The book Dark Money by jane Mayer on the influence of the Koch brothers and the reviews of the same were written stone cold sober. Two libertarian billionaires are a cabal that secretly rule the USA with hard right libertarian policies. The sense of alienation and powerless libertarians feel from the current political system is deeply mistaken if Mayer is to be believed. Libertarians secretly rule despite their minuscule numbers!
I only met a libertarian in person recently. Most people have never heard of libertarians or think they believe in sexual license. A number of libertarians do not know what a libertarian is because a good minority of them oppose marijuana decriminalisation.
There are no elected libertarian officeholders in the USA. The Australian libertarian senator was elected by the donkey vote in New South Wales. Voters confused his party name, the Liberal Democrats, with that of the Liberal party. Perhaps 20% of Liberal party voters do not know the correct name of the Liberal party.
Former New Mexico Republican governor and now libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is attracting attention simply because Clinton and Trump are such appalling candidates. Previous libertarian presidential candidates have not got more than about half a percent of the vote in presidential campaigns.
There are libertarian minded senators such as Rand Paul and his father who was in the House of Representatives but they are but a handful. The Koch Brothers money had no success in pushing their names forward to true power in presidential primaries.
The Republican presidential primary candidate favoured by the Koch brothers, Governor Walker, dropped out before the Iowa caucuses despite having more money than the rest of the field.
Dark Money and its book reviews would have us believe that despite abysmal election results, libertarians still rule the roost. An example is the book review at the Guardian:
A veteran investigative reporter and a staff writer for the New Yorker, Mayer has combined her own research with the work of scores of other investigators, to describe how the Kochs and fellow billionaires like Richard Scaife have spent hundreds of millions to “move their political ideas from the fringe to the center of American political life”…
In the 2016 elections, the goal of the Koch network of contributors is to spend $889m, more than twice what they spent in 2012.
Four years ago, because Obama had the most sophisticated vote-pulling operation in the history of American politics, and a rather lackluster opponent, a Democratic president was able to withstand such a gigantic financial onslaught. This time around, it’s not clear that any Democrat will be so fortunate.
Jane Mayer summarises her view relatively succinctly this way when discussing a study by Harvard academics of dark money
In essence, the Harvard study concludes, the Kochs and their allied donors have far financial influence over American politics that extends far beyond the Presidential race. They have acted as an ideological magnet, pulling the Republican Party far to the right on economic issues, in alignment with their own and other donors’ financial interests. On issue after issue, Republican candidates have sworn fealty to the Kochs’ ultra-free-market positions.
The study calculates that Republican members of the House and Senate largely voted as Americans for Prosperity told them to eighty-eight per cent of the time last year, up from seventy-three per cent of the time in 2007. More eye-catching, the positions that A.F.P. took, and that the elected representatives adopted, put them far to the right of the general voting population, including many Republicans voters.
The review of Mayer’s book in the New York Review of Books accepts her hypothesis uncritically
Jane Mayer’s remarkable new book makes it abundantly clear that the Kochs, and the closely connected group of billionaires they’ve helped assemble, have spent thousands of times that much over the past few decades, and that in the process they’ve distorted American politics in devastating ways, impairing the chances that we’ll effectively respond to climate change, reducing voting rights in many states, paralyzing Congress, and radically ratcheting up inequality.
The book review in The Nation is even more breathless about the reach of the Koch brothers cabal
I’m ashamed to admit that I had little understanding of the scope of the activities that Charles and David Koch have undertaken to mainstream their radical libertarian ideology until I read Jane Mayer’s pathbreaking account in The New Yorker in 2010. (I fought a losing battle on the jury of the National Magazine Awards that year to award it the prize in the reporting category.)
Back then, the fantastic reach of the Kochs’ personal investments and subterranean funding network was difficult to track. It has since grown to a size almost impossible to imagine, with a sphere of influence that touches nearly every aspect of American public life. That’s the message of Dark Money, the authoritative book on the Kochs that Mayer has spent the past five years reporting.
Jonah Goldberg’s review of Dark Money is a bit of a fresh air after all these dark conspiracy theories
“What people need to understand is the Kochs have been playing a very long game,” she told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “And it’s not just about elections. It started four decades ago with a plan to change how America thinks and votes. So while some elections they win and some elections they lose, what they’re aiming at is changing the conversation in the country.”
…the Kochs are secretive, sinister denizens of the stygian underworld of “dark money” and the “radical right.” Except for the fact that the Kochs have been out in the open for nearly a half-century. David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, which you might argue is a brilliant way to hide in plain sight, given how little attention the Libertarian Party gets.
To its credit, the book review in Dissent magazine is the only one on the left that actually enquires into the mechanisms of and divisions within political pressure groups and political parties:
By focusing on elite idea production and election messaging, Mayer overlooks divisions within the right and offers no insights that could help us understand the unruly Trump surge. Dark Money portrays an unstoppable, unified far-right juggernaut led by plutocrats. It correctly alerts us to many aspects of their secretive, unaccountable machinations. But the full story of what is happening on the right is more complex and volatile.
It took a proper Marxist to remember that conspiracy theories do not succeed on their own. They require grunt work on the ground and there are feuding factions galore not even aware of the Koch brothers, much less their influence and money:
From the top, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets hyped the “Tea Party” label as a way for conservative voters to express anger at newly installed President Obama and Democratic congressional majorities; and many professional advocacy organizations jumped on the bandwagon, offering buses to carry people to rallies where their own operatives gave speeches.
But these top-down maneuvers were not the driving force of the movement. Ordinary conservative citizens and community activists, almost all white and mostly older, provided angry passion and volunteered their energies to make the early Tea Party more than just occasional televised rallies. Grassroots Tea Partiers accomplished an utterly remarkable feat: starting in 2009, they organized at least 900 local groups,
Mayer forgot that the Tea Party was not libertarian and was very much a grassroots movement as the Dissent Magazine reviewer points out:
We learned that grassroots Tea Partiers were far from disciplined libertarian followers of ultra-free-market advocacy groups. Local Tea Party groups met in churches, libraries, and restaurants, and collected small contributions or sold books, pins, bumper stickers and other Tea Party paraphernalia on commission to cover their modest costs.
They did not get by on checks from the Koch brothers or any other wealthy advocacy organizations. Furthermore, the views of both grassroots Tea Party activists and of many other Republican-leaning voters who have sympathized with this label do not align with free-market dogmas.
The Tea Party was socially conservative but only fiscally conservative when it came to other groups than them receiving money from the government as the Dissent review reminds us
… ordinary Tea Party activists and sympathizers are worried about sociocultural changes in the United States, angry and fearful about immigration, freaked out by the presence in the White House of a black liberal with a Muslim middle name, and fiercely opposed to what they view as out of control “welfare spending” on the poor, minorities, and young people.
Many Tea Partiers benefit from Social Security, Medicare, and military veterans’ programs, and do not want them to be cut or privatized. About half of Tea Party activists or sympathizers are also Christian conservatives intensely concerned with banning abortion and repealing gay marriage.
In what continues to be a devastating review of the Mayer book, Dissent reminds us that
Today’s Republican Party is being revamped and torn asunder from contradictory directions. Almost all GOP candidates and legislators, even most presidential aspirants, espouse free-market, anti-government ideas like those pushed by the Koch network. But these honchos are not necessarily carrying voters with them.
Many centrist voters do not want to cut education or gut the Environmental Protection Agency, while many right-wing voters care most about stopping immigration, outlawing abortions, and cutting back on what they view as government largesse for the poor.
The core Koch agenda of bashing unions, slashing taxes for the rich, blocking environmental protection measures, and dismantling Social Security is not the top priority for many conservative voters.
The Dissent magazine review still believes that the Koch brothers have the Republican Party in their grasp, but was sensible enough to remind that the Republican Party is divided and voters still think for themselves. That was a crucial concession. As the Wall Street Journal review said
It can be argued that the cynicism behind the politics-for-sale claim, even when displayed by a talented writer like Ms. Mayer, reflects a distrust of the American democratic system—as if “the people” are commodities to be purchased and not autonomous beings who can think for themselves.
The cynicism also denigrates the work of activists and scholars who join up with Cato, the Manhattan Institute, Heritage, Brookings, Hoover, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Foundation, Common Cause—or whatever organization one might choose—because they believe in what those bodies stand for, not because they are the mindless slaves of some rich donor.