Man In the Mirror
by Jack Landsman, Sun Aug 29, 2010 at 03:35:42 PM EDT
Frank Rich lit up the Opinion section of today’s New York Times in the view of an admittedly avid fan. This tour de force—“The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party” is its straightforward title—mercilessly laid waste to the troglodytic creeps and their benefactors who fouled our nation’s capital yesterday. Whatever one’s opinion of that feckless lawprof called Barack Obama, it certainly doesn’t permit Glenn Beck’s monumental stupidity and treachery. In the contest for all-time ignominious affronts to the Lincoln Memorial, the appearance of Glenn Beck’s fat, casually-dressed person beat a clinically depressed Richard Nixon’s late-night rap session going away.
Vive la révolution!
There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.
Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.
In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a progressive Democrat who for a long spell had nice things to relay about the Tea Party movement. This may be a bit difficult for some to understand but for a time the Tea Party movement was a “spontaneous, leaderless” development. Despite the movement’s libertarian underpinnings, opposition to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, ObamaCare, and corporatist policies of this sort presented the beautiful potential for coalescence of contrarian liberals and populist conservatives. While we were always destined to depart from each other on proper solutions for combating the badass recession, its resultant unemployment crisis, rising health care costs, and so forth, we were joined in contempt for this rotten bipartisan ruling class.
I considered myself a bohemian Tea Party person, attended rallies, and was treated graciously. (At this year’s Tax Day protest, however, one reactionary dragon on stage did refer to the president as a Muslim in no uncertain terms.) Unfortunately the movement has been devoured by Dick Armey, et al—as mercilessly as one can envision the fat Mormon annihilating ham hocks, turkey broth and sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving. This is tantamount to some hideous left-wing oligarch wrapping his tentacles around the progressive… Oh, nevermind.
Tea Partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government and Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety and the subsistence of the elderly.
Yet inexorably the Koch agenda is morphing into the G.O.P. agenda, as articulated by current Republican members of Congress, including the putative next speaker of the House, John Boehner, and Tea Party Senate candidates like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and the new kid on the block, Alaska’s anti-Medicaid, anti-unemployment insurance Palin protégé, Joe Miller. Their program opposes a federal deficit, but has no objection to running up trillions in red ink in tax cuts to corporations and the superrich; apologizes to corporate malefactors like BP and derides money put in escrow for oil spill victims as a “slush fund”; opposes the extension of unemployment benefits; and calls for a freeze on federal regulations in an era when abuses in the oil, financial, mining, pharmaceutical and even egg industries (among others) have been outrageous.
While I often have counterintuitive and complimentary words for Tea Party favorites like Sarah Palin (she’s cute and the left was despicable and unjustified in its treatment of her during the last presidential campaign) and Marco Rubio (he’s cute and has a heartwarming background as the son of Cuban immigrants), Rich and I are simpatico in our trembling at the sight of Dr. Ratched from Kentucky, the wide-eyed harlot in Nevada, and the Chuck Norris doppelgänger who murked Sen. Lisa Murkowski up there in Alaska.
However I’d like to know specifically what Mr. Rich considers “mainstream conservatism.” For establishment liberals this usually means some staid, buttoned-up New England politician who’s capable of support for the extension of unemployment benefits (out of noblesse oblige) and Keynesian pump-priming but more than eager to bail out insoluble financial institutions on Wall Street and rapacious insurance companies. Fine gentlemen like David Brooks or ol’ Willard Mitt Romney, let’s say.
When wolves of Murdoch’s ingenuity and the Kochs’ stealth have been at the door of our democracy in the past, Democrats have fought back fiercely. Franklin Roosevelt’s triumphant 1936 re-election campaign pummeled the Liberty League as a Republican ally eager to “squeeze the worker dry in his old age and cast him like an orange rind into the refuse pail.” When John Kennedy’s patriotism was assailed by Birchers calling for impeachment, he gave a major speech denouncing their “crusades of suspicion.”
And Obama? So far, sadly, this question answers itself.
Barack Obama’s fecklessness isn’t merely “sad,” it’s outrageous. President Obama’s policies—not his unwillingness to engage political opponents—are the problem. This isn’t a presidency worth fighting for. Faced with the choice between Frank Rich’s relatively mild critique of the president and substantive policy differences with the professional left, the White House would flock to Frank Rich everyday and twice on Tuesday.
America isn’t looking for the president to confront teabaggers at the feet of Abraham Lincoln, a la Dick Nixon. They’re despondent because his miserably failed policies haven’t mitigated their suffering—not enough anyway. The failure of deep-pocketed reactionaries in the Roosevelt and Kennedy eras had much less to do with rhetoric than Frank Rich would have us believe.
While the filthy lucre of Rupert Murdoch and the Kochs have been indispensable, the teabaggers were created by us.