Oligarchs Host An Audition

In 2014, Democratic candidates tried to make the billionaire Koch brothers the face of big money’s attempts to buy the kind of Congress it wants. That’s fairly rich since Democrats are not exactly free of the taint or organized dollars in search of pliant legislators they can buy or rent.

Still, the Kochs were unusually aggressive and unblushing about spending big bucks, and a barrage of scary TV ads tried to turn the Kochs into familiar bogeymen. It had no discernible effect. Congress is now more Republican than at any time since Herbert Hoover who was the Koch’s kind of guy. And far from being deterred, they are doubling down for 2016.

They didn’t get rich by swerving from a single-minded pursuit of their own self-interest. Daddy, from whom they inherited the substantial beginnings of the present empire, was a far right John Bircher in the 1950s who thought Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. He taught his sons from the cradle to hate government and to try to crush anything getting in the way of profit.

Having been disappointed in the results of giving money and trusting campaigns to succeed, they are now seeking more directly to have a hand in picking candidates, organizing campaigns on the ground and in effect becoming the real party of The Money Interest in America, the actually Republicans having behaved in a less than businesslike manner.

At a recent cattle call for presidential hopefuls at a Palm Springs resort, they and another hundred or more like-minded plutocrats announced they will pony up $889 million in 2016 to put a Republican in the White House. Their own personal Republican.

Since the Democratic and Republican parties each intend to spend about $1 billion on the race, a few oligarchs – the virtual party of dough — are about to become as potent a political force as either real party. No doubt the corporate moguls suppose they will be better able to manage the election (and the electorate) than mere politicians.

It’s all a rather gaudy throwback to Jay Gould and the Tweed Ring or perhaps the Rome of the Caesars or the Court of the Sun King. And in Palm Springs, here came the supplicants and courtiers hoping for preferment or a boon from their liege lords. Six new senators that Koch money helped to elect in 2014 appeared to bend a knee, tug a forelock and pledge undying fealty. These included Tom Tillis of North Carolina and Iowa’s Joni Ernst, queen of the country castrators.

Another Koch protégée arrived after being the hit of the show in a similar audition in Iowa. Scott Walker, the twice elected and once recalled governor of Wisconsin, so enraged his state that the Kochs had to buy him his office several times, but hey, it’s only money. He showed he had the right stuff for 2016 in a swaggering speech claiming his tenure proved that boldness (that is, defying the people) pays off, at least if the Kochs are picking up the tab.

He said people believed he couldn’t survive his program which has included breaking the teacher’s union, cutting $1 billion from education and $500 million from Medicaid in order to pay for tax cuts on the wealthy, on capital gains and on small business. He also had worked to enact pro-life and voter ID laws. He and his bankers had proved the naysayers wrong.

The college dropout, who has the lean and hungry look of Cassius, is now seeking to cut funding for the state’s university system by $300 million. His education reform plan? Telling professors to work harder. He has long argued that poor people are poor because they are lazy, so who needs education if you’ve got enough get up and go. It also helps to have Koch money in your corner. So few little orphans have a Daddy Kochbucks to lend a hand.

People tend to forget that Wisconsin is not just the home of cheese, the community-owned Packers (the socialists) and fighting Bob Lafollette, the prairie progressive. It has also brought us Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy and now Scott Walker for president. If the Walker manifesto was the spookiest part of the Palm Springs beauty pageant, its funniest came during Marco Rubio’s turn at the microphone.

In a fawning speech he praised the gathered grandees for their public spiritedness. “I don’t know a single person in the room who has ever been to my office asking from government any special access.” Well, I should think not. They already have such access, hard earned by lavish giving. And why would they have to schlep down to the sausage factory to place their order? There’s always the phone and lobbyists, lawyers and lackeys to carry their orders to the friendly minions they paid to install in Congress.

But no, Rubio refutes such a cynical notion. Perhaps to ease his own conscience or that of the donors about their theft of democracy from the other 99 percent of Americans. More likely to demonstrate he’s got the ability to blow smoke in the direction of the press and the people. So he insisted that self-interest played no part in the plan to buy a president for $889 million. The donor class doesn’t want any favors. “By and large what they want is to be left alone.”

Gosh, that sounds kind of lonesome, like Garbo or cloistered monks. Maybe it really is lonely at the top. Or maybe we all know what Rubio was saying in code. That the billionaires are willing to pay for a president who will see to it that they really are left alone — by the IRS, the FDA, the EPA, the SEC, OSHA and any other governmental busybody that dares to tell them what they can’t do. They take this “land of the free” stuff seriously. In a country where the top 10% have 90% of investible assets, it is clearly only fair that they own 90% of the Congress and 100% of the presidency.

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