Friday, April 27, 2007

Rainy Fridays and the "Corporatist Synthesis"

Ok, ok, I won't get into the debate about whether we need the rain or not. In neighboring New Jersey, residents are likely cursing the skies, particularly in those districts recently declared "disaster zones" because of recent flooding. Here in the City, however, a day of rain is good because it knocks some of the pollen out of air and washes down the sidewalks a bit. (Despite "curb your dog" laws, not everyone is vigilant about cleaning up.) Still, a chilly rainy day like this, with May in sight, is a bit depressing. It also didn't help that I didn't leave the house with my umbrella . . . and of course, it was raining by the time I exited the subway. Dashing from the subway at 33rd Street to the office, I had a chance to wash my hair a second time today and arrived looking and feeling like a damp dishrag in my kitchen.

When I lived in Virginia and Tennessee, we were already in full spring, with some days already resembling summer. Of course, it doesn't help one's state of mind when the sinuses are excruciating and my knees burn from the change in barometric pressure. (And I'm supposed to run around coaching Little League baseball tomorrow and Sunday??)

There's virtually no one in the building today and I'm the lone soul in my office, which is actually a good thing. I can generally work without interruption, taking breaks to scribble sentences here. In fact, much of my blog is written at work, usually first thing in the morning before things get busy. Nearly all of my entries are spur of the moment, off-the-top-of-my-head affairs. If I actually had time to research some of the stuff on which I write, I'd likely never complete an entry. Sometimes that gets me in trouble.

A recent comment, for example, pointed out that I had incorrectly identified the current head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which is adjunct to the Interior Department. I double-checked, which in my previous life as a historian would have been automatic, and found that I had, in fact, made a mistake. Alas, we're not perfect. I did, however, learn that the mentioned head of MSHA had resigned amidst a cloud of scandal in 2004, and, naturally, landed a high-paying job as a consultant to the mining industry shortly thereafter. This discovery only underscored my conclusion.

This little episode - an epilogue to yesterday's post on "Bush the Terrorist" - highlights an interesting historiographical debate that actually started in the way scholars tried to explain the history of American foreign policy. Some historians (think William Appleman Williams' The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and the "New Left") argued that U.S. foreign policy was primarily influenced by economics. These "economic determinists" - channeling the ethos of historian Charles Beard - suggested that a relentless drive for markets and natural resources had shaped foreign policy, from our first acquisition of "empire" to our Cold War with the Soviets . Critics of Williams, on the other hand, argued that American foreign policy had been shaped primarily by ideology, particularly in terms of the notion of spreading democratic ideals vis-a-vis Manifest Destiny or anti-communism.

Scholarship in the last 20 years, however, has brought these two competing ideas together in what is sometimes called the "corporatist synthesis": both ideology and economics shape foreign policy. One certainly sees some of this at play in Iraq. Bush's drive to war was no doubt shaped by his party's anti-Islamic, right-wing Christian, jingoistic world view. At the same time, America's corporate monolith, particularly the oil companies which funneled millions into Republican coffers, needed to maintain America's ties to the oil-rich Middle East. And, examining the ranks of State Department personnel in recent years, one finds a revolving door between corporate boards and governmental office. Rather reminds me of the oft-quoted line from the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s: "What's good for General Motors is good for America." Whether that was ever actually said is still open for debate, but it accurately reflected the mentality of the time. One could argue that the same applies today, amended to read: "What's good for Exxon-Mobil is good for America."


See how crowded my mind is? And on days like this, when I'm trying not to think about work, or what it's doing outside, the "stuff" that swirls around in there bubbles out.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

Ok, I think my brain hit "overload" half-way thru this... I'll come back when I've reached my caffeine-induced peak.