By ALAN J. ORTBALS
To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Richard III, now is the year of our discontent. And the voters are showing it at the polls.
They are upset about things like stagnant wages, wealth consolidation and graduating from college with six-figure debt.
Some blame illegal immigrants flooding into the country; some blame inept leaders making bad trade deals; others blame the villains on Wall Street.
I think this discontent with the current condition and the backlash against candidates who are seen as upholding the status quo explains the rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
The discontented are flailing around a bit searching for who’s to blame but they won’t find the culprit on the borders of the Southwestern United States, or at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., or even at the southern end of Manhattan. According to a new book by award-winning investigative reporter Jane Mayer, they need to cast their aspersions on a small city on the prairies of Kansas — Wichita, home of Koch Industries.
According to Mayer, who analyzed stacks of documents and interviewed hundreds of people, a cadre of libertarian billionaires and multi-millionaires has been working for more than 35 years to twist the democratic process to their will. While the group consists of hundreds of the richest people in the country, the lynchpins are brothers Charles and David Koch. Their goals are to shrink government, minimize taxes and rescind regulations.
After David’s unsuccessful run on the Libertarian party ticket in 1980, the Kochs, according to Mayer, shifted their focus and, over the ensuing years, developed and implemented a multi-faceted strategy to package and sell their ideas to the American public and alter the political landscape. The far-reaching and interwoven network of people and organizations is sometimes referred to as Kochtopus. Or, as Charles Koch put it, “To bring about social change requires a strategy that is vertically and horizontally integrated. It must span idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to political action.”
To that end the Kochs and their friends have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into creating and supporting think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute to turn out seeming scholarly research in line with their libertarian views; established “beachheads” in higher education to further promote their ideology and act as a farm team for their other organizations; created and or funded a myriad of PACs like Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform, often times through 501(c)(4) “charitable” organizations that conceal their donors, to market their ideas to the masses and lambast causes and politicians who don’t line up with their world view; cultivated, organized and promoted “astroturf” groups like the Tea Party to do their bidding; worked for over a decade to successfully nullify much of the campaign finance restrictions culminating with the Citizens United case, which flung the democratic process wide open to their donor group; and reshaped the Congress by carrying out a nationwide strategy to gerrymander Congressional districts.
Since 2003, their group of 1 percenters have met twice a year to discuss goals, objectives and strategies. They’ve amassed nearly $1 billion to spend on this year’s elections alone.
There are certain moments in history that are turning points for nations: Thomas Jefferson’s decision to buy the Louisiana Territory; the election of Abraham Lincoln; the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany. I think the death of Antonin Scalia creates one of these turning points.
Ted Cruz is right. The selection of the next Supreme Court justice is of vital importance to the future of the nation but not because of peripheral issues like abortion or gun rights. The future of the nation is at stake. It may well determine whether we tame the Kochtopus or get devoured by it.
Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 659-1977.
By ALAN J. ORTBALS