Target Rich Environment: The Kochtopus comes to Maine
There's a huge and growing bibliography of Intellectual History concerned with the origins and evolution of the ideas of major intellectuals. There is very little work on how these ideas reach the minds of statesmen and other major actors. Still less on how they flow down to the popularizers, journalists and, eventually, the broader public.
Venturing into this neglected area I propose an examination of how the Koch brothers have suddenly, after decades of fostering libertarian ideas, emerged from the shadows to become the Professors Moriarty of a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (VRWC). Students of Sherlock Holmes’s investigations will recognize Prof. Moriarty as a “Napoleon of Crime.” Now the liberal public is learning that Charles and David Koch are the Napoleons of union-busting, the Tea Party insurrections and other villainous corporate reactionary plots and schemes.
Near as I can make out the Kochtopus nightmare originates among the superannuated juvenile delinquent windbags dwelling in the MoveOn.com and Think Progress fever swamps. From there it appears to infect such journals of enlightenment as the New Yorker and New York Times, then filters down to the level of provincial journals, excitable bloggers, and garden variety liberal yodelers. Finally it disseminates in fragmentary form among the politically active, intellectually inert, liberal public.
Conspiracy connoisseurs will see this process as evidence of systematic orchestration by the Illuminati, the Bilderbrrrrgers, the Elders of Zion, the Rosicrucians, the Masons or whatever other diabolical central control system haunts their nightmares. Having been embedded in the Liberal Herd for over forty years as an undergraduate, graduate student and professor I see this as nothing more than herd instinct at work.
In Maine awareness of the sinister Kochtopus has reached the penultimate stage of diffusion. Bill Nemitz of the PPH has just written a column alerting his readers to this ugly menace here in Maine. In this public service Bill honors the Sixth Commandment of Ambrose Bierce’s cynical Decalogue:
“Bear not false witness—that is low
But ‘hear ‘tis rumored so and so”
Bill tells us that “whispers abound that the deepest pockets behind the Maine Heritage Policy Center belong to billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, whose private foundations support such libertarian causes as the State Policy Network – to which the MHPC belongs.”
You see, the MHPC influences the LePage administration and Koch money influences the MHPC. When Bill tells us that Tarren Bragdon, the Center’s high chieftain, earned $136,208 in 2009 I suspect we are meant to infer that he has been bought by Koch cash.
“Whispers” are mere wisps of air and Bill recognizes the need to give them a little weight, so he asks Tarren “who's supporting the Maine Heritage Policy Center to the tune of $1 million a year?” When the young fellow refuses to disclose the names of his organization’s 1,500 donors our investigator has his Eureka! moment—the absence of evidence is proof enough for him. Why would the Think-Tank Titan refuse to reveal the donors’ names unless he is trying to cover up the influence of the Kochtopus? Q.E.D.
Actually an alternative explanation is contained in the “Donor Bill of Rights” written by the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel (AAFRC), the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education“ and adopted by the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Article 6 of the Bill reads that donors are “To be assured that information about their donation is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.” What does Nemitz think “confidentiality” means? Not relevant, he’s writing about the Kochtopus not the NRCM. He’s on the trail and will not be diverted.
Over at the Morning Sentinel we have a Kochtopus revelation from weekly columnist Gordon L. Weil. I quote “Walker is taking his cues from a couple of billionaires who avowedly oppose progressive legislation adopted as long ago as the 1930s. We know this thanks to what turned out to be a prank phone call that Walker thought that came from one of his backers.” Never mind that the prank call revealed the governor had never actually met his cue-masters.
Do the math. Walker’s campaign cost $11,000,000, of which it received $45,000 in Koch cash, .004 percent of the total. The MHPC has a budget is $1,000,000 of which it received $10,000 in Frary cash, or .01 percent. The Koch boys get to control a state with 5,600,000 people for their .004 percent and I don’t get to “cue” the think tank that cues the governor of a state with 1,300,000 people for my .01 percent. How is this fair?
But never mind my grievance. Pay attention to the “union-busting” narrative introduced by Weil and mentioned by Nemitz with his allusion to the Right-to-Work legislation being considered by Gov. LePage. Chris Quint, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, develops the theme by alerting us to the anti-union legislation which is a “nationally coordinated effort by wealthy corporations like Koch Industries, which has reportedly funded a network of free-market think tanks to advance policies to roll back environmental laws, break unions and create tax breaks for corporations. Quint is “concerned” that such “outside actors” influenced LePage’s budget via the Maine Heritage Policy Center.
Returning to my initial observation, I foresee the Kochtopus narrative becoming an impregnable factoid among rank-and-file union members and liberal true believers. It is destined to be adopted with such conviction that challenging it will be regarded as either hypocritical or naive. Never mind that there is no “chain of evidence” but only a chain of innuendo and speculation.
I do not claim to know that the Charles and David Koch have no money in the Maine game, but I note that the Koch Industries website names some of the “ideological” organizations the brothers support. These include the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions; Bowling Green, Kentucky, Foundation for Economic Education; Atlanta, Georgia, Illinois Policy Institute; Chicago, Illinois, Jack Miller Center; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the John W. Pope Civitas Institute; Raleigh, North Carolina, John William Pope Foundation; Raleigh, North Carolina, Pacific Research Institute; San Francisco, California, South Carolina Policy Council; Columbia, South Carolina, Texas Public Policy Foundation; Austin, Texas and Youth Entrepreneurs of Kansas; Wichita, Kansas.
If the MHPC is among their beneficiaries it’s not immediately obvious why they have not been included in the list of Koch beneficiaries. Still, as Bill Nemitz demonstrates, the absence of evidence is pretty incriminating.