Kochs and Popes

  • Kochs and Pope

What would you think about a history book on Lincoln’s presidency that neglected to mention the civil war? Or what about a book on Lyndon Johnson’s White House years without mention of the Vietnam War? Which leads me to a question regarding recent Wisconsin history: what would you think about a book on Scott Walker’s gubernatorial reign containing no mention of the Koch Brothers and Art Pope?

Things such as Walker’s assault on public education and public educators, the shameful redistricting of state and national legislative districts, the environmentally treacherous mining law changes–these are not simply home-hatched, indigenous events, mind you. Out-of-state right wing millionaires and right wing billionaires have a master plan cleverly designed to take total control of states, one by one, and to recognize that fact does not, by any means, indicate that one is paranoiac. It’s a fact of political life.

By now there are sufficient exposes documenting the strategies devised by the Kochs and Pope, a recent one coming from the editorial board of the New York Times (January 24, 2014). The board notes key elements in the Koch’s strategy: half-truths, distortions and outright lies–anything to defeat politicians they go after. And overwhelming ads, financed, of course, by a multitude of front organizations from far away places, paid by the almost limitless funds generated by the “Billionaire Brothers” and their many well heeled compatriots.

But let us not forget the less well known side kick of the Kochs, Art Pope, the “Millionaire Merchant” of North Carolina. Pope’s strategies and tactics have been exposed in the media numerous times, but so far with little success. Journalist Jane Mayer, in a New Yorker piece (State for Sale, October 10th, 2011), thoroughly exposed the man and his sinister mission; more recently, in a Washington Post article (The third Koch “brother” hits North Carolina, June 11, 2013), columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel highlights what Pope has done to gain total political control of both houses and the governorship of North Carolina, thereby turning a reasonably progressive state into not just a conservative one, but into a frighteningly regressive one.

One cannot fault Pope for not doing his homework. He has thoroughly studied the political system, carefully noting any vulnerabilities which he can exploit in order to promulgate his goal of making states, one by one, and thus ultimately the nation, ultra-conservative one-party entities.

One key tactic, which recently succeeded in Wisconsin, is to use primary elections, or the threat of them, to go after any GOP legislators who manifest any moderate tendencies whatsoever. The tactic is not that complicated. First step is to find a reactionary candidate to mount a challenge. Second, as with general elections, using mainly outside money, grab control of television advertising. With almost unlimited resources, out spend the opposition with total disregard for the truth. Thirdly, generate and mail expensive hate literature sponsored by any one of a host of bogus organizations, always including “American” and “Citizens for . . .” in their name, with supposedly at least some state identification as to sponsorship, even though most, if not all, the money is arriving from outside ( I have saved a host of these from the Walker recall election, one more dishonest than the previous).

What this all means, I do believe, is that if Democrats have any chance, whatsoever, of returning to power in the Badger State, a new tactic is needed. They can’t just keep coming back with ads against each particular candidate. They must go after the “three Koch Brothers,” namely, the two original ones plus Art Pope. Look, at heart there is one big difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals look at the masses, particularly the lower class and the underclass, as people who need help; conservatives view them as dupes to be manipulated for the “haves” to either gain, or to stay, in power. Many viewed as “dupes” by the “haves” need to be alerted to how they are being manipulated and exploited. Face it, as much as most Americans don’t seem to like to think and speak in terms of “class” and “class warfare,” that is what the situation is and to bring this message to “the people,” as I view it, we have to use ads to go against their game plan, not just their candidates, thereby exposing their sinister plans to totally take over this state. Especially given redistricting, the old “candidate vs. candidate” ads just ain’t going to do it. Dems must instill into the population just how citizens are being exploited in such a cynical manner. The truthful message must be hammered in and hammered in and hammered in again, just like the reactionaries hammer in their lies.

In her Washington Post piece, Katrina Vanden Heuvel said, “With money to burn, Pope and his cronies are on their way to turning state after state into regressive backwaters while using their bucks to drown out the voices of anyone who disagrees with them.” Who can deny the fact that Pope has met success not only in his home state of North Carolina, but here in a former Progressive State, turning it, sadly, into a most Regressive State, and doing so in such a short time. She concluded that column by saying, “If states are, as Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, the laboratories of democracy, then Art Pope is a mad scientist turning North Carolina into his own personal monster. It’s time for everybody who cares about preserving America’s democratic ideals to pay attention.”

I think it time for moderates and liberals in Wisconsin to sit down and map out a better strategy than we’ve had recently for challenging the mad scientist and his billionaire cronies. That they have succeeded so quickly in two heretofore progressive states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin is nothing but frightening.