The much heralded ‘American Dream’, whereby everybody can start off poor, but by hard work and application rise to the top is often summed up in a political way as “Log Cabin to White House”. We are usually offered the example of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, as an example of this transformation. Lincoln’s career from shopkeeper to surveyor to lawyer to politician is indeed remarkable, but hardly typical of the 19th century in America and certainly nothing like the America of today; where the vast accumulated wealth of the capitalist class is mostly inherited.
Another aspect of this dream that we are supposed to swallow is that the humblest of Americans can topple the government if they so desire. That anyone can run for office and attack the bastions of wealth and privilege is one of the cornerstones of this American delusion. The reality is somewhat different, as recent figures for the financing of the electoral efforts for the November elections of the Democratic and Republican Parties show.
An organisation called the Center for Responsive Politics showed how the recent Federal Election Commission’s laws enacted to stop the lavishing of funds on political parties are being circumvented. Here are some examples how the capitalist class get around such legislation. New campaign funding laws outlawing unregulated contributions to political parties are avoided by individual executives of corporations donating and for the firms to donate lavishly to fund convention events.
That such gifts are huge is shown by the example quoted in the Observer (1 August):
“The biggest corporate donors in this years American presidential election are executives of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank. For the first time, the Wall Street firm has become the US’s top corporate funder, contributing a total of nearly $4 million to both George W. Bush’s and John Kerry’s campaigns . . . Steven Weiss of the Centre for Responsive Politics said: ‘Goldman Sachs is involved in the political process and knows how to play the game. Money plays a huge role in politics. It sends a message that you will get access and influence. If you don’t contribute, you’re on the sidelines`”
An example of how important it is to US corporations to donate large amounts of cash to political parties is given in another article in the same issue of that newspaper:
“What’s more interesting is the way Microsoft has made the transition from a company which essentially ignored politics to one which has become adept at channelling its money through political conduits to further its corporate interests. In 1995, the budget for Microsoft’s Political Action Committee (PAC) was a paltry $16,000. By 2000 it was $1.6 million. And total donations by Microsoft and its employees to political parties, candidates and PACs in the 2000 election cycle came to more than $6.1m, according to Edward Roeder, a long-time observer of corporate political donations.”
What brought about this change of policy at Microsoft? Microsoft’s ruthless destruction of Netscape in the mid-1990s and its contravention of the US anti-trust laws led to a series of anti-trust prosecutions that threatened their dominant position. The corporation realised it needed friends in the administration and set about reversing its previous politically aloof position.
The reality behind the American Dream is the sordid money-grubbing, back-stabbing rat race of capitalism; where politicians are merely the message boys of the rich and powerful and where the poor and exploited are left behind. The American Dream is a horrendous nightmare.
As socialists we are not pessimistic about the future. We believe that the class that produces all the wealth of the world will wake from this capitalist nightmare and bring about a society based on production solely for use. After all, as old Abe once said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”