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“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

August 4, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Koch Brothers, Women's Suffrage Movement | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Police In Ferguson Keep Praying And Preying”: The Pandering Religiosity Of Law Enforcement Officials

The Greater St. Mark Church was raided today as St. Louis County Police thought that protesters were spending the night in the church, which has been used as a staging area for protestors. Police have since closed the building and stated that if anyone congregates on the premises at night, there would be arrests. One member of the Dream Defenders said “what [the police] did today is tell us, what? There is no safety here.”

The Pastor of the church, Missouri Representative Tommie Pierson (D), said of the police “they don’t like us too much.”

Earlier the same day, Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson asked the police department chaplain to pray before giving the late night report. One line was particularly stunning: “Again we come here having used all the energy and all the resources that you have given to our residents, their families, and our peacekeeping force, to bring peace—your peace.”

While the killing of Michael Brown was egregious enough, the manner in which the Ferguson police force and Captain Ron Johnson have used prayer to sanction their police actions and violence towards citizen protestors is detestable.

America has a history of those in authority invoking Christianity to justify slavery, lynching, and bombings. During the conflict in Ferguson, the local and state police who recite nightly prayers before going out to intimidate and arrest protestors follow this historical trajectory.

Perhaps the most galling figure is Captain Johnson, appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to oversee the Ferguson Police and the National Guard. Johnson appeared at a local church to apologize to Michael Brown’s parents, garnering much praise from the crowd for his respectability and Christian piety. Yet while Johnson placates the public with appeals to Christianity he simultaneously sanctions violence at the hands of the state. Perhaps the public will forget, with his constant calls to prayer, that he’s in charge of a force that has used tear gas on, cursed at and abused protestors.

In contrast, clergy in Ferguson and from around the country have come to show their solidarity and to help the citizens of Ferguson in their quest for justice. Early on, the Rev. Renita Lamkin was shot with a rubber bullet while trying to place herself between protesters and the police.

Other local clergy have met with the governor and state officials, while pastors from all over have been coming to aid in the efforts, including a group from Philadelphia that includes the pastor of Historic Mother Bethel AME church, Mark Tyler, and Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan, Pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church. The presence of clergy members is a helpful counterbalance to local and state law enforcement presenting themselves as both religious and civic authority.

The whole situation has me thinking a lot about Frederick Douglass’ Slaveholding Religion and the Christianity of Christ. His words still ring true with regard to the empty prayers of the police in Ferguson “They attend with pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.”

If there’s to be any justice for the shooting of Michael Brown, the pandering religiosity of the law enforcement officials will have to cease. What the community of Ferguson, the parents of Michael Brown, and the whole country need right now is an honest assessment of the facts, for Darren Wilson to be held accountable for his actions, and for there to be clear, truthful communication between law enforcement and the people they serve, without violence.

 

By: Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches, August 20, 2014

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Religion | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Hapless And The Helpless”: Groundswell’s White Racial Panic

I was reading through David Corn’s great piece on ‘Groundswell’ which is, depending on your point of view, a working group of conservative activists and journalists working together to coordinate storylines and plan the war against RINOs and progressives or a hapless group of doofuses planning regular meetings to vent about being crapped on by more prominent Republicans. My sense is that it’s sort of a hybrid of the two.

But there’s one section that connects up with my piece yesterday about the specter of white racial panic hovering over the Republican party and how completely unprepared conservative strategists seem to be to deal with it.

Check out this passage …

Notes from a February 28 Groundswell gathering reflected both their collective sense of pessimism and desire for aggressive tactics: “We are failing the propaganda battle with minorities. Terms like, ‘GOP,’ ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Conservative’ communicate ‘racism.'” The Groundswellers proposed an alternative: “Fredrick Douglas Republican,” a phrase, the memo noted, that “changes minds.” (His name is actually spelled “Frederick Douglass.”) The meeting notes also stated that an “active radical left is dedicated to destroy [sic] those who oppose them” with “vicious and unprecedented tactics. We are in a real war; most conservatives are not prepared to fight.”

So basically perhaps the top three phrases associated with the right or the GOP or conservatism signal ‘racism’. In fact, those words themselves communicate racism. According to conservatives themselves. At least give them credit for recognizing the scope of the problem.

But note the solution: rebrand the Tea Party as ‘Frederick Douglass Republicans’. I’m not even going to get into the misspelling. But think about this, a lily-white group, driven to a significant degree by fears about the growing population of non-white voters and the cultural and political changes that’s likely to bring (okay, look, I’m being generous) and naming them the ‘Frederick Douglass Republicans’. That should work splendidly.

I can’t help but note that a couple weeks after this late February meeting was when we saw that epic racial tolerance event at CPAC when the event leader called on conservatives to call themselves “Frederick Douglass Republicans.” The whole event descended into chaos as a group “disenfranchised whites” rose up in opposition to the premise of the gathering and sidetracked the conversation into whether blacks should thank America for their ancestors’ enslavement.

I’m not saying they got the name from the ‘Groundswell’. I think it’s more just an idea – if a fabulously silly one – circulating in conservative circles. But it does give some bracing evidence of the folly of trying to rebrand a lilly-white movement (The Tea Party) which heavily overlaps with the white racial panic faction in American politics after the preeminent civil rights leader of the 19th century.

More to the point it shows just how bereft these folks are in terms of even remotely coming to grips with the changing demographic character of America.

By: Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, July 26, 2013

July 31, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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