By Thom Hartmann:
The Founders of this nation represented the first Radical Middle. Back then they called it “being liberal.” As George Washington said, “As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.”
They didn’t want King George or his military or corporate agents snooping in their houses, mails, or private matters; preventing them from organizing together and speaking out in public in protest of government actions; imprisoning them without access to attorneys, due process, or trials by juries of their peers; or reserving rights to himself that they felt should rest with the people or their elected representatives. (They ultimately wrote all of these in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution.)
They also didn’t want giant transnational corporations dominating their lives or their local economies. When, in 1773, King George III signed the Tea Act – a massive tax cut for the British East India Company – they protested this first attempt to WalMart-itize America by preventing the Company’s ships from landing in several cities up and down the eastern seaboard, and boarding and destroying over a million dollars (in today’s money) of tea in the ships that did dock in Boston. This was the beginning, by the Radical Middle, of the American Revolution.
The Radical Middle has always believed in fairness and democracy, and understood that completely unrestrained business activity and massive accumulations of wealth into a very few hands can endanger democratic institutions.
As James Madison said, “There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuses.” Similarly, John Adams wrote that when “economic power become concentrated in a few hands, then political power flowed to those possessors and away from the citizens, ultimately resulting in an oligarchy or tyranny.”
Thomas Paine, among others, wrote at length about the dangers to a free people of the massive accumulation of wealth, and following the excesses of the Gilded Age – which led to massive corruption of the American government by corporate and wealth-based interests – laws were put into place limiting the size and behavior of corporations (such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act), and taxing inheritance of the most massive of family estates so that a new hereditary aristocracy wouldn’t emerge in the nation that had thrown off the economic and political oppressions of the hereditary aristocracy of England.
The Radical Middle always believed in the idea of a commons – the things that we all own collectively, and administer the way we want through our elected representatives. Our parks, roads, police, fire, schools, and our government itself. Our ability to vote in fair and transparent elections. Our military and defense. Our systems for protecting our air, water, food, and pharmaceuticals. Our ability to retire in safety if we’ve worked hard and played the game by the rules, and to know that an illness won’t financially wipe us out.
Regardless of electoral politics (since both of the major political parties often overlook these values, and both have become corrupted by wealth and corporate influence), poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Americans embrace the values of the Radical Middle.
In recent years, America has been hijacked by the Radical Right. Corporations now write most of our legislation. Our elected representatives cater to the interests of wealth rather than what is best for the commons we collectively own, or what will sustain that bulwark of democracy known as the middle class. They have, in large part, seized control of our media, wiped out our family farms, and wiped out small, middle-class-owned businesses from our towns and cities. They seek a “merger of corporate and state interests” – a definition Mussolini used for what he called “fascism.”
The Radical Right has even gone so far as to use sophisticated psychological programming tools, like Newt Gingrich’s infamous “word list,” to paint the Radical Middle as some sort of insidious anti-Americanism.
We in the Radical Middle are calling for nothing less than a restoration of democracy, of government of, by, and for We The People, in a world that works for all.