In the summer of 1973, I was a “summer associate” at a big Wall Street firm. The firm represented Farah, the pants manufacturer in El Paso, Texas.
Farah was embroiled in a nasty, high profile labor dispute. Most of its employees were Chicanas (as Mexican-American women were called back then). Some demanded to be unionized and went on strike. In sympathy with the Chicana strikers, a nationwide boycott attempt of Farah ensued.
The law firm sent me to Washington to attend a press conference held by a few of the Chicana representatives, to then attend a strategy meeting of Farah’s public relations/lobbying team, and to report back. This was a perk. The firm was trying to give each summer associate an interesting out of the office assignment.
At the strategy meeting, Farah’s lead lobbyist turned out to be Fred Dutton. Dutton had been a prominent JFK “new frontiersman” and, in 1968, served as Robert Kennedy’s campaign manager. He was there when RFK was shot and killed at that hotel in Los Angeles.
How could this liberal crusader be representing Willie Farah, the bête noire of organized labor and civil rights advocates? When Dutton cynically said of the Chicana spokeswomen, “I’ve seen more compelling victims,” I wondered, naively, whether this man was a different Fred Dutton.
He wasn’t. It was the same guy. Dutton (who would later be known as “Dutton of Arabia” for his work on behalf of the Saudis) was playing for the “other team.”
It wasn’t long before I realized that there was nothing surprising about this. Liberal operatives like to make big money as much as conservative operatives do. Dutton, a World War II hero, had right to partake. Whether to do so was between him and his conscience, and not for me to judge. (Dutton would later say that “after Bobby [Kennedy] was shot, the lights went out for me.”)
I thought of Dutton when I read that Joe Biden has appointed “corporate friendly” people to key staff positions. For example, Ron Klain, who will be chief of staff, was a lobbyist for a major law firm. Apparently, he represented big tech companies, along with Fannie Mae and drug manufacturer ImClone when it was being investigated by Congress.
Similarly, Steve Ricchetti, who will be counselor to the new president, co-owned a lobbying firm that worked for Eli Lily, Novartis and Pfizer.
In addition, according to Tucker Carlson, Joe Biden’s transition advisers include executives from Uber, Visa, Capital One, Airbnb, Amazon, the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, and the nonprofit run by Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
To be sure, corporate America has changed dramatically since 1973 and the Farah strike. It is now woke, and major portions of it (including many of the companies listed above) are aligned with left-wing Democrats. Nor is the alignment a sham or a cover. As far as I can tell, corporate executives actually believe major elements of the woke line.
But corporate American is still capitalistic, by definition. Thus, the hard left is dismayed that Biden is turning to corporate executives and their top lobbyists to help him organize and run his administration.
Conservatives are probably divided on this. Populists like Tucker Carlson seem to be as appalled as far leftists are, especially insofar as big tech types are involved. Other conservatives may take small comfort from the fact that Biden’s top advisers don’t appear to be hard core anti-capitalists.
However, they should remember that just because a lobbyist takes money from capitalists doesn’t mean the lobbyist believes in capitalism. They should also remember that much of administration policy will be driven by lower ranking officials with fewer, if any, past affiliations with corporate America.
And all of us should keep two realities in mind. First, presidents typically want to be served by the brightest people who are on their side. Second, the brightest people among candidates for very senior positions will probably have worked for/with powerful corporations at one time or another, because that’s where the money is. Thus, one need not infer some sort of “revolving door” conspiracy when a president populates senior positions with refugees from corporate America.