Proving that while intelligence may be limited, stupidity is not
Getting people to consistently vote against their own self-interest is one of the more fascinating dimensions of American politics, a triumph of modern propaganda technique.
You’d think that people who can barely survive on low paying, non-union jobs and have no health insurance for themselves or their families would support increases in the minimum wage, the removal of barriers to union membership, and a health care system comparable to the ones enjoyed by the rest of the civilized world.
Historian Thomas Frank explored the phenomenon in his book What’s the Matter With Kansas? He concluded that it was the culture war that proved decisive in the 2004 election, the shiny object that shifted a significant portion of the voting public’s attention away from the gritty realities of economic injustice to emotional issues like abortion and gay rights.
(The brain’s emotional-identity-survival circuitry, the limbic system, has millions of years of evolution on the brain’s rational centers, a fact that the Rethugs’ know and exploit all too well. By contrast, the Dems, from President Barack Obama on down, cling to the illusion that dispassionate logic and their superior policy proposals will trump the visceral appeal of the Rethugs’ propaganda.)
In his follow-up book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, Frank underscores the Libertarian inspired drive for privatization and deregulation that currently finds expression in various Teabagger slogans like “getting government off our backs” and “restoring freedom.” At the top of the conservative ruling elite’s agenda is extension of tax cuts for the super rich, including elimination of the inheritance tax that they have spent decades re-framing as “the death tax.”
The results of the conservative agenda are obvious. As Frank sums it up: “Bad government is the natural product of rule by those who believe government is bad.” Rethugs have successfully embodied Ronald Reagan‘s famous dictum that “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” Every time they illegally seize power (as they did in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections), they earnestly set out to prove just that.
Since it’s not the middle class that will benefit from the privatization of Social Security, the dismantlement of Medicare and Medicaid, and the Department of Education, as Teabagger senatorial candidates like Sharon Angle in Nevada, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Joe Miller in Alaska want to do, we might ask ourselves the classic question that the ancient Romans asked of their leaders— Qui bono?
Who benefits, indeed. Like Toto pulling back the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, Frank Rich in his column last Sunday titled The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party answers the question by directing our attention to Jane Mayer‘s excellent exercise in investigative journalism of the Koch Brothers in her article in this month’s New Yorker titled Covert Operations.
Rich sets the table:
ANOTHER weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who. Last Sunday the site was Lower Manhattan, where they jeered the “ground zero mosque.” This weekend, the scene shifted to Washington, where the avatars of oppressed white Tea Party America, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, were slated to “reclaim the civil rights movement” (Beck’s words) on the same spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream exactly 47 years earlier.
Vive la révolution!
There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.
In her 10,000 word essay, Mayer shines a megawatt Kleig light on the movers and shakers behind the Teabaggers, David and Charles Koch. Heirs to an immense fortune derived from their father Fred’s work in the oil industry, these two apples didn’t fall far from the ideological tree. Fred Koch was a founding member of the John Birch Society, a right wing extremist group who considered President Eisenhower a commie, and whose movement William F. Buckley Jr. once described as “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.”
Over the past three decades, the Kochs have spent over a hundred million dollars building the conservative infrastructure of think tanks and foundations that have worked behind the scenes to poison public opinion against all things government. In the ’70’s they created the bastion of libertarian economic philosophy, the Cato Institute. In the ’80s they started the Mercatus Center, described as “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington,” as well as Citizens for a Sound Economy, charged with selling the Koch philosophy to the masses. In 1990, they created Citizens for the Environment, “which called acid rain and other environmental problems “myths.” In 2004, they created Americans For Prosperity, an astro-turfing group that is currently organizing Teabagger protests against everything from health care reform to cap and trade energy regulation. The common denominator of all these groups is that they oppose legislation that will directly affect the profits of the Koch empire as a whole, and the tax liability of the Koch brothers in particular.
Mayer provides a sampling of just how interconnected these groups are with each other and with the winger media:
In January, 2008, Charles Koch wrote in his company newsletter that America could be on the verge of “the greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s.” That October, Americans for Prosperity held a conference of conservative operatives at a Marriott hotel outside Washington. Erick Erickson, the editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com [and CNN contributor] , took the lectern, thanked David Koch, and vowed to “unite and fight . . . the armies of the left!”
Soon after Obama assumed office, Americans for Prosperity launched “Porkulus” rallies against Obama’s stimulus-spending measures. Then the Mercatus Center released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labeled Obama’s program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets had echoed the sentiment. (Phil Kerpen, the vice-president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, is a contributor to the Fox News Web site. Another officer at Americans for Prosperity, Walter Williams, often guest-hosts for Limbaugh.)… (Beck appears to be a fan of the Kochs; in the midst of a recent on-air parody of Al Gore, Beck said, without explanation, “I want to thank Charles Koch for this information.” Beck declined to elaborate on the relationship.)
Beck confirms divine approval for his messianic, self-aggrandizement rally with a flock of geese flyover
No doubt there are many sincere individuals among the Teabaggers, who at least have enough sense to know they are being screwed by somebody. Time will tell if they can resist the magician’s misdirection before its too late.
H.L. Menken observed that:
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests.
Right now, I’m long Rich and Menken and short Obama & Co., who don’t seem to understand that emotion trumps fact when it comes to appealing to the American voter. Enthusiasm gap, anyone?
With apologies to P.T. Barnum:
There’s a (Koch) sucker born every minute.