Big Baby and the triumph of corporate America


There’s Big Steel. There’s Big Pharma. There’s Big Tech and Big Coal and Big Banks and Big Oil. Now comes the latest major lobbying organization to throw its weight around and demonstrate the astounding hold that corporate conservatives have on all three branches of the U.S. government.

Say hello to Big Baby.

The New York Times reported that during this year’s World Health Assembly in May, the U.S. delegation tried to undermine a resolution encouraging women around the world to breastfeed their babies. The assembly is the annual meeting of delegates from 194 nations to the United Nations-affiliated World Health Organization.

For decades, health experts have agreed that mother’s milk is better for infants than commercial baby formulas. The resolution urged member countries to regulate the misleading marketing claims of formula manufacturers. The resolution was in no way controversial until the U.S. delegation, representing the interests of Big Baby, started stirring up trouble.

Ecuador, which was scheduled to introduce the resolution, was threatened with trade retaliation and the possible withdrawal of U.S. military aid. Other nations, fearing similar threats, backed down. Eventually the Russians, of all people, agreed to introduce the resolution, and it passed mostly unchanged.

If there’s any nation the Trump administration won’t mess with, it’s Russia.

“We’re not trying to be a hero here,” a Russian delegate told the Times, “but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”

This is the sort of thing that U.S. officials used to be able to say. Today they do the bidding of corporate interests. More than three-fourths of the U.S. baby food market is controlled by three companies: Nestle USA (Gerber), Abbott Inc. (Similac) and Mead Johnson (Enfamil). All three are part of Big Baby’s $47 billion a year global market, which is expected to grow 50 percent in the next three years no matter what the World Health Assembly says.

Column: Why did the U.S. try to block a breastfeeding resolution, and what do we do about it? »

With Donald Trump in the White House, Republicans in control of Congress and a corporate majority on the Supreme Court, business has done spectacularly. But trying to persuade mothers in the Third World to mix up baby formula — despite having no reliable supply of clean water to mix it with — is truly perverse.

It’s the apotheosis for a movement that lay dormant during the years of the New Deal and the Great Society but began to emerge in the 1970s. Movement conservatives appropriated the word “freedom” as a substitute for untrammeled greed. It was truly brilliant how they did it.

They decided that the Gilded Age had it right, and that a nation’s greatness should not be measured, as Gandhi said, by how it treats its weakest members, but by how much wealth its strongest members could amass. In support of this, they interpreted the U.S. Constitution’s insistence on the primacy of property rights as fixed and unchanging.

The key moment came in 1976 when the Supreme Court decided that money, a measure of property, was a protected form of free speech when spent on political contributions. The loudest voices in the public square now belong to those with the most money.

Ronald Reagan became the movement’s charismatic figurehead. Social issues like guns, gays and abortion (secondary concerns to most corporate conservatives) were used to divide the old Roosevelt coalition. Dog-whistle racist appeals fomented a backlash to the civil rights movement. Conservative intellectuals — to the extent that sophistic arguments on behalf of the privileged constitute intellectualism — were planted in universities and courtrooms. Unions, with a big assist from certain corrupt union leaders, became a bad thing — even though collective wealth is the only counterbalance to individual wealth.

The stock market boomed. Executive compensation exploded. Blue-collar wages flatlined. A man named Leonard Leo built an obscure organization of conservative lawyers called the Federalist Society into a powerful force for the protection of corporate interests and wedge social issues. He is chiefly responsible for picking the conservative majority on the Supreme Court — including Brett Kavanaugh, the man Trump nominated as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy‘s replacement.

“Leonard Leo was a visionary,” Tom Carter, who worked as a public relations man for Leo, told The Daily Beast. “He figured out 20 years ago that conservatives had lost the culture war. Abortion, gay rights, contraception — conservatives didn’t have a chance if public opinion prevailed. So they needed to stack the courts.”

Yes! Public opinion be damned. Just load up the courts with Federalist Society members and wait for the fun to begin. Steal a Supreme Court nomination. Ignore Trump’s abuses as long as he supports the plutocratic agenda.

It’s like taking candy from a baby. Or worse, mother’s milk.

Tribune Content Agency

Kevin Horrigan, a retired member of the Post-Dispatch editorial board, is a St. Louis freelance writer.

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