Tuesday, February 05, 2013

An inconvenient truth for Al Gore

Promoting his new book, former US vice-president Al Gore says that the country’s democracy has been “hacked” by corporate interests. Well, despite hacking being deemed a criminal offence, no arrests appear imminent when it comes to big business.

Hacktivists, however, are routinely arrested because they are taking action against the system. Nevertheless Gore, who made the successful film on climate change An Inconvenient Truth, has once again indicted the US democratic process in a way few other tackled politicians have dared do..

Gore told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show : "It can be fixed, but we need to recognise that our democracy has been hacked … It has been taken over … and is being operated for purposes other than those for which it was intended."

Previously, he used the term “hollowed out” in pointing out that the democratic process was effectively a shell whose content was dominated by money interests. In his BBC interview Gore said government decision-making was "feeble, dysfunctional and servile" to corporate interests. 

In another media appearances associated with his book The Future, he said: “Congress is incapable of passing any reforms unless they first get permission from the powerful special interests that are most affected by the proposal.” But that’s not new or news.

When he was vice-president to Bill Clinton, the administration had a chance to stand up to money. But it didn’t. Who can forget the way the White House caved in to the big insurance companies and pharmaceutical corporations when it tried to legislate a comprehensive health care plan in 1993?

Or how during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, financial deregulation took off.
As Time magazine noted: "Among his [Clinton’s] biggest strokes of free-wheeling capitalism was the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, a cornerstone of Depression-era regulation. He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation. In 1995 Clinton loosened housing rules by rewriting the Community Reinvestment Act, which put added pressure on banks to lend in low-income neighbourhoods.”

So when Gore says that the role of money has “greatly increased”, he ought to take some political responsibility for that. But he can’t and he won’t because, in the end, he is unable/unwilling to identify the root cause of this and other issues.

On climate change, for example, Gore will talk about human activity but not about the incessant, profit-driven drive for growth, which is not surprising as he himself is extremely rich. His new book identifies what he considers are the emerging forces that are shaping the world.

While they include “unsustainable” population growth (joining hands here with David Attenborough) you won’t be surprised to find that capitalism as a social system doesn’t get a look in.

He wants the role of money to be “diminished” and a grassroots movement “to demand that politics be opened up”. Gore hopes that individuals empowered by the new communications infrastructure “will be able to reclaim their birthrights as free citizens and redeem the promise of representative democracy."

This is a highly improbable agenda. Firstly, real change doesn’t happen because a load of people get blogging or use Facebook. In the end, they have to be out there in numbers, acting collectively in the material world as shown in the Arab Spring.

Secondly, the American revolution that threw off British colonial rule established the world’s first representative democracy with a purpose. One of the aims of James Madison, the father of the constitution, was to keep power within the hands of the political class and out of the hands of ordinary citizens.

After the Civil War had freed the slaves and created the conditions (and a workforce) fit for the development of a ruthless American capitalism, it wasn’t long before money had subsumed politics. The recent period of corporate-driven globalisation completed the process.

With due respects to Gore, the revolution in communications will have to be accompanied by a new American Revolution that goes beyond representative democracy. It will have to have as its goal the government of the people, by the people, for the people that Lincoln promised at Gettysburg in 1863.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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