Be Done About the Campus?
The ultimate responsibility for intellectual integrity on the campus must remain on the administration and faculty of our colleges and universities. But organizations such as the Chamber can assist and activate constructive change in many ways, including the following:
- Staff of Scholars and Speakers: The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system. There also should be a staff of speakers of the highest competency.
- Evaluation of Textbooks: The staff of scholars (or preferably a panel of independent scholars) should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology. The objective of such evaluation should be oriented toward restoring balance. We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor.
- Equal Time on the Campus: The Chamber should insist upon equal time on the college speaking circuit. Every campus has its formal and informal groups which invite speakers. Each law school does the same thing. Many universities and colleges officially sponsor lecture and speaking programs. We all know the inadequacy of the representation of business in the programs.
- Balancing of Faculties: This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees. This is a long road and not one for the fainthearted. But if pursued with integrity and conviction it could lead to a strengthening of both academic freedom on the campus and of the values which have made America the most productive of all societies.
- Graduate Schools of Business: The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. This is now essential training for the executives of the future.
Action programs tailored to the high schools should be considered. The implementation thereof could become a major program for local chambers of commerce, although the control and direction — especially the quality control — should be retained by the National Chamber.
What Can Be Done About the Public?
Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public. Among the more obvious means are the following:
- Television: The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance. This monitoring, to be effective, would require constant examination of the texts of adequate samples of programs.
- Other Media: Radio and the press are also important, and every available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks, as well as to present the affirmative case through these media.
- The Scholarly Journals: One of the keys to the success of the liberal and leftist faculty members has been their passion for “publication” and “lecturing.” Incentives might be devised to induce more “publishing” by independent scholars who do believe in the system.
- Books, Paperbacks and Pamphlets: The newsstands — 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.”
- Paid Advertisements: If American business devoted only 10% of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure.
The Neglected Political Arena
In the final analysis, the payoff — short-of revolution — is what government does. Business has been the favorite whipping-boy of many politicians. But the measure of how far this has gone is perhaps best found in the anti-business views now being expressed by several leading candidates for President of the United States. Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assidously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.
Neglected Opportunity in the Courts
Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change. Perhaps the most active exploiters of the judicial system have been groups ranging in political orientation from “liberal” to the far left.
Neglected Stockholder Power
The question, which merits the most thorough examination. is how can the weight and influence of stockholders be mobilized to support (i) an educational program and (ii) a political action program?
A More Aggressive Attitude
Business has shunted confrontation politics. There should be no hesitation to attack (those) who openly seek destruction of the system. Lessons can be learned from organized labor in this respect. It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.
The type of program described above (which includes a broadly based combination of education and political action), if undertaken long term and adequately staffed, would require far more generous financial support from American corporations than the Chamber has ever received in the past. High level management participation in Chamber affairs also would be required.
Quality Control Is Essential
Essential ingredients of the entire program must be responsibility and “quality control.” The publications, articles, speeches, media programs, advertising, briefs filed in courts, and appearances before legislative committees — all must meet the most exacting standards of accuracy and professional excellence.
Relationship to Freedom
The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom. It is this great truth — now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals — that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful.