To the editor:
“Progress is our most important product,” the motto of the General Electric Company, was repeated often by Ronald Reagan, the genial host of the popular General Electric Theater, back in the 1950s.
As someone who grew up in that period, I can recall when corporations like General Electric were admired for the corporate philanthropy and good citizenship that enriched the whole society. Corporations provided good jobs with good benefits and excellent products for the consumer.
They also shouldered their fair share of the taxes that produced the infrastructure that was the basis for their post-war prosperity, as well as everyone else’s. The interstate highway system, modern airports, and much more of our infrastructure got built then. The motto of that one corporation could well serve as the motto for the entire business community during the Eisenhower era.
“Progress,” indeed, was their “most important product.”
This is no longer the case. Since the economic cataclysm of the George W. Bush era, the country has been disgusted by the bailouts, by CEO bonuses, by massive job layoffs, and by off-shore tax havens that allow the corporations that were saved by the American taxpayer to avoid returning the favor in these stressful times.
Those who suffered in the snow of Valley Forge, or who were mowed down on the sands of Iwo Jima did not evade their responsibilities to this country. Is it too much to ask those of unimaginable wealth frolicking on the sands of the Cayman Islands to live up to theirs?
We have now a healthy debate in our democracy about the role of corporations. This is especially the case now that the Supreme Court has ruled that money equals speech and that corporations are essentially people, as outlined in the Citizens United decision.
But being against Citizens United does not infer that the opponents are anti-corporate. We are simply exploring the proper and healthy role corporations can and should play in our democracy, and the business community has an opportunity to be a vital part of this debate.
Are the corporate abuses, tax evasions, and the threats to our democracy posed by Citizens United what those in business are now signed on for? Is this their dream? Is this what they want to leave behind: a once prosperous land of opportunity for all eviscerated by corporate rapacity?
In previous letters, I have argued that this is not a red state/blue state issue, or a liberal/conservative issue. More and more can see that Citizens United is a double-barreled shotgun aimed right at the heart and integrity of our democracy.
Just this week, three more states have joined in the effort to overturn Citizens United by an amendment to the Constitution. North Carolina, New Hampshire and West Virginia have joined the fight.
With more participation from the business community we can return to the era of good corporate citizenship, so that one again “progress” can be “their most important product.” We can and must do this because, after all, this is America. And, in America, democracy is our most important product.
MICHAEL D. O’CONNOR