The Lewis Powell Memo
The plan to destroy American Democracy is being executed to perfection
Back in the early 1970’s most Americans wouldn’t have guessed it, but the wealthy had been on what they considered to be a “bad run” for decades. They found themselves still living down the lasting impressions of the Gilded Age, the Stock Market Crash, the Great Depression, and corruption. Those sentiments were compounded by science catching up to the fact that industries had been poisoning the air, water, ground, and us all along – worse was the fact that the government was starting to do something about it. The wealthy were certainly still making more and more money, but they were also acutely aware that government action was increasingly in favor of working-class citizens and there were no signs of that letting up. In fact, they knew all too well that the wealth gap had been steadily shrinking since the late 1930s.
There is nothing the predator elite fear more than a powerful working class. If the working class is stronger and more influential on our government then that means the wealthy are losing their power and control. In the minds of the predator elite, the working class had their fun. They had their little taste of a brighter future. Now, like petulant little brats getting out of control during recess, they had to be put in their place.
The Chamber has been protecting the turf of Corporate America since 1912 and they certainly noticed the tides slowly shifting against them during the middle part of the 20th century.
In the 1970s, corporate America was nowhere near as organized as it is now, but of all the resources available to them at that time, one clearly stood out as a bold and fearless protector of profits over people: The U. S. Chamber of Commerce
What an awesome name for an organization – it sounds wicked important! Anything with the word “chamber” in it must be important, like the Senate Chamber or a Court Chamber, right? Their official name is even better – “Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America”. Holy shit – we’re not worthy! This clearly is a cornerstone of the U. S. Government that makes critical economic decisions on behalf of the American people.
The U. S. Chamber of Commerce is not part of our government – it is a private organization that represents the interests of big business and it is one of the largest lobbying groups in the country. They claim to represent the interests of all business; all the way down to Earl’s Eggplant Emporium, but this is just as misleading as their awesome name. The focus of the Chamber is to covertly push the agenda of the largest industries and corporations. That agenda of course is protecting their unquenchable thirst for maximized profit without regard to how it is attained or who gets hurt. Much of the funding that pours into the Chamber often comes from anonymous donations through industry organizations and so-called “social welfare” groups – and that funding gets results. These donations are used by the Chamber to protect the tobacco industry, cast doubt on climate change, mislead us on health care, and weaken laws that protect consumers. No wonder donors prefer to be anonymous.
The Chamber has been protecting the turf of Corporate America since 1912 and they certainly noticed the tides slowly shifting against them during the middle part of the 20th century. The government’s dabbling with protecting the environment, workers, and consumers was contrary to the profit and power agenda of the predator elite. The Chamber knew something had to be done about this but it is difficult to stop the momentum, especially when it is driven by the masses and supported by their government. How does one fight against protecting the planet, workers, and consumers without looking like a grade-A Asshole?
The Chamber had to figure out how to reverse 40 years of peon progress, restore the mojo of Corporate America, and take the United States of America all the way back to the Gilded Age. But who could come up with such an ambitious plan? Was there an evil genius out there that could devise a plan to secretly redirect the future of America?
As it turns out, there are always a few grade-A Assholes lurking in the shadows and it didn’t take long for the Chamber to find their man.
The Lewis Powell Memo
Back in the ’60s and ’70s some of those grade-A Assholes were working hard to strategize and implement the “smoking is not bad for you” lie that the tobacco industry was throwing around to protect their profiteering off of killing Americans. The soft-spoken and thoughtful Lewis Franklin Powell Jr. was one of them.
Powell provided the “aha” moment to the greediest of the greedy in corporate America.
Lewis was a board member of numerous international companies including tobacco giant (and citizen slayer) Phillip Morris. As a lawyer, he represented numerous tobacco industry firms and organizations including the Tobacco Institute which worked tirelessly to prevent our government from warning citizens of the hazards of smoking while simultaneously manipulating consumers into continuing or picking up the habit. Powell had dedicated much of his professional life to killing many many Americans for profit and this made him the exact type of guy the Chamber would be drawn to. Not surprisingly, their Director of Education, Eugene B. Sydnor Jr., asked him to develop a master plan for altering the trajectory of America. Unlike the Grinch, Powell’s heart shrunk three sizes that day.
It can’t be denied that what Powell came up with was pure genius, that is if you are of the cold, calculating, heartless, anti-American ilk. Powell provided the “aha” moment to the greediest of the greedy in corporate America. It is known as the Lewis Powell Memo, A.K.A. the Lewis Powell Manifesto, or more appropriately, the Corporate Blueprint to Dominate Democracy.
The memo, titled “CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM – ATTACK ON THE FREE ENTERPRISE SYSTEM, starts out by providing plenty of “evidence”, or at least Powell’s own twisted interpretation of current events of that time, that the corporate elite were being dethroned by all the evil people in America. To Powell, this evil took on many forms including communists, socialists, liberals, colleges, the media, intellectuals, the church, science, etc. Powell turned the imaginary attack on the predator elite into an actual attack on civilization. Below are some highlights of his battle plan.
Attack the Movement
We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.
…They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic.
…The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.
One of the main issues with Powell’s finger-pointing is that the folks that he mentions were hardly hiding their agenda – they were front and center, making as much noise as possible. And the voices were coming from all corners of society. Science and citizens were quickly becoming aware of the fact that the environment had been long-suffering at the hands of industry – the air, water, earth, plants, animals, and humans were all carrying around the waste of corporate America (the result of “Free Enterprise”). The government responded with the creation of the EPA and the earth day in 1970 (the year before Powell’s memo), which created the opportunity for nationwide protests – not against Democracy and a suffocating government, but against corporations killing the planet. OSHA showed up at the same time so not only was it more difficult to exploit the environment, it was also more difficult to exploit workers. All of this was on top of the social movements of the late ’60s. So Powell did what the predator elite had been doing for decades – label all those involved as communists that were hell-bent on taking your personal freedom away.
Of course, Powell can’t say enough about corporate America and the free enterprise system. He is either singing their praises or explaining how they were constantly being victimized (by those wanting clear lungs and clean air).
The day is long past when the chief executive officer of a major corporation discharges his responsibility by maintaining a satisfactory growth of profits, with due regard to the corporation’s public and social responsibilities.
…In all fairness, it must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it. The traditional role of business executives has been to manage, to produce, to sell, to create jobs, to make profits, to improve the standard of living, to be community leaders, to serve on charitable and educational boards, and generally to be good citizens. They have performed these tasks very well indeed.
Corporate responsibility? Good citizens? So says one of the key figures behind scores of smoking-related deaths. This is typical corporate spin from the predator elite – confidently stated so that it disarms the reader. Soothing words from an accomplice to murder.
Powell gave the college campus plenty of attention and insisted on the review of textbooks, changing the faculty, pushing for more on-campus speakers, etc.
…evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology
That is the list of subjects one would seek to alter if one was seeking to alter society.
While controlling the content of textbooks across campuses, Powell also wanted to cozy up to business schools to get his point across. In Powell’s mind, his own memo, created under the cloak of darkness, should be taught.
The Chamber should enjoy a particular rapport with the increasingly influential graduate schools of business. Much that has been suggested above applies to such schools.
Powell wanted to exploit those who were eager to learn and turn them into the minions of the predator elite.
Should not the Chamber also request specific courses in such schools dealing with the entire scope of the problem addressed by this memorandum? This is now essential training for the executives of the future.
How low can he go?
While the first priority should be at the college level, the trends mentioned above are increasingly evidenced in the high schools. Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered. The implementation thereof could become a major program for local chambers of commerce, although the control and direction — especially the quality control — should be retained by the National Chamber.
Powell conveniently forgets that colleges have been advancing all corners of society for centuries. He does not seem to lament all the research that universities have done for the benefit of every industry on the planet. His willingness to take his attack on Democracy to secondary education pretty much sums up Powell and those that would embrace the memo.
Attack the filthy masses
This part of the memo shows the disregard Powell had for the priorities of Americans who were coming to their own conclusions about where America should go. Powell felt the public should be manipulated and the predator elite should do their thinking for them. Americans were tools.
What Can Be Done About the Public?
Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public.
Powell goes on to explain how to take over the narrative of the country using television, radio, journals, books, pamphlets, and paid advertisements. The predator elite should attack and overwhelm the minds of Americans from all angles. “What Can Be Done About the Public?” sounds like “Who’s turn is it to take out the trash”.
Powell was right – our politicians had been increasingly supporting a better-informed and well-intentioned electorate over corporate goals. Powell had quite enough of that.
Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen’s views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to “consumerism” or to the “environment.”
Politicians reflect what they believe to be majority views of their constituents. It is thus evident that most politicians are making the judgment that the public has little sympathy for the businessman or his viewpoint.
Maybe if the predator elite wasn’t exploiting the environment, resources, and people then our politicians wouldn’t have had to act.
But they did act and therefore they needed to be recalibrated… or disposed of.
There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.
But one should not postpone more direct political action, while awaiting the gradual change in public opinion to be effected through education and information. Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.
Re-educate the filthy masses while further infiltrating the government. Powell pretty much knew that he was full of shit and that what he was planning was dastardly. Nothing shows this more than his need to rally the troops to push through with the plan without remorse – no matter the level of embarrassment.
Attack the Courts
Powell knew that the courts would be the best target of his attack. He wanted to create a court system that acted on behalf of corporations and against citizens.
Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.
This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.
As with respect to scholars and speakers, the Chamber would need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus in the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation. The greatest care should be exercised in selecting the cases in which to participate, or the suits to institute. But the opportunity merits the necessary effort.
In recent years we have been hearing conservatives complain about liberal “activist” judges deciding cases based, not on law, but on their own personal feelings (segregation, same-sex marriage, Obama-Care, etc.) and doing damage to the constitution and the country. In reality, though, it has been the steadily growing number of corporate-friendly activist judges, lawyers, legal organizations, and scholars; all put in place by the predator elite, that have brought us to where we are today. It all adds up to corporate-friendly judges always being able to ignore precedent and embrace absurd pro-corporate arguments. In terms of corruption, the courts were (and remain) the biggest bang for the buck.
As is typically done by corporatists, Powell confidently takes his plan of corporate plunder and equates it to protecting the personal freedom of people. If this plan was so great for everyone, then why the secrecy – why not jump up and down telling us all about this great idea.
The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.
The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom.
There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom — ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.
As the experience of the socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights. It is this message, above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.
There is very little middle ground for the predator elite – if they aren’t getting everything they want then they start jumping up and down screaming “socialism!” or “communism!”. To be clear, when they talk about personal freedom, they really just want to be free to exploit workers, the environment, and our natural resources. They also want freedom from any responsibility for the “side effects” of their actions. Of course, they also claim to want everyone to be free – as free as a squirrel running across the interstate to dig in the dirt for his next meal.
Attack from all directions
Powell saw the potential power in a well-organized and we’ll funded attack by corporate America.
…the time has come — indeed, it is long overdue — for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshalled against those who would destroy it.
It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.
We’ve convinced those gullible little bastards to buy anything, surely we can pull off this con job…
Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.
Through his memo, Powell was building a war machine with generals motivated by greed and armed with a nearly unlimited budget. This war against Democracy would have two fronts: the aggressive but hidden attack on politics and the courts, and the slow steady attack on the minds of Americans. Both of which were to be researched, planned, and executed by a legion of think tanks, social welfare groups, and other organizations.
The Wrecking Ball
Whether it was the result of bad luck or an insidious plan, probably one of the worst things that ever happened to America was that in less than a year after Powell submitted his battle plan to the Chamber, President Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court. The soft-spoken Powell went through without a hitch because the very conservative William Rehnquist was nominated on the same day and got all the attention during the confirmation process. Powell was confirmed 89-1. The lone vote against him was cast by Senator Fred R. Harris of Oklahoma. He explained to reporters later that he opposed Mr. Powell because he is “an elitist” who “has never shown any deep feelings for little people.” At least someone was paying attention.
Not surprisingly, Powell’s secret memo never came up during the confirmation process. If he thought it was such a great idea he probably should have mentioned it… he must have forgotten. Instead, the man who thought that corporate America should control the courts in order to take over government quietly took his seat as a Justice on the Supreme Court. What could possibly go wrong?
So not only did Powell provide the inspiration and the plan to the greediest among us, as a Supreme Court Justice he was now in a position to provide them with a weapon – the gradual reinterpretation of the Constitution in favor of Corporate America. He pushed for tilting the playing field toward the wealthy and corporations over several court cases that equated money to speech, gave corporations the freedom of speech, and even gave them a conscience. This ultimately enabled the free flow of anonymous and unlimited money into our political process resulting in a democracy that was corrupted beyond recognition. With nine Justices on the Supreme Court, Powell does not get all the blame, but in some cases, he took an aggressive hands-on approach to persuade enough of the Justices to fall in line. More information on Powell’s handiwork and its effects on the Supreme Court can be found online and will soon be provided here.
But, it’s only a memo. You might be thinking how much damage can one memo written by some old curmudgeon really cause? That really all depends on who receives the memo. The Chamber and its wealthy members and associates had the money and influence to start Powell’s wrecking ball swinging right away. It didn’t take them long to start creating the structure and the “organizations” to do Powell’s bidding, but in these early days of their war, the damage done to Democracy was about as noticeable as the damage done to the lungs of a first-time smoker. The damage done over the next 50 years was as inevitable as the damage done to a chain smoker. We wouldn’t notice until it was too late.
Here’s a very short list of examples of corporate America aligning their vast wealth and resources against us:
- Heritage Foundation – 1973 – A right-wing think tank that has become one of the most powerful political organizations in the country.
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – 1973 – Courts state-level lawmakers across the country to use their pre-fabricated, corporate-friendly, “insert your state name here” legislation
- Cato Institute – 1974 – Initially called the Charles Koch Foundation, the Cato Institute is a powerful libertarian think tank.
- The Mercatus Center at George Mason University – 1980 – Moved to GMU with a 30 million dollar Koch donation. Aligns teachings with libertarian/conservative policies (grooming).
- Federalist Society – 1982 – Grooms, filters, and promotes conservative law clerks and judges – including conservative SCOTUS Justices.
- State Policy Network – 1992 – Organizes and orchestrates the activities of state-level think tanks and political organizations.
- Donors Trust – 1999 – Exists to move Dark Money between political organizations – legal money laundering.
- Americans for Prosperity 2004 – A Koch founded/funded dark-money group that “astroturfs” Americans on issues such as healthcare and climate change denial, helped orchestrate the Tea Party, and spends millions of dollars on campaigns ($122 million in 2012).
- FreedomWorks – 2004 – A major player in the development of the Tea Party and currently is involved in voter confusion.
Many of these groups (and many more) are now actively promoting “the big lie” and curtailing voting rights/protection legislation at the national and state levels. We can also see just how far those corporate-friendly activist Justices will go. Preventing states from controlling gun violence and preventing the federal government from protecting the planet from climate change. Roe vs. Wade is a shining example of how our corrupted Supreme Court is more than willing to ignore or manufacture legal precedence to bend the law in favor of conservatism and corporatism.
Probably the most amazing thing about what Powell pulled off, handing over the U.S. Constitution to corporations, is that when the Constitution was written there was no such thing as a corporation in America – something that today’s so-called “Constitutional Originalists” conveniently ignore.
The public, thoughtful Lewis Powell is quoted as saying: ”An Orderly society cannot exist if every man may decide which laws he will obey.” The private, calculating Lewis Powell was probably also thinking: “…so the wealthy must rewrite the laws to reorder society”.