Susan G Komen: The tip of the iceberg

Organisations that influence social, cultural and political issues in the US have been hijacked by the far right.


Women successfully campaigned against Komen’s decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood [GALLO/GETTY]

Columbus, OH – Perhaps over the past week you’ve heard of the foundation named after Susan G Komen? You know the folks I’m talking about, the ones who have turned breast cancer fundraising into a non-stop Nike-like branding campaign that translates into helpful suggestions, like how you should chomp down on the extra crispy bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to fight cancer (get heart disease, but cure cancer!).

Yeah, those guys.

They’ve had a bad week or two, to put it kindly. But their self-immolation at the hands of Tea Party cranks, such as their recently resigned senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, is worth looking at for what it tells us about the demise of institutions in the US. Because the thing is, their corruption of a charity meant to help find a cure for breast cancer with their Sharia Christianity, is only one of many examples of this phenomenon in the United States.

Whether it’s the courts, Congress, state legislatures, media, churches, academia, non-profits or a variety of other institutions, these important organisations that set the social, cultural and political parameters in our democracy, and served us well (overall – on the issue of race, for example, it took many of them a while to get with the programme) have been thoroughly hijacked by what the late historian Richard Hofstadter referred to as those exhibiting the “paranoid style”.

You know who I’m talking about. The tri-corner hat crowd ready to take up arms every time they walk into Nathan’s because they have a sneaking suspicion that the hot dogs are halal. Those who think that Social Darwinism was ordained by God, but actual Darwinism is a hoax. The ones who claim they are pro-life, but love everything from .50 caliber sniper rifles to foreign wars, like they’re engaged in the honeymoon period of a non-platonic relationship.

Sure, these people always existed. But they didn’t make it onto the Supreme Court. They didn’t become the speaker of the house. And they weren’t named senior vice presidents for policy at the Susan G Komen Foundation. Karen Handel is someone who ran for governor in Georgia on a campaign of defunding Planned Parenthood. And getting her picture taken toting an assault rifle like she was Ripley from Aliens.

It makes you wonder – was Christine O’Donnell not available for Komen to hire?

A corporate coup

It was not always like this. There was a time that a statesman in the Republican Party meant being Nelson Rockefeller and not Newt Gingrich. When the media was made up of giants such as Walter Cronkite, and a lunatic such as Glenn Beck would be kept off camera and away from sharp objects.

I was reminded of this recently, as I worked to help promote the terrific film, Hot Coffee, by Susan Saladoff. This documentary shows by how much the right has performed a leveraged buyout of our courts, replete with slick PR, bought-and-paid-for state and local judicial races and a variety of other means to turn the system into a Mitt-Romneyfied dystopia, abridging our seventh amendment right to a trial by jury.

In this effort to return us to a caveat emptor society, they have cooked up phony “tort reform” measures, such as limits to the payouts that we can claim for if we are maimed by a shoddy product or drunk doctor. But, as usual, their hypocrisy knows no bounds. One sponsor of a US $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, a certain Rick Santorum, was cool with his wife suing her chiropractor for twice that amount (he tried to claim he didn’t know much about it even though he actually testified – although in his defence, his mind might have been on a previously planned sweater-vest shopping spree).

The worst part is that this corporate coup has convinced regular people that some sort of “jackpot justice” exists, as if frivolous lawsuits are not immediately dismissed, and judges don’t reduce any awards that lack merit. This has happened, because as Saladoff bluntly put it to me: “Karl Rove and the US Chamber of Commerce have masterminded ways to limit average Americans access to our courts … which in turn limits our ability to hold wrongdoers accountable and puts more money in corporate coffers.”

Much the same could be written about how right-wing think tanks have corrupted academic studies, or how far-right talk radio has misinformed the public – to the benefit of corporations and religious charlatans. This is the world in which we now live. The woes of Susan G Komen are just the symptom of a much larger problem.

Cliff Schecter is the president of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

You can follow him on Twitter: @cliffschecter