“Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King … Charles Koch?”: Why the Koch Brothers Are Heroes In Their Own Minds
When Charles E. Wilson appeared before a Senate committee in January 1953 as President Eisenhower’s nominee to become Secretary of Defense, he was asked whether his large holdings of stock in General Motors, where he had been president and chief executive, might cause some conflict of interest. “I cannot conceive of one,” he replied, “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country.” While Wilson is often misquoted as saying that what’s good for GM is good for America, a quote often used as a symbol of corporate arrogance, his intent seemed at least somewhat more benign. But however you interpret it, Wilson was almost certainly sincere in believing that when you get right down to it, the country and its largest corporation, as GM was then, rise and fall together.
Koch Industries is not quite as big as General Motors was then, at least not relative to the rest of the economy. But the two men who control it, Charles and David Koch, seem just as sure that what’s good for them is good for America. They probably wouldn’t put it that way, and maybe they don’t even think about it that way. All they know is that the things they believe are right and true, which in at least one way makes them no different from you or me.
This weekend, the Kochs, who plan to spend nearly a billion dollars of their money and their friends’ money to elect a Republican president in 2016, held a confab where they could gather to discuss their plans to move America in a direction they find more amenable. When Charles addressed the plutocrats, he told them to give themselves a hearty pat on the back:
Charles Koch on Sunday compared the efforts of his political network to the fight for civil rights and other ‘freedom movements,’ urging his fellow conservative donors to follow the lead of figures such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr.
‘History demonstrates that when the American people get motivated by an issue of justice that they believe is just, extraordinary things can be accomplished,’ Koch told 450 wealthy conservatives assembled in the ballroom of a lavish oceanfront resort [in Dana Point, California].
‘Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement,’ he said. “All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”
Other reports note that Charles talked a good bit about the disadvantaged and downtrodden, and how they will be the true beneficiaries of the expansion of liberty that is the Kochs’ fondest dream.
You can call that ridiculous, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But while Democrats see the Kochs as cartoon villains, twirling their moustaches as they contemplate a future with low top-end marginal tax rates, I assure you that they believe themselves to have only the purest motives for their political action.
Ask any liberal activist why it’s a threat to democracy when the Kochs spend millions to elect their favored candidates, but less so when liberal billionaires do the same thing, and you’ll get two answers. The first is that “We can’t unilaterally disarm,” which is also what you hear from candidates who support campaign finance reforms but would like to get money from super PACs. It’s reasonable enough, if not particularly high-minded. The second answer, and perhaps the more common one, is that when the Kochs advocate for things like low taxes for the wealthy and loose regulation on corporations, they’re being self-interested, while a liberal billionaire who takes the opposite position is acting altruistically.
It’s an answer that is simultaneously true, at least to a degree, and unsatisfying. First of all, there are times when the Kochs advocate on issues that don’t have anything to do with their bottom line. And if they succeed in helping a Republican get elected president, only a portion of what that president does will affect them directly, even if they wind up being pleased with almost all of it.
Secondly, it runs the risk of devolving into a caricature that doesn’t help us understand the Kochs. Right now, Charles is probably asking himself why anyone would make a fuss about his speech. After all, he believes that the liberty embodied in unfettered capitalism is a source of prosperity and human flourishing. How could anyone think otherwise?
Of course, there’s a difference between telling yourself, “We’re advocating for the right things,” and telling yourself, “This thing we’re doing is as noble as anything anyone in our nation’s history has done.” But perhaps grandiosity isn’t surprising in a man whose fortune is estimated to be over $40 billion.
We all justify our actions and rationalize our decisions, and no one thinks they’re the villain of their own story. We all believe we’re good people, that we have a strong moral sense, and that the world would be a better place if it were ordered in the way we’d like. If would be shocking if the Kochs thought differently about themselves.
My point isn’t that we should automatically forgive people for their outrageous claims of moral rightness, any more than we ought to excuse outlandish claims of suffering and oppression (see War on Christmas, The). But it’s useful to appreciate that when someone like Charles Koch looks in the mirror and says, “You know, I really am a lot like Martin Luther King,” he may be utterly wrong in a hundred ways, but it isn’t a surprise that he feels that way. It’s human nature.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, August 2, 2015
Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said during a television interview Sunday that the national teachers union deserves a “punch in the face.”
Christie made the over-the-top comment during CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper on Sunday after the host asked him about his longstanding advice on when to dole out a physical assault.
“During your first term as governor, you were fond of saying that you can treat bullies in one of two ways — quote — ‘You can either sidle up to them or you can punch them in the face.’ You said, ‘I like to punch them in the face.’ At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?” Tapper asked.
“The national teachers union, who’s already endorsed Hillary Clinton 16, 17 months before the election,” Christie replied without hesitation.
The American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this month, becoming the first national union to back any candidate in the 2016 primary. The other main teachers union, the National Education Association, has yet to back a candidate.
“They’re not for education for our children,” Christie complained to Tapper. “They’re for greater membership, greater benefits, greater pay for their members. And they are the single most destructive force in public education in America. I have been saying that since 2009. I have got the scars to show it. But I’m never going to stop saying it, because they never change their stripes.”
While campaigning for re-election in 2013, the New Jersey Governor scolded a local teacher after she challenged him on his claims that the state’s schools were failing. “I am tired of you people,” Christie yelled at the teacher, “What do you want?”
Reaction to Christie’s latest provocation has been swift and forceful. Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association — the local affiliate of the national NEA and New Jersey’s largest teachers union — called on Christie to “resign as governor immediately,” following the remarks.
“Chris Christie’s instinct is always to threaten, bully and intimidate instead of build consensus and show true leadership,” Steinhauer wrote in a scorching statement.
“That’s not news in New Jersey, where voters overwhelmingly reject his immature and inappropriate behavior as well as his failed policies and lack of leadership,” he wrote. “It is clear from polling that voters in the rest of the country also reject his rhetoric and his behavior.”
Christie placed ninth in the latest national polls and appears to have secured his podium on the main debate stage this Thursday but his approval rating with Garden State voters stands at only 30 percent.
In an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood published today, Christie said of his 16 other Republican primary opponents: “Some people are feeling the pressure to try to be outrageous to get on the news. If you think you’ve got the best product, you’ve got to be patient. Slow, steady progress. So I’m not going to get into the hyperbole.”
And of his own candidacy, Christie said, “How would I see myself in this race? As being the most specific, most substantive guy … so it is those communication skills, which are extraordinarily important for a president to be successful.”
Ahead of this week’s debates, Christie will be campaigning in the crucial early state of New Hampshire, but he was reminded this weekend of his troubles back in his home state as New Jersey journalist Steve Politi described the scene where Christie was not booed once, but twice: “It was one long happy celebration at Monmouth Park for the great American Pharoah’s latest victory. At least, that is, until Gov. Chris Christie stepped into the Winner’s Circle to present the trophy”:
And then, the record crowd of 60,983 booed.
By: Sophia Tesfaye, Salon, August 3, 2015
“Only Losers Out-Trump Trump”: Trump’s Supporters Have An Intuition That Something Is Deeply Wrong In Their Party
The Fox News debate this week ought to be an occasion for the Republican Party’s presidential candidates to put new and innovative ideas on display. At the center of the discussion should be Friday’s report about the historically anemic wage growth during this year’s second quarter.
Here’s guessing that the previous paragraph called forth dismissive chuckles among many shrewd readers for its naivete. We all “know” that the only important thing about Thursday’s encounter — other than which 10 candidates get to participate — is how the rest of the Republican field will deal with Donald Trump, and how The Donald will deal with them.
Many would blame this on Trump and also on the nature of journalism these days.
Well, sure. Trump has a lot to answer for. His defense Sunday on ABC News’s “This Week” of his statement that the United States “would not elect another black president for generations” because President Obama had set “a very poor standard” was astonishing in its outrageousness — even by Trump’s standard.
And the media tend to analyze debates by focusing on gaffes and on whether a given candidate “did what he (or she) had to do” in political terms. This conditions how the candidates behave.
I would further concede that the mere inclusion of Trump’s name here likely increased my online page views. The media incentives these days militate against searching discussions of the Earned Income Tax Credit or methods of prompting investors to take a long-term perspective.
But before they take the stage, the Republican candidates who get to confront Trump should ask themselves why a showman who gleefully ignores all the political rules is outshining the rest of the field.
There are many reasons to criticize the far right and what it has done to the GOP, with the complicity of its so-called establishment. But it’s both remarkably elitist and an analytical mistake to write off Trump’s backers as “crazies” while ignoring the source of their frustrations. They tend to be less well-to-do Republicans who are fed up with the political system, dislike the codes and conventions that dictate the way most politicians talk and have lost confidence that politics and government can really do very much for them.
That Trump is quite brilliant at faking authenticity (except for his thoroughly genuine belief that he’s far better than his opponents whom he loves to brand as “losers”) should not be held against his supporters. It’s not hard to see why they get a kick out of the extent to which he is getting under the skin of his many critics.
If Trump’s rivals see their task as proving themselves to be as theatrically gifted as he is, he’ll clobber them. But there’s an unconventional alternative: lifting up politics by embracing the idea that voters, especially those being hammered by the economy, aren’t dunces and would like for their government and their politicians to take concrete steps to improve their situations. This is especially important in a new economy that simply doesn’t deliver to large parts of the middle class, let alone the poor.
As it is, there is a terribly stale quality to the pronouncements even of candidates such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio who are bidding to be the “new ideas” guys. While both at least talk about the need to restore paths to upward mobility, their underlying proposals remain rooted in the thinking of the Reagan era. Unwrap their well-packaged agendas and what you have are the same old nostrums: that government can do little about what ails us and that the path to nirvana is still paved with tax cuts and business deregulation.
But as progressive economist Joseph Stiglitz noted to me in a conversation last week, it’s precisely the rules and policies of the past 35 to 40 years that have helped lead the middle class into its current economic impasse. I don’t expect many conservatives to embrace Stiglitz’s views. But it would surely be an improvement if these candidates recognized that they are running in 2015, not 1980.
Is there no Republican engaging in a real — as opposed to superficial — questioning of the party’s old assumptions? Is there not even a glimmer of acknowledgment that if stagnating wages are the problem, further tilting the system toward employers and financiers is unlikely to solve it?
Trump’s supporters have an intuition that something is deeply wrong in their party. Their explanations for its shortcomings may differ from my own, but they are correct that the party is not delivering what they have a right to expect. Most candidates will play along with the disaffection. Those who try instead to reverse the loss of faith by responding to it constructively will deserve to win the debate.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 3, 2013
Last week, Hillary Clinton got in one of her periodic fights with the press, extending a long-running battle that has been raging for decades now. In the media corner was The New York Times, which beclowned itself with a false report alleging that Clinton was about to be the subject of a criminal inquiry over emails she sent while at the State Department.
The episode is the latest evidence that the Times needs to take a hard look at its Clinton coverage. But there’s also a lesson here for the broader mainstream media, which needs to get over its blind hatred of the Clintons. It not only leads to gross failures in journalism, but ends up being a massive distraction from the actual scrutiny Hillary Clinton deserves.
It’s worth noticing what a stupendous journalistic faceplant this was. As Kevin Drum points out, pretty much every single word in the original headline was wrong:
Clinton was not a target. The referral was not criminal. The emails in question had not been classified at the time Clinton saw them. When the dust settled, it appeared that the whole thing was little more than a squabble between State and CIA over whether certain emails that State is releasing to the public should or shouldn’t be classified. In other words, just your garden-variety bureaucratic dispute. [Mother Jones]
This isn’t the first time the Times has printed a gravely mistaken story suggesting ethical lapses on the part of a Clinton running for president. Back in 1992, Times reporter Jeff Gerth wrote a story about how the Clintons were involved in a seemingly shady real estate deal called Whitewater. It suggested that the Clintons had gotten a big share of potential profits without putting up much cash, and that Bill Clinton had used his power as Arkansas governor to protect a savings and loan owned by a Whitewater associate from being closed down by the feds.
Just as with the most recent story, about every part of Gerth’s account was wrong or misleading, as Joe Conason and Gene Lyons wrote in their book on the Clinton impeachment, The Hunting of the President. The Clintons actually lost a ton of money on the deal, and the Arkansas government had recommended to the feds that the S&L be liquidated.
But that was only the start of hundreds of Whitewater articles and reports. The political press ditched any notion of objectivity and pursued the Clintons with a deranged, prudish zealotry. These journalists never actually revealed any concrete wrongdoing, but the incessant repetition convinced many that the Clintons must have done something wrong — which eventually led to the appointment of a special prosecutor. The rest is history.
Not much has changed. Much of the centrist press still quite obviously loathes the Clintons. Ron Fournier, the id of centrism, knocks her PR strategy (that is, writing a devastating, accurate takedown of the Times report), insists where there’s smoke there’s fire, and generally makes dim excuses to keep hounding her.
On the other hand, the Times’ atrocious report was caught out almost immediately. Unlike the 90s, there is a reasonably powerful left-leaning press today, and fact-checking can spread rapidly through social media. It is much harder to get away with that kind of lazy hack job on a prominent candidate.
It’s hard to figure out how the Times could have been so incredibly sloppy. But I suspect the traditional media suspicion of the Clintons played a big role. The Clintons’ reputation is so bad that reporters tend to discard their vaunted skepticism the moment a bad piece of news about them comes over the transom.
And that, as we see, leads to disastrous mistakes. A story that confirms a strong prior belief is exactly the point at which journalists ought to be at their most skeptical.
And perhaps more importantly, this annoying, narcissistic media spectacle is proving to be an enormous distraction from the important task of actually reporting on Hillary Clinton. There are all manner of things to cover, from her poor choice in advisers, to her foreign policy views, and yes, even the deleted emails from her years at the State Department. Just make sure to actually, you know, check the facts before hitting publish.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, August 3, 2015
“Another Shutdown Psychodrama”: Why The GOP’s Threat To Shut Down The Government Over Planned Parenthood Will Fail
So here we are again: Republicans want to make a policy change, but since doing so will be difficult through the ordinary legislative process, they are threatening to shut down the government to get what they want.
This time it’s about Planned Parenthood, long a target of conservative loathing. Galvanized by selectively edited videos made by conservative activists trying to make it seem as though the organization is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, Republicans in Congress are now trying (as they have before) to “defund” Planned Parenthood. The White House says it will veto any budget bill that does that.
In response, at least some conservatives have reverted to a time-worn tactic: Shutdown! Ted Cruz says if that is what it takes to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, so be it. Some of his allies in the House seem to agree. Conservative pundit Erick Erickson demands, “If Republicans are not willing to make this their hill to die on…the Republican Party needs to be shut down.”
For the record, most of the money Planned Parenthood receives from the federal government comes from reimbursement for health care services through Medicaid. Precisely zero goes to abortion services; by law, no federal funds can go to abortions. So when Republicans say they want to “defund” Planned Parenthood, what they’re talking about is taking away medical services — breast cancer screenings and the like — from poor women.
I’m not going to go too deeply into the videos, other than to say that nothing in them shows that the organization did anything illegal. The worst anyone has been able to say is that the “tone” used by Planned Parenthood officials was callous. You can object to fetal tissue research if you like, even though it’s done with the consent of patients and can yield valuable medical insights, but there’s no evidence that Planned Parenthood isn’t complying with the laws that cover how that tissue can be used.
Until Barack Obama became president, most government shutdowns happened for one reason: because Congress and the president couldn’t agree on a budget. Sometimes the issues were broad, like cuts to domestic spending, and sometimes they were more specific. But they were usually connected in some rational way to the perceived necessity for a shutdown, in that there was disagreement on how to spend the money that will keep the government operating.
But Republicans in the Obama era have been nothing if not creative thinkers when it comes to policy procedures and norms. And in this area, their innovation was to say, “We have a policy disagreement with the other side, but we can’t get our way through the normal channels. So how about if we shut down the government until we get what we want?”
There’s one important fact about this threat that you’d think Republicans would have learned by now: It always fails. The public doesn’t rally around the shutdowners’ cause, because it violates a basic sense of how policy-making ought to operate. Congress can bicker and fight, but the way it makes decisions is that legislators vote on things, and the side with more votes wins (except for proposals that are filibustered, but that’s a different story), subject to the presidential veto. If you lose through that process, you’ve lost, period. Even if you were right on the merits, the system’s rules are longstanding and familiar enough that they seem fair, since everyone understands the rules and agrees to live under them.
But relying on a shutdown is like a baseball team that’s trailing at the start of the ninth inning, so they hide all the balls and say they won’t return them until they’re declared the victor. It just doesn’t seem right.
And it isn’t just that Republicans can’t get enough public support for the shutdowns — more importantly, they don’t actually get what they want. In 2013, they shut down the government in an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, you may have noticed, is still around. In 2014, they nearly shut down the government in an attempt to stop Obama’s executive actions on immigration. That failed there, too (though some of those actions have been held up in the courts).
It should be noted that the congressional GOP leadership is smart enough to say they’re not interested in another shutdown psychodrama. But if they’re in a tough spot, besieged by their more conservative members — not to mention outside groups and pundits — there’s no denying the part they’ve played in making this a regular demand of conservatives. It was the congressional leaders who devised the strategy of opposing Barack Obama on everything and filibustering every bill of any consequence. They’ve happily gone along with the hysteria on the right that says that Obama isn’t just a president they disagree with, but an enemy of America who seeks to destroy everything we hold dear. They’ve encouraged the belief that compromise is always, and by definition, an act of betrayal.
Given all that, is it any surprise that whenever a new issue comes up, at least some on the right think it’s a hill worth dying on? Shutting down the government might be doomed to fail, but I suppose it feels like fighting.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 3, 2015