In the last episode, the wise men introduced Zach to a small collection of fabulously wealthy families (a/k/a the vast right wing conspiracy) that for 30 years have been funding extreme right wing scholarship and political advocacy. Most of the discussion, so far, has centered on the so-called Arkansas Project, Richard Mellon Scaife’s personal multi-million dollar get Clinton obsession. But there’s much more to the story.
* * *
The Last Chance Democracy Café:
Little Green Pieces Of Paper
by Steven C. Day
Are you happy now, Winston?” I asked in a deliberately condescending voice as Molly dropped off the drinks.
“Of course,” he replied curtly. “I’m the easiest man in the world to please. You’ll never hear me complain.”
I had to give him credit. He’d actually managed to say something almost as audacious as the Bush administration’s justifications for going to war in Iraq. I wouldn’t have thought that possible.
Tom brought us back on subject: “As despicable as the Arkansas Project was, it was really just a sideshow for the right wing’s Funding Fathers,” he said. “The real action has been in the intellectual wars.”
Tom looked at Zach, waiting for him to show some sign of agreement.
Zack looked at Tom, waiting for him to say something as to which he’d have some clue as to what he was talking about.
Finally, Zack broke the stalemate. “I’m not following you,” he confessed.
Horace gave Tom a quick “be nice now” look, but he needn’t have bothered. Tom was purring as happily as a kitten locked in a tuna fish vault.
“Let me give you a little background,” he told Zach. “To begin with, you have to give the devils their due here. The Olins, Scaifes, Kochs and the rest . . .”
Winston made a cross with his forefingers.
” . . . didn’t just spend a bundle of money on right wing causes over the last 30 years — they spent a bundle of money on right wing causes in a smart way. They did something few people in either politics or business bother with these days: They invested in the future.”
Bushspeak: “The Buck Stops . . . Um, Well . . . Over There.”
Tom went on to explain how this small cadre of conservative money men (and women) joined forces to build a massive right wing intellectual infrastructure from the ground up. Their money, for example, founded, and continues to support, such influential conservative think tanks and advocacy groups as the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. These organizations use the money, in large part, to provide comfortable homes for conservative scholars, commentators, former officer holders and general blowhards who, in turn, churn out a steady stream of right wing articles, oped pieces, policy papers, television appearances and related propaganda.
“Turn on cable television any hour of the day or night,” said Horace, “and you’re bound to find one of these professional yakkers blabbing away about something.”
“Like Bill Bennett pontificating on the inherent immorality of liberalism . . . ” said Tom.
“Right before he grabs a plane to Atlantic City to play the $500 slots,” added Winston.
Bushspeak: “So Much To Invade, So Little Time.”
Horace leaned forward to pick up his beer. “Right wing payola is also making a big splash on campus,” he said. “In fact, let me take a wild guess . . . Zach, by any chance is there an independent conservative student newspaper on your campus?”
“Yeah . . . I think it’s called The Campus Watchdog.”
“How Orwellian,” mused Winston.
“Oh, I remember the Watchdog,” said Tom. “They mentioned me once in an article entitled, ‘The Ten Most Dangerous Liberal Extremist Professors on Campus.’ They ranked me third, as I recall.”
“I bet you were mad,” said Zach.
“Hell yes, I was mad. I should have been number one. I was a lot more dangerous than the two wusses they put ahead of me.”
Horace laughed, but stayed on point, asking Zach, “What about an independent liberal newspaper? Is there one of those on campus?”
Zach had never seen one.
“Why that difference do you suppose? Why do they have one and we don’t?”
” . . . Well, judging by what you’ve said so far, I’m guessing that it has something to do with large quantities of little green pieces of paper.”
Bushspeak: “If You Wanted Your Vote Counted, You Should Have Voted For Me.”
Zach was right on target, of course. Conservative foundations dole out a bundle every year to underwrite independent college newspapers and other conservative student activities. They’re especially smitten with prestigious Ivy League type schools. The idea, of course, is to use these universities as a kind of farm league for tomorrow’s right wing stars. Liberals, as you might expect, have nothing comparable to offer. And no surprise here: Opinion polls show that the number of college students who describe themselves as conservatives has been growing in recent years. Now, a big part of the reason for that is almost certainly the shameful increase in the cost of college tuition and fees we’ve seen in recent years. As a college education more and more becomes a privilege only the well off can afford to provide their children, student bodies will naturally tend to become more conservative, reflecting the biases of their parents. Still, it would be naive to doubt that all of this right wing money isn’t also playing a role.
But, as Horace hastened to add, direct support for conservative student activities is just a drop in the bucket of the right’s total spending at universities. Much more goes to pay for things like endowed faculty chairs, lecture circuits and the creation of new university-based programs that more broadly advance conservative causes. And there is no better example than the so-called law and economics movement.
Bushspeak: “Let Them Eat Tax Cuts.”
Law and economics, for those of you spared the dreary tale before now, is a far right legal philosophy based on the belief that the law’s primary role should be to support the free market. The basic idea is that laws that interfere with the free flow of commerce, you know, by protecting the environment, consumers and workers — those sorts of silly things — should largely be eliminated. Instead, the law should follow an idealized model of the free market, seeking “efficient” legal results, meaning that the economic benefits outweigh the economic costs. Public interests that lack clear economic value, such as saving endangered species, are afforded little if any weight under this model.
Bushspeak: “Greed Is Good, Really . . .”
“It’s the ultimate conservative panacea,” Tom waived his hand grandly. “Corporate America, standing supreme and unchallenged, with the courts bowing, ever so humbly, and begging: ‘Pray tell, master, how may we serve you?’”
“Don’t laugh too hard,” muttered Winston. “You’d be amazed by how many of the people Bush has been appointing to the federal bench believe just that. Give him another four-years worth of appointments and law and economics will likely become the undisputed law of the land.”
Bushspeak: Heroes Are Spun, Not Born.
“And in the meanwhile,” said Horace, “conservative foundations have been helping to finance all-expense-paid junkets for sitting judges to attend law and economics conferences. You know, trips where the judges get to play golf for free at some resort . . .”
“The only catch,” Winston broke in, “is that they have to listen to lectures by pro-corporate speakers, telling them why they should decide cases in pro-corporate ways.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” said Zach.
“Damn straight it isn’t right.”
And it gets worse. A lot of the time, the people helping to pay for these junkets have big lawsuits pending against them before some of the very same judges. Take those swell guys from Wichita, Charles and David Koch. A few years back, their family foundations helped to pay for a series of Law and Economics seminars that were attended by a large percentage of the nation’s federal judges. It just so happened that at the very same time Koch Industries faced a huge federal lawsuit for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.
Bushspeak: “Rules Are For Little People.”
“Now, in fairness . . .” began Tom.
“For the love of Pete,” shouted Winston. “There you go again with this fairness shit. Were you guys born with the word patsy stamped on your forehead? Read my lips: We will never beat these bastards until we stop . . .”
“Whoa, there Winston . . . “
“Whoa . . . ?” responded Winston with mock indignation. “What, you think you’re driving a team of horses?”
Tom laughed. “Well, you’re at least as bull headed as any horse I’ve ever come across. Look, all I’m trying to say is that to be fair to the judges . . .”
“Fair to the freakin’ judges? Good God, man, they’re taking free vacations from people who are trying to influence their decisions . . . You want me to be fair to them? Fine. I’ll fairly well kick their freakin’ butts right off the damn golf course. How’s that for fair?”
Everyone at the table was laughing, except for Tom, who was still struggling to make his point.
“All I’m trying to say,” he fought on bravely,” is that many of the judges who go on these junkets don’t even know whose money is in the kitty.”
Bushspeak: “I’ve Never Met An Oil Company I Didn’t Like.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that much. It’s no excuse, because they ought to demand to know who’s paying their way, but I agree that it isn’t like somebody named Koch or Olin generally gives the talks. No, the distinguished presenters are more likely to be scholarly types from prestigious universities and think tanks — all very reputable, all very impressive. Somehow no one ever gets around to mentioning just who’s paying the freight.”
Bob, who had finally run out of people to insult, was getting ready to leave the café. As he walked huffily past our table on his way to the door, I noticed that someone had taped a sign on his back that read, “Kick me, I’m a right wing jerk.”
And they say that no liberal could ever compete at Rush Limbaugh’s level.
Notice the element of “cross-selling” that’s present in these law and economics junkets. First, rich conservatives invest in academia to build a pool of prestigious intellectual talent. Then they use those intellectuals, not just in the battle to control the Academy itself, but also to help sell right wing causes to important non-academic policy makers, in this instance judges. It’s all about networking. And these guys are maestros at it.
Bushspeak: “The Public’s Business Is None Of The Public’s Business.”
“Here’s another way it works,” said Tom. “One of the big boys . . . Olin, let’s say, funds a faculty seat at the University of Chicago, or some other big name school, to teach and advocate free market economics. Other conservative foundations then provide funding for that professor to conduct a study on a politically important economic issue. Then that professor . . .”
“. . . That professor,” Horace broke in, “publishes articles, helpful to the conservative agenda, based upon the study. Within days, sometimes hours, these articles and studies are picked up by conservative think tanks, also financed by the Olin, Scaife and the rest, and, where appropriate, touted in conservative media outlets like the Washington Times, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.”
“From there, it’s just a matter of time,” said Tom, “before the study is reported in the major media under the spin of being some sort of a major discovery. And, thus — since there is no comparably funded liberal alternative — bit by bit, conservative viewpoints come to dominate public debate. Now, there have been a few positive developments lately . . . for example, the Center For American Progress, a new left leaning foundation, is doing some terrific work. But at least for now, groups like that represent a barely audible whisper fighting to be heard over the sound of a herd of rampaging elephants.”
Bushspeak: “Take Two Tax Cuts And Call Me In The Morning.”
Horace nodded in agreement. “And the million dollar question comes down to this: Does the progressive community have what it takes to grow that barely audible whisper into a loud roar?”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to differ with you there, my friend,” said Winston. “The real million dollar question is whether we can do it in time.”
* * *
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at .
© Copyright Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001
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