Nearly overlooked among the vast, swirling whirlpool of scandals that have begun to suck Chris Christie into the depths of political oblivion, was his full-throated defense at CPAC of the two most insidious and destructive oligarchs the American political landscape has ever witnessed.
Near the top of his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference , Christie criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for "rail[ing] against two American entrepreneurs who have built a business, created jobs, and created wealth and philanthropy in this country," referring to the Koch brothers.The sheer obscenity of defending multibillionaires from taking responsibility for their own actions aside, Christie's speech simply underscored the utterly slavish dependency on the Kochs that the GOP has stooped to. They are so dependent upon the funding of these two rightwing predators that they feel the need to publicly run to their rescue when their existence is even raised by the Democratic Party. It's no wonder they seem to regard Vladimir Putin as some type of role model.
"Harry Reid should get back to work and stop picking on great Americans who are creating great things in our country," Christie said.
Today the Editorial page of the New York Times acknowledged the outsize role these two unelected people have assumed in shaping the political future of a country with over 300 million citizens.
By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races...has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.The Times praises Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for calling the Kochs out publicly and shining a light on what they do to profit off the backs of ordinary citizens, an action long overdue.
Mr. Reid’s comments have gone to the heart of the matter. In his most recent speech, he pointed out that the fundamental purpose of the Kochs’ spending is to rig the economic system for their benefit and for that of other oligarchs. They own an industrial network that ranks No. 14 on the list of the most toxic American air polluters, and got their money’s worth in 2010 by helping elect a Republican House majority that has resisted environmental regulation.It shouldn't be lost on Times readers that the word "oligarchs" is not a pejorative one would normally expect from the Gray Lady. The word has a heightened connotation now associated with unfettered and utterly corrupt capitalism, influence peddling and monopoly. When we speak of Russian oligarchs, we are not talking about ordinary businessmen or even corporate CEO's--we're talking about those who actively attempt to buy out the entire political system to serve their own business ends. That is what the Kochs do, and up to this point the process has deliberately left the American public in the dark.
In the coming weeks we will be treated to classic examples of false equivalency by the Republican Party and their enablers in the mass media. They will point to wealthy liberals who donate richly to Democrats, and they will talk about the influence of unions. In assessing these types of comparisons it's important to differentiate between the underlying goals being sought. The Kochs spent more money on the 2012 election that the top ten unions combined. But more importantly, unions are made up of working people who elect their own leaders. Their aims, by and large, are to improve working conditions such as salaries, health care, and retirement security for their members. Wealthy liberals not affiliated with union causes typically pour their millions into such causes as climate change awareness, reproductive rights, gun control and marriage equality. The difference, as pointed out by liberal strategist Chris Lehane, is an important one--where the donations are a product of liberal ideology (as opposed to efforts to line their own pockets), the donors generally do not have a direct financial interest in their causes:
“The folks who are involved on the Democratic side are not necessarily folks who have a direct financial interest in the policies they are advocating for.”There are other fundamental differences as well:
[F]or the most part, unions, unlike the Koch network, don’t try to disguise their contributions in a maze of interlocking “social welfare” groups. Their contributions on behalf of candidates or issues may be unlimited, thanks to Citizens United, but they are generally clearly marked as coming from one union or another. (They want Democrats to know which unions raised the money.)The same can fairly be said of many conservative donors. While those on this site may not agree with their ideology--many conservatives nonetheless donate solely out of pure ideological conviction.
That is not the case with the Kochs. Their political activism stems completely from financial self-interest.
“The fossil fuel industry spends, probably, more in an hour influencing the political process than [California investor Tom Steyer] has over the course of these campaigns,” Lehane added. “The best solution here is to actually have a political situation where access to resources does not determine who wins and loses. That’s just not the situation right now.”It is not the "situation right now" and it won't be until a saner Supreme Court majority reflects on the damage that has already been done to the American system and acts to put a stop to it. But the qualitative difference between what liberals put their money towards stands in stark contrast to what the Kochs are pursuing. The Times quotes Reid's assessment of the Koch's willing tools to achieve this dominance--the Republican Party:
That Republican majority is, in fact, working to gut the most important safeguards to keep cancer-causing toxins and pollution that cause sickness and death out of the air we breathe and the water we drink,” Mr. Reid said. “Without those safeguards, the Koch brothers would pass on the higher health care costs to middle-class Americans while padding their own pocketbooks.” He called it “un-American” to spend lavishly to preserve tax breaks and end workplace safety standards.The Republicans are predictably howling in outrage at the fact that the rock has been lifted. As this Diary points out, they are pulling out all the stops to remake these two cynical creatures into some sort of beneficent Andrew Carnegies. The coordination of Bachmann and Christie suggests that Reid's gambit has struck a peculiar nerve. This is not the discussion they want to be having right now.
Greg Sargent points out that there is more Electoral calculation to Reid's efforts here than meets the eye:
The real goal of this strategy has not been adequately explained. It is widely depicted as little more than an effort to tar Republican candidates with faceless plutocrats. Republicans paint it as a desperate effort to gin up the Dem base and to distract from struggling Dem candidates.In other words, this is all about educating the American people as to what is actually occurring to their political system.
But there’s something more complex going on here. The “Koch addition” approach is rooted in a strategic imperative Dems face: How can they create a framework within which voters will believe what they are saying about the real policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on?
The challenge Dems say they face is to get voters to focus on actual positions held by GOP candidates, and on the fact that those positions are not in their economic interests. Why do these candidates oppose raising the minimum wage, or extending unemployment insurance, or expanding Medicaid, all of which would benefit so many people in the states they would represent? Republicans may claim a legitimate rationale for these positions, but the question is, how do you get voters to focus on the fact that these are really their positions?Sargent notes that the same strategy was employed by the Obama White House in its successful effort to frame Mitt Romney as a soulless plutocrat beholden only to the interests of the uber-wealthy--which, in fact, he was. When Americans rejected Romney they were disavowing more than just him as an individual--they were rejecting his vision of what the country should be.
By its very nature this strategy assumes a level of interest, discernment and critical thinking by the American public that up to this point neither the media nor politicians in either party, for the most part, have been willing to assume.
That is its risk, but also its promise.
See also Joan McCarter's FP article, here.