A few years after the fall of the Marxist utopias, I found myself on a sofa in Beverly Hills, Calif., sitting next to a man who was worth half a billion dollars. His name was Stanley Gold and he was chairman of a holding company that was the largest shareholder in the then largest media corporation in the world, Disney.
Since I was working on a conservative project in the entertainment community and the occasion was a cocktail reception for a Republican senator, I quickly moved the conversation into a pitch for support. But I was only able to run through a few bars of my routine before Gold put a fatherly hand on my arm and said, "Save your breath, David. I'm a socialist."
I remember this story every time a leftist critic assaults me and deploys the Marxist clichi that I have "sold out" my ideals, or suggests that an opinion I've expressed can be explained by the "fact" that somewhere a wealthy puppet-master is pulling my strings. I am not alone, of course, in being the target of such attacks, which are familiar to every conservative who has ever engaged in a political debate.
Of course, those who traffic in socially conscious abuse have a ready answer for anecdotes like mine, namely that it is an isolated and aberrant case. Even if it's true, therefore, it's false. Because there is a larger Marxist "truth" that trumps little facts like this. This truth is that conservative views express the views of corporate America, serve the status quo, defend the rich and powerful and legitimize the oppression of the poor.
Whereas leftist views, however well paid for, are inherently noble because they oppose all the injustice that corporate America, the status quo and the rich represent. The "truth" is that conservative views must be paid for because they could not possibly be the genuine views of any decent human being with a grain of integrity, an ounce of compassion or even half a human heart.
In the fantasy world of the left, the figure of Stanley Gold can only be understood as a human oxymoron: a uniquely good-hearted capitalist who is a friend to humanity and a traitor to his class. But, then, so are such famous left-wing billionaire (and centi-millionaire) moguls as Ted Turner, David Geffen, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Michael Eisner and a hundred others less famous but equally wealthy.
In fact, the only exceptional thing about Stanley Gold's politics is that he is also a witty and candid fellow. For, unlike the publicly self-identified progressives named above, the CEOs of most major corporations studiously avoid ideological politics whether left or right, because such politics are not at all in the corporate interest. To become identified with a hard political position is to become a sitting target for opponents who may control the machinery of regulation and taxation and exert life-and-death power over their enterprises.
Besides, from a business point of view, most politicians are fungible. For the kind of favors businesses require, one can be had as easily as another. It is safer to stay above the fray and buy them when necessary, Republicans as well as Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Money, not ideological passion, is the currency of corporate interest. Power rather than ideas is its political agenda. Therefore, politicians rather than intellectuals are the usual objects of its attention.
There is an exception to money's rule of political neutrality, as when an administration, whatever the reason, chooses to declare war on a wealthy individual or a corporate entity, or even an entire industry. An attack like this simplifies political choices and may make embracing the political opposition seem the best available option in an already bad situation. Big Tobacco, Microsoft and Michael Milken were all assaulted by government, for example, and adopted a defensive strategy by embracing the political opposition (Tobacco and Microsoft went strongly Republican, Milken became a Democrat).
Another exception can result from the shakedown of large corporations by political activists, an opportunity that is almost exclusively a province of the left. Under attack from radical Greens, for example, major companies like ARCO have become large subsidizers of the environmental movement. Through similar extortionist efforts, Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/Push coalition has received more corporate underwriting than any dozen conservative groups put together.
But the norm for corporate interests remains the removal of themselves and their assets from any ideological politics, which can only damage them in the long run. The same applies to free-wheeling individuals who are serious financial players. I have had very conservative billionaires tell me that whatever their personal views, they cannot afford to be political (in my sense) at all.
A consequence of this stand-off is that most of the contributions available to ideological activists of the left or right are either small individual donations solicited through direct mail campaigns or large institutional donations from tax-exempt foundations. In this area, too, the fevered imaginations of the left have created a wildly distorted picture in which well-funded goliaths of the right, the Olin, Scaife and Bradley foundations, overwhelm the penurious Davids of the left.
Edward Said, for example, used the platform of the once-distinguished Reith lectures to attack Peter Collier and me over the "Second Thoughts" movement we had launched as a critique of the left: "In a matter of months during the late 1980s, Second Thoughts aspired to become a movement, alarmingly well funded by right-wing Maecenases like the Bradley and Olin Foundations."
Some years later, a liberal report appeared on "The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations," documenting the annual disbursements of what it deemed to be the key conservative grant-giving institutions. The annual sum of the subsidies from 12 foundations was calculated at $70 million. This may seem a large sum until one looks at the Ford Foundation, which dispenses more than $900 million per year, or more than 10 times as much, mainly to liberal and left-wing causes.
Ford is the principal funder, for example, of the hard left Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), which lacks any visible root in the Mexican-American community but has been the principal promoter of illegal immigration and the driving force behind the failed multibillion-dollar bilingual education programs. Ford created MALDEF and has provided it with more than $25 million over the years. Ford has also been the leading funder of left-wing feminism and black separatism on American campuses, and of the radical effort to balkanize the national identity through multicultural curricula throughout the university system.
In these agendas, Ford is typical rather than exceptional. In fact, the biggest and most prestigious foundations, bearing the most venerable names of the captains of American capitalism -- Ford, Rockefeller, Mellon, Carnegie and Pew -- all skew left, as do many newer but also well-endowed institutions like the MacArthur, Markle and Schumann foundations. MacArthur alone is three times the size of all "big three" conservative foundations -- Olin, Bradley and Scaife -- combined.
Moreover, these foundations do not even represent the most important support the corporate "ruling class" and its social elites provide to the left. That laurel goes to the private and public universities that have traditionally been the preserve of the American aristocracy and now -- as Richard Rorty has happily pointed out -- are the "political base of the left."
With its multibillion-dollar endowment and unmatched intellectual prestige, Harvard provides the exemplary case, its relevant faculties and curricula reflecting the absolute hegemony of left-wing ideas. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard -- to take one emblematic case -- is arguably the most prestigious and important reservoir of intellectual talent and policy advice available to the political establishment. Cabinet officials are regularly drawn from its ranks. Yet of its 150-plus faculty members only 5 are identifiable Republicans, a ratio that is extraordinary, given the spectrum of political opinion in the nation at large, though it is typical of the university system.
The institutional and financial support for the left -- through its dominance in the universities, the book publishing industry, the press, television news and the arts -- is so overwhelming it is hardly contested. There are no prestigious universities where the faculty ratio in the liberal arts and social sciences is 150 Republicans to 5 Democrats. There is not a single major American newspaper whose features and news sections are written by conservatives rather than liberals -- and this includes such conservative-owned institutions as the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and the San Diego Union.
Some reading this will object to the definition of what is "left" in this analysis, as a way of avoiding the unpalatable and irrefutable reality it reflects. They will argue that because Noam Chomsky, for example, is regarded as a fringe intellectual by segments of the media, the media cannot be dominated by the ideas of the left. But this supposes that Chomsky's exclusion is ideological rather than idiosyncratic and not just because he is an insufferably arrogant and difficult individual. After all, Peter Jennings is a fan of Cornel West, who is a fan of Chomsky. Christopher Hitchens is a fan of Chomsky and a ubiquitous presence on the tube and in print. But assume that it is true anyway. The fact still remains that an America-loathing crank like Chomsky is an incomparably more influential intellectual figure in the left-wing culture of American universities than any conservative one could name.
The left, it can hardly be disputed, is funded and supported by the very "ruling class" it whines is the sugar daddy of the right and the oppressor of minorities, the working class and the poor. Moreover, institutional support and funds provided to the intellectual left by the greedy and powerful rulers of society far exceeds any sums they provide to the intellectual right, as anyone with a pocket calculator can compute. How is this possible? Could it be that the Marxist model itself is a crock? Oh, perish that thought. We're all postmodernists anyway now.
Even when the argument is advanced by postmodernists, however, it is hardly apparent that the interest of the corporate rich lies in preserving the status quo. If the Clinton years did nothing else, they should certainly have served to put this canard to rest.
Thus, the Clinton administration's most important left-wing projects were the comprehensive government-controlled health care plan that failed and the effort to preserve racial preferences that succeeded. Both agendas received the enthusiastic support of corporate America -- the health care plan by the nation's largest health insurance companies and racial preferences by Fortune 500 corporations across the board.
Or try another measure: In this year's presidential primary campaign, Bill Bradley is the Democratic candidate running from the left. The chief points of Bradley's platform are a plan to revive the comprehensive Clinton health care scheme that was rejected, and to press left-wing racial grievances. Bradley's most recently acquired African-American friend is the anti-Semitic racist Al Sharpton, who has become a black leader of choice for Democratic Party candidates. But despite these radical agendas, "Dollar Bill's" $30 million-plus campaign war chest was largely supplied by Wall Street, where he himself had made millions as a stockbroker over the years.
The explanation for these paradoxes is this: Unless one is addicted to the discredited poppycock of postmodernist radicals, there is no reason that the rich should be adversaries of the poor or oppose their interests. Not in a dynamic market society like ours. Only if the market is a zero-sum game as Marxists and their clones believe -- "exploited labor" for the worker, "surplus value" for the capitalist -- would leftist clichis make any sense. But they don't. The real-world relation between labor and capital is quite the opposite of what the left proposes. Entrepreneurs generally want a better-educated, better-paid, more diverse working force, if only because that means better employees, better marketers and better consumers of the company product.
That is why, historically, everywhere capitalism has been embraced, labor conditions have improved and inequalities have diminished, whether there has been a strong trade union presence or not. That is why the capitalist helmsmen of the World Trade Organization are better friends of the world's poor than any of the Luddite demonstrators in Seattle who claimed to be protesting on their behalf.
The 21st century political argument is not about whether to help the poor or not, or whether to include all Americans in the social contract. Republicans embrace these objectives as firmly as Democrats, conservatives as well as liberals. The issue is how best to help the poor, and how best to integrate the many cultures of the American mosaic into a common culture that works.
Twenty years after the welfare system was already a proven disaster for America's inner-city poor, Democrats and leftists were still demanding more welfare and opposing significant reforms. Clinton himself vetoed the Republican reform bill twice and only signed it when he was told he could not be reelected if he didn't. Welfare reform has liberated hundreds of thousands of poor people from dead-end dependency and given them a taste of the self-esteem that comes from earning one's keep.
If the left were serious about its interest in the poor, it would pay homage to the man who made welfare reform possible, the despised former Speaker Newt Gingrich. If hypocrisy weren't their stock-in-trade, self-styled champions of the downtrodden like Cornel West and Marian Wright Edelman would be writing testimonials to Gingrich as a hero to America's poor. But that won't happen. Instead, the left will go on tarring Gingrich and his political allies as the Grinches who stole Christmas, "enemies of the poor" and lackeys of the rich. Such witch-hunting is indispensable to the left's intellectual class war. The dehumanization of its opponents is the next best option to developing an argument to refute the opposition.
There is no conservative party in America, certainly not Republicans, who are responsible for the major reforms of the Clinton years. The mantle of reaction is better worn by the left, given its resistance to change and its rear-guard battles against the market and free trade. But the left controls the culture, and with it the political language. Therefore, in America, reactionaries will continue to be called "progressives," and reformers conservative.