Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jane Mayer, _Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right_

MAYER'S 2010 New Yorker article on the Koch brothers, "Covert Operations," has been the principal touchstone for any discussion I've had with anyone about the fraternal duo who apparently bankroll everything from the Cato Institute to the Club for Growth to the Tea Party to ALEC to anti-Obamacare campaigns to climate change denial campaigns to the takeover of Congress by growly, no-compromise right-wingers.

This book is much larger and includes a wider cast of characters--Richard Mellon Scaife, John Olin, the Bradleys, an array of wealth-drunk American eccentrics who deserve an American Balzac--but the Kochs remain centerstage. As Mayer sees it, the central agon of domestic American politics for the last eight years has been between Obama and the Kochs, the latter represented by an army of proxies in Congress, in right-wing think tanks, and in a host of Citizens United-enabled funding operations that have plausible-sounding names but turn out to be just a post office box in Georgetown.

{By the way, I agree with Tom Wolfe that an American Balzac would be a great thing to have, but I don't think Wolfe himself qualifies for the title, however much he would like to.)

A terrific book, an example of everything great journalism can be, making one hope that journalism does not all degenerate into "content" designed to snag eyeballs.

I can understand someone being skeptical about Mayer's broader claims--after all, the Kochs (et alia) could not get Mitt Romney into the White House, nor even keep Scott Walker's candidacy alive past the vernal equinox. It's hard to imagine them being pleased about the ascendancy of Trump. But the White House is just one front in the battle--the Kochs weigh heavily in state politics all over the place (North Carolina, Wisconsin, their native Kansas obviously, and even right here in my state, Nebraska), are partly responsible for fewer people believing humans cause climate change than did a decade ago, and have everything to do with the psychotic breakdown of our national legislative branch. Mayer's book will be indispensable for any future historian of our tines, I daresay.

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