I was going to write about the Glenn Beck White People’s March on Washington, but then I read Jane Mayer’s path-breaking article in the Aug. 30 New Yorker about the billionaire Koch brothers (David and Charles) and their financial backing of the anti-Obama movement. Why should I be paying so much attention to the paid clowns and crazies when it’s the quiet, hidden monied folks who are pulling the strings and will reap the real benefits of a Republican takeover of Congress in November?
Make no mistake about it: This election isn’t about whether Obama is a Muslim or a socialist, whether the proposed mosque/recreation center in New York City is a terrorist haunt, whether the health-care bill has death panels or whether Democrats want to impose Sharia law on America (give me a break). It’s about whether corporate power will meet its match in an effective government in Washington. This election has more to do with salmonella-laced eggs, mine disasters and global warming than it does with Sarah Palin’s inane Tweets or the loony Tea Party candidates who are winning Republican nominations for House and Senate.
I have decided to spend less time thinking about Beck, Palin, Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and the fact that, according to a Newsweek poll, more than half of Republicans think that Obama might be trying to impose Islamic law on America. My brain can only handle so much mishegoss. I am going to spend some quality time instead thinking about how important it is that the government regulate the production of eggs, the safety of mines and the development of offshore oil, and that the wealthiest Americans pay the share of taxes they did before George W. Bush gave them the keys to the vault.
Refusing to be diverted by the dark comedy of political insanity, we face the well-funded and sadly sane political operations of the Koch brothers. As possessors of the third-largest fortune in America, they helped create and bankroll the Tea Party movement, the “science” of global-warming denial and the think tanks that dredge up phony research to attack every policy of the Obama administration, especially those that directly affect their bottom line. One of their companies has even contributed money to a ballot measure to suspend California’s Global Warming Law.
The Koch plan has been quite successful. In association with Fox News and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, they have helped turn the Republican party into a well-disciplined tool to advocate for corporate freedom from government control. The crazies within the party are now not all that different from the “sane” because any Republican in Congress who strays from the party line may face a primary defeat. They all miraculously agree that the wealthiest Americans must keep their tax cuts and that the federal government should stop interfering with the wise decisions made by American corporations.
The Tea Partyers, not the sharpest tools in the shed, march to demand that they not be forced to receive quality health care at reasonable prices, and that the Internet should not remain free and accessible to all, including them. Getting them to blame their own frustrations on brown people, black people and Muslims is no big stretch and keeps them occupied and angry.
It’s no wonder that the corporate bigwigs feel entitled this year. After all, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Citizens United case that corporations should be allowed to spend unlimited funds from their treasuries to support or oppose candidates, as long as the expenditures are “independent” of the campaigns.
Corporations will be at their most powerful in late hits on Democrats in close races around the country. There will be no time to decode who is behind their attacks, and there will be unlimited funds to make their allegations — true or not — stick. Republicans in Congress currently are blocking a bill to require corporations to at least reveal what they are doing.
Before we give up in the face of this corporate dominance, though, let’s consider that arrogance is usually the downfall of even the most powerful entities. The more certain these corporate forces are that they are going to win in November, the bolder they will become and the more mistakes they will likely make. Corporate entities thrive in darkness and shrivel up in sunshine. They hide their money behind organizations with benign names because, when exposed to the light, the impact of their support evaporates. The Koch brothers’ vehicle? The Americans for Prosperity Foundation — who wouldn’t want that?
While Americans are at least ambivalent toward rich individuals, we don’t much cotton to rich corporations. I remember being at Albertson’s one year, when a petition gatherer asked me whether I opposed smoking in restaurants, and, if so, would I sign this lovely petition? I asked who was behind it, and he finally admitted, “Phillip Morris.” Not only did I not sign, but the line of potential signers behind me drifted away, muttering.
In the 2010 California primaries, two ballot measures with no organized opposition went down to defeat when it became known that a few self-interested corporations were behind them. The same fate may befall Proposition 23 when people figure out which out-of-state polluting corporations are trying to suspend California’s global warming law. The Sacramento Bee reported on Sept. 3 that a Koch brothers company joined the other coporate titans behind Proposition 23 with a $1 million contribution. What will happen in New York City when liberal fans of the ballet discover from Mayer’s investigation that while David Koch gives oodles of money to American Ballet Theatre, Koch Industries is fighting to keep the formaldehyde it produces from being classified by the government as a carcinogen?
What if Democrats, sulking in their tents because Obama is not perfect, were to wake up and see what’s really at stake in November? Might that close the enthusiasm gap between the parties? Could cringing, intimidated Democrats rise up from their corner, down in the polls, and fight their way back into the debate by taking on the heads of the opposition, the corporate chieftains at the gates? Forget about Sharia law and death panels. It’s all about the eggs.
Raphael J. Sonenshein is chair of the Division of Politics, Administration, and Justice at California State University, Fullerton.