Sunday, December 19, 2004

Pat Buchanan and Wal-Mart

I recently listened to Pat Buchanan's audiobook Where the Right Went Wrong. I'm not a conservative seeking validation of my beliefs and positions, but neither am I a liberal who believes that conservatives are flatly wrong. So, I thought this would be a great way to see the conservative voice of dissent from Bush's presidency.

I have never had a high opinion of Buchanan, knowing that he advocates xenophobia as part of national policy, and I feel it is careful inclusion that brought the United States to such prominence. I came away from listening to his book with a richer understanding of his views on conservatism. He's still a xenophobe, but I respect him in that he has perfect clarity on what he believes and why. Buchanan's beliefs are out on the table. I think him to be honest in his convictions.

I also agree with him on some issues. I'm coming to understand more and more that globalization has some serious down-sides. Where I would counter Buchanan is that a laissez-faire policy for business is what has allowed corporations to take over personal freedoms. Time and again, Buchanan points to centralized power in Washington, particularly in the hands of the Supreme Court, as being the root of America's problems. Buchanan also points out that the neo-conservatives are as much or more to blame for this as the liberals are. But Buchanan misses the mark a little as he lets big corporations off the hook in his analysis.

The PBS investigative media journal Frontline recently ran an edition called "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" that covered how Wal-Mart bullies its suppliers into ever lower prices, sometimes forcing their closure or move to overseas production in China. As I watched this I started to think about Pat Buchanan's words about how globalization indeed brings in lower price products but export jobs from the U.S., driving down wages until those inexpensive Chinese goods don't seem so inexpensive any more. In a free world market, Wal-Mart is single-handedly demonstrating that this process is well underway. Wal-Mart may lead, but it is only a leader in a multi-industry phenomenon that is drives U.S. manufacturing jobs to China.

But I did not get much of an impression that Buchanan faults business for this. He seems to lay it entirely on the government. Is it so simple as that governement trade policy sets the arena in which corporations exist, sets the tone for their behavior? I think it's more than that. Corporations can push their trade agendas because corporations are not merely economic entities. They are political entities. We have allowed them to become so, and we do little to curb their political power. It would take a mass movement of people to unseat the corporate hegemony that now controls the national political dialog. Where are you with that, Mr. Buchanan?

Buchanan is now out on the conservative fringe, his party having been hijacked and radicalized by weird neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalists. He comes at the Wal-Marting of America from a clear and definitive angle, so I like the integrity of his approach. But he overlooks the obvious thing that his near antithesis, Ralph Nader, seeems to see clearly. Government is in the hands of corporations--big business--both directly (Cheny/Halliburton?) and indirectly (corporate lobbyists pushing business agendas).


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