March 6, 2013 By Jack Jodell.
This is the first post in an intermittent series which will deal with a number of persons who have, in varying degrees, done tremendous harm to our country. Unlike the popular History Channel program The Men Who Built America, my series will not necessarily be in chronological order. Nor will it be confined to captains of industry, big bankers, or famous inventors. It will instead be a random sampling of those whose efforts have had a harmful effect on this nation, so that we may learn from the dangerous examples they set and hopefully never again repeat their mistakes! I will begin this series by featuring first a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court whose negative influences are sorely felt even to this day.
LEWIS F. POWELL, JR. (1907 – 1998) was never known as a conservative firebrand, (unlike Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, or Samuel Alito, each of whom plague us today). In fact, progressive journalist Edward R. Murrow was one of his closest friends. While on the Supreme Court, Powell was regarded as a moderate, even though many of his opinions were conservative in nature and origin. He became known as a skillful master of compromise and consensus-building. He was born and raised in segregated Virginia, and, like most white southerners of the day, did little to resist that state’s opposition to the Supreme Court’s landmark 1054 pro-civil rights Brown vs the Board of Education decision, even though he was chairman of the Richmond School Board at the time. He did, however, develop a close relationship with many black civil rights leaders as time went on. He received his law degree from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and later earned his Masters from Harvard.
Powell’s legal career was a mixed bag, if judged from a progressive perspective. He settled into and became a partner in one of Virginia’s hugest law firms and stayed with them for more than 25 years. He devoted most of his time there to corporate law (particularly in the area of acquisitions and mergers), and represented numerous tobacco companies, and even lobbied for the Tobacco Institute. He was a board member of tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris until his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1971. Yet he also was a leader in the attempt to bring legal services to the poor and threw his support behind the Federal government’s Legal Services Program.
What I have found most detrimental about Powell’s legal activities was his issuing of what has become known as the Powell Memorandum. Written to a friend at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce while Powell was lobbying the Virginia legislature for the Tobacco Institute, it called for corporate America to become far more aggressive in shaping American politics, government, and law. And oh, did corporate America become much more aggressive in not only politics, law, and government, but in many other aspects of American culture as well! Powell’s memorandum sparked the creation of several far-right think tanks and was directly responsible for transforming our Chamber of Commerce into the rabid and malignant reactionary political beast it is today!
That’s right, friends: this nefarious memorandum, inspired by an irrational fear of “socialism” the short-sighted Powell shared with today’s far-right, anti-labor wackos like the Koch brothers, Fox “News”, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and the five very activist-corporatist-extremists who currently occupy our present Extreme Court, have all been influenced by this trash! When you hear some lying wing-nut accuse the President of having a “socialist” agenda, you can blame Lewis F. Powell, Jr. for this nonsense. When you hear talk praising job-outsourcing “free trade” economics, you can blame Lewis F. Powell, Jr. for this craziness. When you hear some fanatic railing against an increase in the minimum wage, or denigrating the influence of our ever-shrinking labor unions, you can blame Lewis F. Powell, Jr. for such idiocy! Even the accelerating call for privatization of many government services can be laid squarely at the feet of Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Don’t like the wealth disparity we have undergone? Blame Lewis F. Powell! Don’t like the Citizens United Ruling, which opened the floodgates for huge corporations to bombard you with millions of lying, slanted TV ads which insult your intelligence and which YOU ultimately pay for with higher product prices? Blame Lewis F. Powell, Jr.! Don’t like how commercials on television have increased from 8 minutes per hour to the current 22 minutes per hour (and rising)? Blame Lewis F. Powell, Jr.!
Powell’s memorandum has had a horrible effect on our society. It has cheapened our way of life while laying the groundwork for very definite corporate overreach in a great many areas. Yesterday, on March 5, 2013, the Dow reached an all-time record high. Recently released statistics confirm that corporate profits are at 60 YEAR HIGHS, but that job creation has remained abysmally low, while workers’ salaries have failed to match corporate profits or productivity gains for many, many years now. It would appear from this firm evidence that the complaints leveled at corporate America by those “socialists” on the left were fully accurate, and that Powell was gravely wrong to issue the memorandum as he did! Lewis F. Powell, Jr. simply did not have the foresight to envision the disastrous consequences his call for “corporate aggression” would unleash upon this country. For that reason, I have deemed him to be one of the men who ruined America!