The Right Wing

Koch-Supporting Texas Billionaires Explain What Richest Americans Are After

They complain and complain, but can't recognize themselves in the mirror.

This is rich. Some of the wealthiest Texans who attended the Koch brothers’ political donor conference last month—where participants set a goal of raising $889 million for the 2016 elections—are saying that all the Kochs really want is to end “special interests” influence in Washington. 

“We attended that meeting — and we have an answer,” wrote Doug and Holly Deason of Dallas, in a Dallas Morning News column co-signed by eight other wealthy Texans. “We want Washington to do what it hasn’t done for years: work for, not against, the American people.”

Um, nice try. But if you are as wealthy and powerful as some of these Koch attendees, you are not exactly representative of the American people, whose median income was $51,939 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census.

In the Dallas News column, the Koch network donors describe their shared agenda. The commentary is a good faith effort by its authors to say what some of the wealthiest right-wing Americans want, even as it reveals a blindness to their own power and privilege. As commenter Texas_Vinyl astutely pointed out, some co-signers who say they want more freedom, as well as "an impartial, accountable, efficient and limited govermment," are among the wealthiest Americans ever.

Such as, “Elaine Marshall, who holds 15 percent of Koch industries and has a net worth of $8,800,000,000. This also was co-signed by business magnate Tom Hicks who recently discounted the selling price of his home to $60,000,000… I do not think I am out of line, nor is anyone, to question the motive or message when so much money and effort lays under the surface,” he wrote.  

But back to the Koch confessional. “What we want: an impartial, accountable, efficient and limited government,” they say. “Texas shows that this is possible — but Washington looks nothing like what we’ve described.”

Ah, Texas, the state with the runaway death penalty. The state where nearly 1 million poor people are deniedaccess to healthcare because Republicans won’t expand Medicaid enrollment under Obamacare. The state that is trying to end access to abortion outside its cities. Yup, the oasis of American freedom and impartial, limited and restrained government.   

But I digress. The libertarian letter writers say they want an “impartial” government: “Special interests have never been more powerful in Washington. Both Democrats and Republicans hand out corporate welfare like it’s candy, spending billions of taxpayer dollars every year to prop up well-connected businesses and individuals. Meanwhile, politicians make millions of dollars through questionable deals and insider knowledge. We oppose everything that props up this self-serving system, including subsidies, favorable regulations, pork and special favors.”

Perhaps that was a typo; they meant to write a "partial" government. Surely, it could never be the case that energy industry billionaires ever got a special favor from drilling on public lands, or market subsidies via government-built roads and railways, to say nothing of easements or other favors for constructing pipelines across the continent. Nope, they oppose all special treatment, and that’s why they are so pleased about the White House not approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Koch correspondents also insist that government must be accountable, which they curiously define as being able to spend bottomless barrels of cash to present their political message. They don't acknowledge that most Koch network donors can hide their identity behind the fake non-profits Koch political consultants set up, nor that they are talking about monopolizing the microphone and drowning out debate.

“The federal government increasingly stifles the free speech of its opponents,” they write. “Both parties have attempted to limit Americans’ ability to speak their minds about elections and politicians. Last year, 54 U.S. senators voted to amend the First Amendment to give Congress unlimited power to control political speech. And some federal agencies — especially the Internal Revenue Service — have targeted individuals and groups with which they disagree.”

Yes, you remember the IRS spat. Some top agency officials had the gall to notice that a bunch of political activists—i.e, Tea Party chapters—were not forming political committees under state and federal campaign rules, but were pretending to be non-profit charities to hide their donors’ identities. This is the “dark money” game.

Clearly, there's no difference between the Tea Party and the March of Dimes. Yet, astoundingly, these letter writers don’t even know that their side won the fight over that ruse. As reported this week, the IRS said it would halt its investigations into these front groups until after the 2016 election season. Nice deal, eh?

You’ve heard the rest of these right-wing complaints before. They say they want “efficient” and “limited” government, as if America’s founders didn’t intentionally implement a system of checks and balances. They did so because a slower-acting government that follows the rule of law supposedly puts the brakes on tyranny, mob rule and aristocratic impulses. 

“In short, Washington is broken,” they conclude, pointing to the size of the federal debt and federal register, which publishes government regulations. “And it’s harming the American people and destroying our country’s future. Simply look around you.”

Yes, let’s do that. Let’s look around us.

“We’re in the midst of the slowest economic recovery in over 50 years,” they say, ignoring that the wealthiest Americans are doing amazingly well. The financial markets are surging and there’s more access to investor capital than in years.

“The labor participation rate is at its lowest level since 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president,” they say, not mentioning that American worker productivity has never been higher, even as wages have stagnated for decades as multinational corporations ship jobs overseas.

“Families are making less today than they did six years ago,” they say, not mentioning that their friends in the Koch network have fought minimum wage increases, attacked labor unions, opposed expanding government safety nets, cut employee pensions and still want to privatize Social Security. 

“Washington is doing better than ever, while the rest of America falls further behind,” they conclude, hitting the cresendo of their cascading complaints. “We believe, as do Charles and David Koch, that America deserves better. Together, we want to help the least fortunate, defend individual freedom and create lasting prosperity for more and more hard-working Americans. But that can’t happen until Washington is impartial, accountable, efficient and limited.”

This is where they really go off the rails. Washington isn’t doing better than ever. It’s mired in ridiculous partisan gridlock because right-wingers—funded by the Koch crew—would rather fight and stall than seek compromise and find solutions. Corporate America and big business are doing better than ever, as seen in Wall Street’s record-setting highs in the various capital markets, and high-tech’s latest global boom.

That takes us to the biggest charade of all: the libertarian complaint that American "freedom" is endangered. The wealthest Americans arguably have more freedom, money, power and influence than ever. Most Americans are not living their lives, as displayed in the glossy advertisements in the New York Times Magazine.

What is the freedom these libertarians seek? Is it the freedom to make big money more quickly without having to face the consequences their actions will have on the rest of us? Is it freedom to destroy the possibility of debate in what remains of American democracy so they can buy endless ads or steer the agendas of entire broadcast networks?

It must be rough being so rich, so powerful, so expressed, so unaccountable. Even in a government that serves American aristocracy, our nation's wealthiest claim they can't get everything they want. But take heart, they conclude. They will keep trying.

“That is what we want — and we will pursue it, no matter how long it takes.”         

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).


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