Forging Coalitions With Corporations

Photo: J. Rover
(Creative Commons)

Bill Scher of LiberalOasis has a highly worthwhile op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times on the role and importance of corporate support for liberal public policy initiatives. In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Obama health care bill, Scher points out, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the bill’s passage followed significant behind-the-scenes conversation and deal making between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry (as revealed in emails released last month).

Drawing broader lessons for progressive policy, Scher concludes:

The necessity of forging coalitions with corporations is understandably difficult for progressives to accept. Every time it happens, corporations seem to quickly go back to their usual tricks. They lobby to weaken enforcement. They litigate to have rules overturned. They abandon politicians who risked compromise for them. Corporations are exasperating, irritating and untrustworthy partners.

But most of the time politics is exasperating and irritating, not euphoric and cathartic. As Roosevelt himself told a group of dissatisfied youth activists in 1940, “if you ever sit here you will learn that you cannot, just by shouting from the housetops, get what you want all the time.”

Scher also writes that “when corporations are divided or mollified, reformers can breathe.” There’s truth to that, but progressive policy making should not have to depend on divisions among corporate interests. There are numerous reforms that ought to attract business support far more than they do, in part because corporate interests are reflexively wedded to the kinds of orthodox anti-regulatory or small government mantras of institutional actors such as the chambers of commerce or the NFIB. As Scher observes in the Times op-ed, the health care reform bill is a fascinating counterexample that found the U.S. Chamber and Big Pharma on opposite sides. The idea that corporate interests as expressed and applied in public policy diverge from where those interests ought to be to advance social and economic progress is one I am developing as a central theme in my current book project.

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