For the past four decades, the very foundations of our hard-won progressive democracy have been under ferocious assault by a bewildering variety of extremely reactionary organizations, foundations, "think tanks," and political action committees. Whether or not this onslaught constitutes a "conspiracy" or "movement" in the strict definition of those terms, The American Prospect has made a convincing case that their origins can be traced back to a 1971 memorandum sent by corporate attorney and soon-to-be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Lewis Powell to Eugene Sydnor, Jr.,chair of the education committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In their view, the free-enterprise system--and conservatism in general--was losing the battle of ideas and policies to the dominant ideology of "liberalism." <It was not until the onset of the 21st century that the "liberalism" of the past 70 years gradually morphed into "progressivism," a philosophy that traced its roots to the early 1900s> "No thoughtful person," according to Powell, "can question that the American economic system is under broad attack." "Conservatism," he argued, had been marginalized for decades by the New Deal and its lineal descendants. Pro-business candidates and policies were being overwhelmed by a "massive assault upon its philosophy, upon its right to manage its own affairs," and had "responded--if at all--by appeasement, ineptitude, and ignoring the problem." <Reality Check: those three decades were also characterized by the most sustained and equitably distributed prosperity in the nation's history.> To "remedy" that "awful" state of affairs, Powell proposed an number of specific steps that the Chamber, and business in general, could undertake.
Corporate America, Powell insisted, had to learn that political power is necessary, that "it must be assiduously cultivated, and that, when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination." Among other things, he recommended that the Chamber establish "a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system," and "help conservative academics publish their ideas both in journals and in books." Business should insist on getting its viewpoint represented on television news shows, and publicize the "crucial role of stockholders--the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists--and try to mobilize them on behalf of corporate interests and priorities." According to the editors of TAP, the Powell memo "must be reckoned as one of the most successful political directives in history," because corporations increased their involvement in both lobbying and elections, "proclaimed the shareholder (instead of the worker) to be the most important figure in the American economy, and established and funded a host of new institutions (or reinvigorated old ones, like the American Enterprise Institute) to advance their viewpoints and interests." The Powell Memo "spawned an assertive business and intellectual infrastructure that formulated the ideas and policies of the revitalized conservative movement." <At the risk of sounding naive or self-righteous, I feel compelled to point out that the essence of social science research is to study the way things really are and how they actually operate in the real world before hazarding any interpretations or judgments. Social Science is supposed to proceed by the inductive method, not the deductive. That some social scientists don't always live up to those protocols,does not relieve anyone of the imperative to at least try to proceed according to the canons of empiricism. Powell and his cronies don't even bother "to pay lip service" to the fundamental premise of social science.>
As the TAP editors contend, "the right is reaping the rewards of having built for the long term." They also have learned to coordinate the efforts of various organization so that they reinforce one another.The list of their advocacy groups is staggering, and not a little bit scary. Not even Orwell or Kafka could make up some of them:
1. American Legislative Exchange Council (widely known as ALEC). Founded by Paul Weyrich with money from the Scaife Foundation, it drafts model pro-business, anti-regulatory, tax-destroying bills that have been introduced almost verbatim in state legislatures with widely varying histories and demographics..
2. Century Strategies/Faith and Freedom Coalition: founded by "professional Christian" Ralph Reed who refers to it as "the Christian Coalition on steroids." Successor to the Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell.
3. Americans for Tax Reform: Headed by anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who has orchestrated the notorious no- tax pledge by Republican office holders
4. The Federalist Society: An organization of 30,000 ultraconservative lawyers who put pressure on judges and legislators. Its most prominent members are Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Anton Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas.<Scalia's son Eugene is the chief lobbyist and litigator for the finance industry in its fight against any form of regulation, especially the Dodd-Frank law.>
For a detailed account,see Michael Avery and Danielle McLaughlin, The Federalist Society: How Conservatives Took the Law Back from Liberals, (Vanderbilt U. Press, 2013) and Steven M. Teles, Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, (Princeton U. Press, 2008).
5. The James Madison Center for Free Speech: Founded by Mitch McConnell and headed by James Bopp, right-wing lawyer par excellence, long time attorney for anti-abortion forces, and vigorous opponent of any efforts to regulate campaign financing. Played a key role in the case that resulted in Citizens United.
6. American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS: Co-founded by Karl Rove and bankrolled by Texas oil and real estate barons Harold Simmons and Bob Perry, who also financed the "Swift Boat" smear against Kerry in 2004. Has spent tens of millions of dollars on right-wing candidates for Congress
7. Freedom Works/Americans for Prosperity: Funded largely by the Koch brothers and headed by sleazy Congressman Dick Armey. It provides guidance and resources to the Tea Party and right-wing Republican candidates.
8. The Tea Party: Phony "grass-roots" movement financed largely by Americans for Prosperity and promoted by Glenn Beck and fellow Talk Radio screamers.
9. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The Chamber took the Powell Memo to undreamed of heights. Major opponent of the regulation of the health care and finance industries regulation and of a more equitable tax structure. It has become so blatantly right-wing that even Apple and Yahoo have resigned from membership.
10. The Business Roundtable: Made up of the heads of the nation's most wealthy and powerful banks and corporations, it is adamantly opposed to any measures of consumer or labor protection and to the taxation of corporations. It is the major forces behind "free trade" agreements.
11. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation/Fox News: Owns the Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard. Chief purveyor of right-wing propaganda as "news."
12. Talk Radio: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and a menagerie of hate-mongers
13. Conservative College Newspapers: Funded by the Olin Foundation to counter the effect of legitimate chroniclers of campus news and opinion. The National Journalism Center, headed by M. Stanton Evans, provides comfortable internships in D.C. for right-wing journalism students, Ann Coulter is one of their most famous alumnae.
Who provides the funding for these "think tanks," foundations, and institutes? We all do because most of them--probably all of them-- fiendishly masquerade as "social welfare organizations.," making them eligible to claim tax-exempt status under the provisions of section 501 (c) (4) of the Internal Revenue Service code. <More about that in a later post.>
1. Charles and David Koch: The sons of John Birch Society founder Fred Koch. They are oil, gas, and chemical billionaires (One of the worst polluters and contributors to global warming, whose existence they vociferously deny. They co-founded the ultra-libertarian Cato Institute and are the chief funding source of Freedom Works, which runs the Tea Party and Americans for Freedom.
2. The Bradley Foundation: Since 1985, it has contributed about $30 million dollars annually to the Heritage Foundation, ALEC, and Americans for Tax Reform.
3. The Scaife Foundations: Bankrolled by the banking fortune of Andrew Mellon and Richard Mellon Scaife, they have established four foundations and several right-wing newspapers. They are a major source of funding for numerous "think-tanks" It also funded the Arkansas Project, a quasi-investigative journalistic adventure that tried unsuccessfully to find evidence linking President Clinton to drug-running and murder.
4. The Olin Foundation: Established in 1953 by John M. Olin, a leading ammunition and chemical manufacturer, it funded the Heritage Foundation and several right-wing college newspapers,until it used up all of its endowment in 2005.
5. William E. Simon Foundation: Former Treasury Secretary under Presidents Nixon and Ford. President of the Olin Foundation for 23 years. These two pseudo- foundations have funded numerous right-wing causes and think-tanks.
6. Joseph Coors: The grandson of brewer Adolph Coors, he bankrolled the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Heritage Foundation. He established an internship and a dormitory for students who worked half-time for conservative Congressmen and half-time for the Heritage Foundation. He also paid for a cargo plane that was a key element in the Iran-Contra Affair of Oliver North and Reagan. <I am particularly incensed by Budwiser, Coors, and Miller breweries because they market their product primarily to working class people, while lobbying against collective bargaining,, minimum wage laws, and pro-labor legislation, in general. They also deliberately conceal the fact that they are all owned by foreign conglomerates.
Crucial to the right-wing cause are the so-called think tanks that masquerade as non-partisan, pseudo-academic seekers after "truth," which they have already defined in advance:
1. The Cato Institute: So libertarian that they are to the right of the Tea Party and ultraconservative Republicans, they have led the crusade to privatize Social Security and Medicare, and to abolish the minimum wage. As libertarian ideologues, its members clash with their less doctrinaire Republican colleagues over the War on Drugs and intervention into the affairs of other nations.
2. American Enterprise Institute: Founded in 1938 as an anti-New Deal clearing house, it bankrolled Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan throughout his career. It laid the groundwork for Reagan's "welfare reform" and for the "Iraqi Surge" of 2009.
3. The Heritage Foundation:Founded in 1973 with Coors and Koch money,it provided much of the propaganda behind the Reagan tax cuts, and Newt Gingrich's Contract With <On?> America, as well as the idea of a health insurance mandate, which they no bitterly oppose because it has become one of the keystones of the Affordable Care Act.
4. The Manhattan Institute: Founded in 1978 by future CIA director William Casey, it has always tried to prevent unionization and multiculturalism. It led the fight against the Clinton Healthcare Act.
5. The Hudson Institute: Founded in 1961 by Herman Kahn, who insisted that a nuclear war was "winnable." It is adamantly "hawkish" on foreign and military matters, and helped devise Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson's insidious "work-to-welfare" scheme. Its senior vice-president is Lewis "Scooter" Libby of the Valerie Plame fiasco.
6. The Claremont Institute: Founded in 1979 (and not affiliated with Claremont Colleges), it focuses on national and foreign policy issues, as well as those dealing directly with California. Former "fellows" include Christine O'Donnell, the failed Delaware Senatorial candidate, who was so far out thar she was even repudiated by the leaders of her own party..
There can be little doubt that the ultimate goal of this reactionary juggernaut is "trying to repeal the twentieth century,l" to quote Timothy Egan in the New York Times Not all of it, just the hard-won achievements of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, the Civil Rights Movement for women and minorities; in short anything that has moved this country forward out of the great abyss of the Gilded Age. Nor can there be any serious doubt that they have amassed the financial, organizational, and ideological resources to do exactly that,unless we are somehow able to reverse the trajectory of the last three decades. As much as it pains me to say so, I have to grudgingly acknowledge their success in responding to the Powell Memo. What is even more alarming is that they have managed to persuade millions of Americans to work against their own obvious self-interest and security--and that of their children and grandchildren.