Friday, August 27, 2010
Koch: I'd Like To Buy The World
Dave Weigel reports on David Koch's appearance at the American's For Prosperity summit. Koch is very much a connoisseur of fine whine:
"When my brother and I provided the funds and the concept for the Americans for Prosperity foundation six and a half years ago," says Koch, "never in my wildest drems could I have participated it would grow to the size it is today." He wavers a little over the podium." We have over one million activists who have participated in town hall meetings and demonstrations over the last year. Never would I have dreamed it would become as influential and effective as it has. It is getting stronger and stronger and becoming more and more successful. I feel that this organization could provide a key role in the November elections, and I feel there is an extraordinary groundswell of hostility in this country towards the socialization of so many aspects of our lives -- health care, financial regulations. Many, many different areas that I think that government has involved itself, uh, way too much -- excessively."
Koch, haltingly, broaches the subject of his media image. "I've been attacked nonstop, and my brother, as well as AFP, and our company, and our company, Koch Industries, by the liberal media," he says. "These attacks do not intimidate me. In fact, they inspire me!" The room of activists, who have been listening politely, break into applause. "In my opinion our whole way of life, our whole economic system is at risk from the radicals in the Congress who want to hurt the whole system we have, the, uh, free enterprise system, capitalistic system."
I'm sure everyone realizes that the dangers of corporatism weren't just discovered on the internet in the last decade. The wealthy funders of the right have been doing this same work for as long as I can remember. Interestingly, they really picked up the pace at about the same time that the modern conservative movement ascended in American politics.
Future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell made the clarion call 40 years ago:
DATE: August 23, 1971
TO: Mr. Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman, Education Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
FROM: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
This memorandum is submitted at your request as a basis for the discussion on August 24 with Mr. Booth (executive vice president) and others at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The purpose is to identify the problem, and suggest possible avenues of action for further consideration.
No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility.
There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy.
But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts
The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.
The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.
Moreover, much of the media-for varying motives and in varying degrees-either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these "attackers," or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.
One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.
The campuses from which much of the criticism emanates are supported by (i) tax funds generated largely from American business, and (ii) contributions from capital funds controlled or generated by American business. The boards of trustees of our universities overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the system.
Most of the media, including the national TV systems, are owned and theoretically controlled by corporations which depend upon profits, and the enterprise system to survive.
Tone of the Attack
This memorandum is not the place to document in detail the tone, character, or intensity of the attack. The following quotations will suffice to give one a general idea:
William Kunstler, warmly welcomed on campuses and listed in a recent student poll as the "American lawyer most admired," incites audiences as follows:
"You must learn to fight in the streets, to revolt, to shoot guns. We will learn to do all of the things that property owners fear."2 The New Leftists who heed Kunstler's advice increasingly are beginning to act -- not just against military recruiting offices and manufacturers of munitions, but against a variety of businesses: "Since February, 1970, branches (of Bank of America) have been attacked 39 times, 22 times with explosive devices and 17 times with fire bombs or by arsonists."3 Although New Leftist spokesmen are succeeding in radicalizing thousands of the young, the greater cause for concern is the hostility of respectable liberals and social reformers. It is the sum total of their views and influence which could indeed fatally weaken or destroy the system.
A chilling description of what is being taught on many of our campuses was written by Stewart Alsop:
"Yale, like every other major college, is graduating scores of bright young men who are practitioners of 'the politics of despair.' These young men despise the American political and economic system . . . (their) minds seem to be wholly closed. They live, not by rational discussion, but by mindless slogans." A recent poll of students on 12 representative campuses reported that: "Almost half the students favored socialization of basic U.S. industries."
A visiting professor from England at Rockford College gave a series of lectures entitled "The Ideological War Against Western Society," in which he documents the extent to which members of the intellectual community are waging ideological warfare against the enterprise system and the values of western society. In a foreword to these lectures, famed Dr. Milton Friedman of Chicago warned: "It (is) crystal clear that the foundations of our free society are under wide-ranging and powerful attack -- not by Communist or any other conspiracy but by misguided individuals parroting one another and unwittingly serving ends they would never intentionally promote."
Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, who -- thanks largely to the media -- has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans. A recent article in Fortune speaks of Nader as follows:
"The passion that rules in him -- and he is a passionate man -- is aimed at smashing utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power. He thinks, and says quite bluntly, that a great many corporate executives belong in prison -- for defrauding the consumer with shoddy merchandise, poisoning the food supply with chemical additives, and willfully manufacturing unsafe products that will maim or kill the buyer. He emphasizes that he is not talking just about 'fly-by-night hucksters' but the top management of blue chip business."
A frontal assault was made on our government, our system of justice, and the free enterprise system by Yale Professor Charles Reich in his widely publicized book: "The Greening of America," published last winter.
The foregoing references illustrate the broad, shotgun attack on the system itself. There are countless examples of rifle shots which undermine confidence and confuse the public. Favorite current targets are proposals for tax incentives through changes in depreciation rates and investment credits. These are usually described in the media as "tax breaks," "loop holes" or "tax benefits" for the benefit of business. * As viewed by a columnist in the Post, such tax measures would benefit "only the rich, the owners of big companies."
It is dismaying that many politicians make the same argument that tax measures of this kind benefit only "business," without benefit to "the poor." The fact that this is either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy is of slight comfort. This setting of the "rich" against the "poor," of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.
Does any of that sound familiar? This time all it took was the election of a nice establishment neo-liberal who happens to be black to drive them into a frenzy. One must remember, however, that they felt the same way about John F. Kennedy when he was in office, even though they've since taken him as one of their own. (And they attempted a coup on Roosevelt, so ...)
He went on to lay out a framework for business to change higher education and media to more favorably reflect their interests. I would suggest they were very successful at dealing with the latter, and slightly less successful at changing higher education, although it must be noted that the kind of radical youth movements which characterized that period have not been seen again.
This was his discussion of government:
The Neglected Political Arena
In the final analysis, the payoff -- short-of revolution -- is what government does. Business has been the favorite whipping-boy of many politicians for many years. But the measure of how far this has gone is perhaps best found in the anti-business views now being expressed by several leading candidates for President of the United States.
It is still Marxist doctrine that the "capitalist" countries are controlled by big business. This doctrine, consistently a part of leftist propaganda all over the world, has a wide public following among Americans.
Yet, as every business executive knows, few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders. If one doubts this, let him undertake the role of "lobbyist" for the business point of view before Congressional committees. The same situation obtains in the legislative halls of most states and major cities. One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the "forgotten man."
Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen's views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to "consumerism" or to the "environment."
Politicians reflect what they believe to be majority views of their constituents. It is thus evident that most politicians are making the judgment that the public has little sympathy for the businessman or his viewpoint.
The educational programs suggested above would be designed to enlighten public thinking -- not so much about the businessman and his individual role as about the system which he administers, and which provides the goods, services and jobs on which our country depends.
But one should not postpone more direct political action, while awaiting the gradual change in public opinion to be effected through education and information. Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assidously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination -- without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.
As unwelcome as it may be to the Chamber, it should consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.
Neglected Opportunity in the Courts
American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.
Other organizations and groups, recognizing this, have been far more astute in exploiting judicial action than American business. Perhaps the most active exploiters of the judicial system have been groups ranging in political orientation from "liberal" to the far left.
The American Civil Liberties Union is one example. It initiates or intervenes in scores of cases each year, and it files briefs amicus curiae in the Supreme Court in a number of cases during each term of that court. Labor unions, civil rights groups and now the public interest law firms are extremely active in the judicial arena. Their success, often at business' expense, has not been inconsequential.
This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.
As with respect to scholars and speakers, the Chamber would need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus in the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation. The greatest care should be exercised in selecting the cases in which to participate, or the suits to institute. But the opportunity merits the necessary effort.
Their judicial revolution is only now coming to fruition and I would suggest it's been a rousing success so far. Not that they will admit it since claiming victimization at the hands of the courts is habitual (and lucrative.)
He wrote more about how business executive needed to become involved and discussed the costs of doing this. And then he made the pitch we all know so well by now:
Relationship to Freedom
The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom.
It is this great truth -- now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals -- that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful.
There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom -- ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.
We in America already have moved very far indeed toward some aspects of state socialism, as the needs and complexities of a vast urban society require types of regulation and control that were quite unnecessary in earlier times. In some areas, such regulation and control already have seriously impaired the freedom of both business and labor, and indeed of the public generally. But most of the essential freedoms remain: private ownership, private profit, labor unions, collective bargaining, consumer choice, and a market economy in which competition largely determines price, quality and variety of the goods and services provided the consumer.
In addition to the ideological attack on the system itself (discussed in this memorandum), its essentials also are threatened by inequitable taxation, and -- more recently -- by an inflation which has seemed uncontrollable. But whatever the causes of diminishing economic freedom may be, the truth is that freedom as a concept is indivisible. As the experience of the socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights. It is this message, above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.
It's interesting to note that at the time labor unions and collective bargaining were considered hallmarks of freedom, even by men like this. They've certainly moved right in that regard --- mostly as a result of the necesities of spower politics. (They also don't even give lip service to right wing dictators anymore. They just call them liberal fascists and carry on.)
If you haven't read the whole memo recently, it's worth looking over again. This is a long term source of contention in American society which has been confronted by both sides before with varying degrees of success. It's useful to to look at the past and try to glean what worked and what didn't and see what lesson we can apply to the present circumstances.
And it really should be noted that this story has gone virtually unreported for 40 years by the mainstream press. It's a shocking example of journalistic malpractice, particularly when you think about the snotty derisiveness of corporate tools like the late Tim Russert at Hillary Clinton's characterization of a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. They either knew or they were felony stupid. Either way, it's no excuse.
Now it's at least seeping out and maybe we can have an adult discussion about it. Maybe.
digby 8/27/2010 04:00:00 PM