'Corporate Greed' as a Sleeper Issue
Fortune Magazine's Washington Bureau Chief Nina Easton's post "Democrats' War on Corporate Greed: Mostly Bluster" discusses the comparatively mild messaging of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the topic of corporate abuse in comparison to John Edwards.
Easton was struck with the anti-corporate tone of the Democratic field in Thursday's debate -- in stark contrast to the lack of discussion about the Iraq War and terrorism. But despite the debate's "symphony of simplistic war-cries against business," Easton sees the policies of Obama and Clinton as "more nuanced" and cites their "deep ties with supporters and contributors in corporate America."
She is quite right that Edwards is the high-profile class warrior of the '08 campaign, having anchored his campaign in anti-corporate rhetoric. His statement in Thursday's debate in Iowa is emblematic of the core message his campaign has been hammering everywhere he goes:
We're having trouble growing and strengthening the middle class because corporate power and greed have literally taken over the government, and we need a president who's willing to take these powers on.
Easton believes that Edwards may have found a resonating message:
Edwards, in particular, has hit on an effective formula with populist-minded Iowans: While the two frontrunners, Obama and Clinton, stab-wound each other, Edwards catches attention by dropping a bomb on corporate America. On Thursday, a focus group of Iowa voters holding dial-meters and organized by Fox News (where I am a contributor) showed a mediocre response when Clinton talked about controlling healthcare costs, but off-the-chart support when Edwards let loose against corporate interests.
The last time a politician ran such a strongly-populist campaign was in 1976, when Senator Fred Harris lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Governor Jimmy Carter. But corporate America's image has taken some hard hits since then.
The Ethics Resource Center's 2007 National Business Ethics Survey of employed adults, sponsored by top Fortune 500 companies and conducted 6/25 to 8/15, found that only nine percent of companies "have strong ethical cultures" and ethical misconduct is back at "pre-Enron" levels. More than half of employees say they have witnessed ethical misconduct on the job.
The latest Conference Board survey of 5,000 households reported last February found that less than half of all Americans say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61 percent who were satisfied twenty years ago. Wages are stagnant. Health insurance premiums are out of control.
There is no guarantee that increasing job dissatisfaction will be translated into political discontent, like presidential approval ratings are clearly linked to rising gas prices. Yet, a lot of Americans feel like they are being ripped-off by big corporations and their errand-boy politicians. Edwards' gamble is that this simmering anger can be converted into votes for the candidate who calls it out, loud and clear. There are no more Democratic debates before Iowa. But if his ads do justice to his message the week after Christmas, he just may win his bet.