|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Corporations are structured to do one thing, and one thing only: to maximise profit for their shareholders. No matter how personally nice or nasty their CEOs are, if they put anything ahead of profit, they will be sacked, and replaced by somebody who doesn't. As part of a tightly regulated market, this can be a useful engine for growth. But if it is not strictly reigned in by the law and by trade unions, this pressure for profit will extend anywhere – from trashing the environment to rape and slavery, as these cases remind us. The second factor is the nature of the American political process today. If you want to run for elected office in the US, you have to raise a fortune from corporations or the super-rich to pay for TV advertising. So before you can appeal to the voters, you have to appeal to the corporations. You do this by assuring them you will serve their interests. Once you are in office, you have to keep pleasing them at every step, or they won't pay for your re-election campaign. This two-step overwhelms the positive instincts the individual politicians may have to do good – and drags the US government further and further from the will of the people.
Obama had to climb through this system, and he is currently imprisoned by it. It explains his relative failure so far. Healthcare is proving so hard because the insurance companies are paying both Republicans and right-wing Democrats in Senate to thwart any attempt to provide universal healthcare coverage. Yes, it would save the 17,000 Americans who die every year because they lack insurance but it would depress their profits. Reducing carbon emissions is proving so hard because the oil, coal and gas companies are paying Senators across the spectrum to crush any moves to reduce oil, coal and gas use. And on, and on.
So far, Obama has tried to co-opt the corporations into his agenda by ensuring they will profit from any changes, but this inevitably waters down the proposals, often to the point of uselessness. The Cap and Trade legislation before Congress, for example, will barely limit carbon emissions at all because it has been gutted to please the polluters.
He will only achieve significant progressive change if he reforms the political system itself – to make it accountable to the American people, not the corporations. He needs to change the rules of the game. Ban big business from making political donations, and replace it with state funding. Shut down the lobbying industry. Make a big populist speech announcing you are driving the money-lenders out of the temple of democracy: it'd be surprisingly popular in a country where people can see they're being ripped off every day. The alternative is to become rapidly complicit in a system where defending rape and slavery is seen as just another day's work in Washington DC.