Ask Liberals when the decline of the middle class started, when the rapid rise in income inequality began, and most (including me) would point to the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in January 1981, but we would be wrong. No, the true birth of the rise of the Corporation was 45 years ago this week when a memorandum was presented to the US Chamber of Congress at the request of the Chairman of the Chamber’s Education Committee, Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., advising how to fight a problem that didn’t exist. The author of that memo was his Richmond friend and neighbor, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., who just a few months after submitting this memo was nominated to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States by then-President Richard M. Nixon.
At this point I want to make an important distinction not unfamiliar to readers of my past writings: When talking about Washington politics, especially in the past century, it’s important to look at ideology rather than political party. The Republican Party was not always Conservative and the Democratic Party was not always Liberal. Today, and ever since the rise of the falsely-named TEA Party movement (they were severely undertaxed, not overtaxed, which is why our national debt is so high), the Republican Party on the national level has no Liberals in it. But prior to 1965 the party used to welcome Liberals and even ran on platforms that you would swear today were done by Liberal Democrats. In fact, two of the greatest Republican Presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower, were more Liberal than Conservative. Given their well-documented tendency to exhibit bigotry and racism, does anyone really believe a TEA Party Republican would have issued the Emancipation Proclamation? And given their well-documented disdain for anything even remotely close to Socialism, do you think a TEA Party Republican today would have built the Interstate Highway System? Hell, even Eisenhower defended Social Security and said the people who wanted to cut it were stupid. Do you think either of those men could get elected to office as a Republican today? That’s why it’s important to distinguish between the party and the ideology, and the primary source of the problem I talk about below is Conservatism, not the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has Conservatives within it today and they are a problem, too, though maybe not as insane and irrational as Conservatives in the Republican Party. What’s wrong with the Powell Memo has nothing to do with the Republican Party and everything to do with Conservatism, and the people who espouse it. Lewis Powell was undeniably a Conservative, but Lewis Powell was also a Democrat. The Conservative mind has a way of looking at things that would make someone less susceptible to fear scratch his heads and wonder how they tie their shoes without worrying about cutting off circulation to their toes. (Here are a number of ways Liberal and Conservative minds differ.) The part of the brain that tells you you’re in danger is larger in Conservatives, making them see danger where a Liberal might not. So Conservatives are more prone to basing their choices on fear.
Below is the text of the Powell Memo (as taken from Greenpeace’s website), interspersed with my own commentary. You can see another reprint of the memo with different commentary, and a little more background here. A look back on the memo around its 40th anniversary can be found here.