Jim DiEugenio, a brilliant historian and a friend to this blog, has written a superb piece about the Koch brothers
and their malign influence on our current politics. The essay derives from the suppression of the documentary Citizen Koch
, which PBS refused to air for fear that that David Koch would withdraw support from the network.
Even if you think you already know the story, I urge you to give DiEugenio's work your attention.
Perhaps as a reaction to his experience with Stalin, Fred Koch became one of the original members of the far-right John Birch Society. In fact, he was on the Executive Committee which met monthly to plan Birch Society strategy. In 1961, Fred Koch sponsored a major Birch Society event in Wichita, introducing the founder of that group, Robert Welch, to a town hall meeting of 2,000 people.
To understand today’s Koch brothers – and why they now say President Barack Obama is a socialist – it’s necessary to recall just how reactionary the John Birch Society was. Some Birchers thought that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was a communist agent.
Echoing this nonsense, Koch self-published a pamphlet which said, “Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican parties.” Koch also wrote about the nascent civil rights movement: “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.”
The current mania for libertarianism owes much to the Koch family's predatory influence:
By the late 1960s, Charles Koch was among a group of high-level Birch members infatuated with Robert LeFevre, who created the Freedom School which touted the mystique of the Austrian School of Economics. From his fondness for LeFevre, Charles went on to become the sugar daddy of the Libertarian movement.
Seeking to build a movement that challenges government regulations, Charles and David Koch became major benefactors of the Libertarians, spending millions to fund the libertarian Cato Institute.
In 1980, David Koch also ran for Vice President on a Libertarian ticket headed by attorney Ed Clark. Some reports state that the Kochs spent about $2 million on the 1980 campaign, boosting the Clark/Koch partnership to the highest percentage for a Libertarian ticket ever received.
The platform was considerably outside the mainstream, even to the right of Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, whom they attacked for representing “no change whatsoever from Jimmy Carter and the Democrats.” (CNN.com, June 2, 2014, “The Truth about the Koch Agenda”.)
This last point is important. Modern Republicans revere Reagan, yet the conservative movement is largely controlled by a family that despised his alleged "moderation."
After 1980, the Kochs decided they personally would not seek political office. Instead, they would advance Libertarian ideas from behind the curtains. According to Doherty, the Kochs came to look at politicians as “actors playing out a script.” The Kochs would concentrate on writing the script’s themes and the words for these actor/politicians to speak.
There's much, much more at the other end of the link.
I've also been reading Bob Woodward's The Price of Power
, which tells the story of Barack Obama's struggles on the economic front. Much of the book won't be news to you. Indeed, the big revelation here is that the story you've been told is, more or less, what actually happened.
Obama, for all of his many faults, really did try to stand up to a far right machine that was ready to destroy the economy in order to further the goals of eviscerating Social Security and reducing the tax rates for the wealthy. For that, he deserves praise.
I feel a bit astonished to admit that, at this stage in this presidency, my main problems with Obama concern foreign policy. If Obama failed, he did so by accepting the construction that deficit reduction had to be the goal that trumped all others -- a view which, as Paul Krugman points out
, was always based on a delusion.
Yet can we blame Obama? Nearly everyone around the globe -- right and left -- had fallen prey to that same hallucination. Our ill-educated citizenry stupidly thinks that lower taxes equal higher revenue. They also think that Reagan achieved an economic recovery through belt-tightening, even though the exact opposite occurred: He ran up a deficit exceeding all previous deficits combined
. Since 2009, there has been enormous populist pressure on Obama to "do something about the debt," because our populace has been brainwashed into thinking that debt reduction equals prosperity.
Boehner, his opposite number, may have grumbled about the president's "arrogant" style and his allegedly shortsighted negotiating methods, but those complaints don't address the real problem. The real problem has always been the far right, funded by the Kochs and fueled by a messianic vision. These people insist on imposing strict libertarianism on a country that does not want it. Even Boehner, I think, despises the insanity within his party, yet he knows that the modern GOP is a party in which one either goes mad or goes away.
In a recent Salon piece
, writer Thomas Frank argues that the main failure in these economic standoffs/negotiations was Obama's. Frank says "right-wing obstructionism could have been fought." He structures his argument around a forecast of how Obama's presidential museum will frame this period in history.
Well, duh, his museum will answer: he couldn’t do any of those things because of the crazy right-wingers running wild in the land. He couldn’t reason with them—their brains don’t work like ours! He couldn’t defeat them at the polls—they’d gerrymandered so many states that they couldn’t be dislodged! What can a high-minded man of principle do when confronted with such a vast span of bigotry and close-mindedness? The answer toward which the Obama museum will steer the visitor is: Nothing.
In point of fact, there were plenty of things Obama’s Democrats could have done that might have put the right out of business once and for all—for example, by responding more aggressively to the Great Recession or by pounding relentlessly on the theme of middle-class economic distress. Acknowledging this possibility, however, has always been difficult for consensus-minded Democrats, and I suspect that in the official recounting of the Obama era, this troublesome possibility will disappear entirely. Instead, the terrifying Right-Wing Other will be cast in bronze at twice life-size, and made the excuse for the Administration’s every last failure of nerve, imagination and foresight.
As much as I dislike Obama, I cannot agree with this assessment, at least not fully.
The forces of irrationality are too powerful; The Crazy is too well-funded. Had Obama been a much more passionate president, had he spoken with a tongue of divine fire, he still could not have talked down this foe.
To prove the point, consider the role of Eric Cantor, the leader of the Crazy Faction throughout the period Woodward chronicles. He seemed willing to take this country into default -- to drive the locomotive right over the half-completed trestle, laughing maniacally while the train plummeted toward the rocks. Yet in the end, Cantor wasn't crazy enough
to please the conservative movement.
Something unnerving is abroad in this land. It's an evil force which no
Democratic president can successfully confront.
The people say that they want bipartisanship, but the Kochs want nothing of the kind. They want libertarianism or apocalypse.