The Cold, Crisp Taste of Koch

From Frank Rich's rehash of Jane Mayer's recent hit piece on the philanthropizin' oilmen Charles and David Koch:

When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools -- in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes.

You might be wondering why the author thinks a campaign that wanted to abolish the FBI and CIA was "to the right of Reagan." It looks like Rich is just recycling Mayer's New Yorker story here: Mayer wrote that the Ed Clark/David Koch ticket "was running against Ronald Reagan from the right."

The man who beat Barry Commoner.In fact, Clark is pretty much the sole Libertarian presidential nominee to have consciously presented himself as running from the left. (The only other case that even arguably comes close is Michael Badnarik, the party's standard-bearer in 2004, who played up his antiwar stances and established a friendly relationship with Green nominee David Cobb.) Clark told reporters he was a "low-tax liberal" (which, whatever else you think about it, rolls more trippingly off the tongue than "liberaltarian"); he issued white papers that presented a liberal-friendly, gradualist approach to shrinking the state; he got Eugene McCarthy to appear in a campaign ad and to write the intro to Clark's campaign book. (And then McCarthy turned around and endorsed Reagan, wrecking his lefty street cred. So it goes.) Frank Rich's description of what the "campaign called for" is drawn from the radical platform adopted by delegates at the Libertarian convention, not from the Clark/Koch campaign's own statements. Look at those and you'll find calls to reduce government spending to Kennedy-era levels, a suggestion that welfare need not be cut until unemployment is eliminated, and an education plan centered around the idea of a tax credit for "voluntary educational alternatives."

That was the Kochs' center-left side. In the Carter years, much of the brothers' libertarian largess went to projects with a far more left-wing flavor. Radical intellectuals and investigative journalists contributed to the Cato Institute's Inquiry magazine; Students for a Libertarian Society devoted most of its energy to opposing conscription and nuclear power. In June 1979, such activities prompted National Review to run its own contribution to the Koch-conspiracy oeuvre, featuring the immortal cover line "Anarchists, backed by corporate big money, infiltrate the freedom movement." Before Mayer was tracing the money trail from the Koch brothers to global warming skeptics, NR's Lawrence Cott was warning conservatives that Koch funds were linked to the Campaign to Stop Government Spying, the leftist Institute for Policy Studies, and members of "the apparat that exposed the American agent who was murdered in Athens." To give you a sense of how excitable Cott could be, that scary-sounding line about the "apparat" was a reference to some Inquiry contributors who had also written for the anti-CIA magazine CounterSpy.

If you combine the accurate elements of the Cott and Mayer articles, you'll have the rudiments of a much more interesting story, one that may begin with the brothers' Bircher background and end with the rise of the Tea Parties but will take some unexpected detours along the way. The new narrative wouldn't be so easy to fit into a simple left/right, Red/Blue framework, let alone the pinko conspiracies of Cott's imagination or the corpo-conservative cabals of Mayer's. But the tale just might tell you a few things about the vast world to be found outside the Crossfire format.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Anonymous||

    "opposing [...] nuclear power"

    Why?

  • Jesse Walker||

    The argument was that without government subsidies and the protection provided by Price-Anderson, nuclear power would be unsustainable in the market; therefore, SLS and Libertarian Review took a hard line against it. This was very controversial in the rest of the libertarian movement, including the rest of the Koch-funded movement.

  • Ray||

    Getting rid of subsidies is fine, but why ban it?

  • Jesse Walker||

    I don't think they called for a ban. But IIRC they saw nuclear power as an institution that would not exist without the state, and thus felt it was fine to condemn it per se, the same way we might condemn the GSEs.

    As I said, it was a controversial position.

  • Cabeza de Vaca||

    John Stossel agrees with them on this issue.

    http://stossel.blogs.foxbusine.....e-welfare/

  • Anonymous||

    Thanks for clarifying that.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Ah, yes. I recall marching with a "Taxes Build Nukes -- Nuke Taxes!" sign.
    no homo

  • affenkopf||

    no homo is getting lame
    pause

  • Citizen Nothing||

    See, if instead of "pause" you'd have said "no homo" -- then that's funny.

    Ask me what

  • Citizen Nothing||

    TIMING!!!

  • Citizen Nothing||

    the key to comedy is.

  • cynical||

    He was waiting for you to get it, is all. "No homo" would have spoiled it. It's a minimalist joke.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    No. I DID get it.
    pause

  • Citizen Nothing||

    no
    TIMING!
    homo

  • Robert||

    Also that Atoms For Peace was largely a continuing byproduct of Atoms For War.

    This party line was basically the product of the analysis of one young guy from Illinois I was friendly with. Many suspected it was an insincere attempt to sidle up to the "left". Otherwise it was just viewed as a mis-analysis with justif'n.

    One distinguishing feature of libertarians is our abeyance in action aimed at prevention of aggression or other evils. But this is a matter of degree. How close to the evil do you have to be before it justifies action which may spill over into fighting non-evils?

  • ||

    Koch is gas and oil...nukes steal market share. so obvious, you really are naive

  • ||

    specifically the the market share for power generation...there is substantial competition between fuel types for power units. coal, gas, nuke\oil(declining importance).

  • Jesse Walker||

    That was the late Bill Bradford's theory. It doesn't explain why other Koch-funded institutions, such as Inquiry, took a contrary point of view.

  • Jeffersonian||

    You might be wondering why the author thinks a campaign that wanted to abolish the FBI and CIA was "to the right of Reagan."

    Forget it, he's rolling.

  • SIV||

    You might be wondering why the author thinks a campaign that wanted to abolish the FBI and CIA was "to the right of Reagan."

    No, I'd expect the American "far right" to want to abolish these agencies.

  • P B||

    It seems to me some on the left need a new super-villian since Bush/Cheney are not around.

    If you swing the hammer hard enough the square peg will fir into the round hole.

  • P B||

    fir shoulda been fit

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Clark is pretty much the sole Libertarian presidential nominee to have consciously presented himself as running from the left.
    Yeah. That was my first election. They sucked me in young, and I've been a monocle-wearin' heroin-shooter ever since.

  • SIV||

    As a naive 18 y/o I foolishly threw away my vote for John Anderson.

  • Bill||

    I remember Mr. Anderson. His answer to every single issue (IIRC) was that he would get together a commission and study the issue.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Excellent last paragraph.

  • ||

    The new narrative wouldn't be so easy to fit into a simple left/right, Red/Blue framework, let alone the pinko conspiracies of Cott's imagination or the corpo-conservative cabals of Mayer's. But the tale just might tell you a few things about the vast world to be found outside the Crossfire format.

    Which is what makes it all so scary for our TeamBlue and TeamRed intellectual gatekeepers.

  • ||

    Left, right, don’t get uptight.
    Keep in line and you’ll be alright.
    Clap hands, move around.
    Make sure no one puts you down.

  • Irresponsible Hater||

    All this Koch stuff has my head spinning.

    I'm going to wait this one out until I hear what Maureen Dowd has to say about it.

  • PicassoIII||

    Exactly,
    I'm a big fan of WTTW's NOVA. Yes the PUBLIC TV program. NOVA does not peddle in AGW denialism, the content is squarely in the true believers camp.
    Then another of their best programs was dealing with the Intelligent Design controversy.
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/e.....trial.html
    Now scroll down to the bottom. Who is the 1st funder listed?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Well, obviously, libertarians = far-right. Liberals say so, therefore it's true... just like when they slap the "racist" label on anyone - if they say it is, IT IS.

  • PicassoIII||

    Unless you're Michael Medved then it's 'losertarian'. Or 'doped up perverts' according to Savage.

    Gotta love the bipartisan loathing.
    *grin*

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Medved is a prick. One of the local stations used to carry his show, but now it's been replaced by Ed Schultz, who is also a prick. But I kinda dig the irony.

  • PicassoIII||

    Too true. A more smarmy, condescending, Red establishment whore is hard to find.
    That is an ironic swing tho.
    Still, none are worse than Bill Press. Total union stooge. The voice of the 'Obama Generation'?!? *pukes*
    Total cult o personality sycophancy.

  • KPres||

    Reason, why don't you profile the Koch brothers from a Libertarian perspective? If the Mayer piece tried to paint them as right-wing fanatics, then tell me a story that shows they're not. Not just a point-for-point response, but a whole new narrative.

    I haven't read the Mayer piece (although I'm all the sudden interested in these guys...sounds like some people I might like), because I know it's left wing propaganda. I don't have a problem with propaganda, per se (everything is propaganda), so long as I can get the competing view point.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I recommend my colleague Brian Doherty's history of the libertarian movement, Radicals for Capitalism. His discussion of the Kochs does just what you're asking for, though by necessity it stops before the Tea Party movement came to exist. (The book came out in 2007.)

  • ||

    For a briefer treatment on the Kochs, you could read the first hit you get from searching "Kochtopus" -- a LewRockwell.com article...

    Three main issues led to the irreparable rupture. First, as I have already mentioned, Austrian economics was central to Rothbard's system. He did not embrace all economists who more or less favored a free market: quite the contrary, he wished sharply to differentiate Austrian economics from the Chicago School...

    Rothbard was thus not pleased when Cato hired David Henderson, who leaned toward the Chicago School, as an economist. Rothbard had no personal animosity toward Henderson. Quite the contrary, he liked him, and Henderson has gone on to produce excellent work. (I'm sure that Rothbard would have liked his penetrating articles critical of the Iraq war.) But to hire a non-Austrian was hardly in keeping with the original mission of Cato.

    The other two issues are about personalities and political positions, including the 1980 Clark/Koch campaign.

    So it reads rather comically that someone like Mayer who was completely unaware of the Kochs until "investigating" them colors them as right-wing extremists when other libertarians reject them as too moderate.

    Of course we know it's all part of the conspiracy. You can't twist Washington to your corporate will until you become part of Washington's cocktail parties.

  • fyodor||

    I'm used to lefties calling libertarians far right, so I kinda glossed over that worn out trope, though thanks to Jesse for pointing out how even further from the truth it may be in this particular case, as well as the sloppy journalism in associating statements from the party platform to Koch personally.

    But what really got me was the logic of claiming that wanting to abolish the FBI and CIA was proof of someone's bottom line motivations.

    Whatever, dude.

  • cynical||

    I like it when lefties call libertarians far right, since it's an admission that they believe totalitarianism is a far left ideology, what with them being polar opposites.

  • ||

    "Reason, why don't you profile the Koch brothers from a Libertarian perspective? "

    because then they would have to ask Koch why they supported Trey Grayson

    BAAAAMMM!

  • ||

    In addition to Doherty's good book I'd also read the Rockwell spin :
    David Gordon on Koch

    I personally worked for a guy that was a ex-employee at Koch and his management training program there included reading Human Action as well as Ayn Rand. Pretty cool.

  • Kevin Carson||

    SIV: How's it "throwing your vote away" to vote for someone whose positions you actually approve of, as opposed to voting for someone you hate because they have a better chance of winning?

    Believe me, the establishments of both major parties are very much aware of people like you who worry about "throwing your votes away," and the existence of a captive vote figures prominently in their calculus of how much shit they can get away with before people bolt the party.

    I'm sure every time someone like Joe Biden voted the interests of the big banks and the RIAA/MPAA, in the back of their minds they were thinking "So what if they don't like it? What the fuck're they gonna do, vote for the Republican?"

  • ||

    I think SIV was being funny. I certainly found it funny.

    If voting Liberterian is considered throwing your vote away, then not voting for the biggest vote-getting Libertarian ever while voting for the mushy independent is really throwing your vote away.

  • Robert||

    Believe me, the establishments of both major parties are very much aware of people like you who worry about "throwing your votes away," and the existence of a captive vote figures prominently in their calculus of how much shit they can get away with before people bolt the party.


    They sure are. And if they realize that you'll bolt easily, they're as likely (or likelier) to move to the opposite direction from you because it's easier to pick up their votes than yours.

  • ||

    Koch'[s]... campaign called for the abolition...of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., ... -- in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes.


    Wait a minute, I thought the FBI was a capitalist tool to keep the working man down. And isn't the CIA's job to overthrow those people's governments so the capitalists can exploit the proletariat in foreign lands too?

    Geez, I just can't keep up with all the changing stories.

  • ||

    Actually, I wondered when someone would bring up how sensibly radical Clarks program was.

    I liked the 70% cut in the defense budget he was going to achieve by negotiating and end to all of our foreign treaty obligations.

    On almost every issue Clark put out a position paper backed up by some of the soundest analysis you could want. Almost everything he proposed was based on an incremental and staged reduction.

    The gradualist approach wasn't good enough for the Radical Caucus who were never going to be happy with anything short of getting to libertopia in a hundred days, or less.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The gradualist approach wasn't good enough for the Radical Caucus who were never going to be happy with anything short of getting to libertopia in a hundred days, or less.

    ABSOLUTE FREEDOM NOW!!!1!11!!!

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Enough with Charles and David. When's Ed Koch gonna pay up?

  • Bruce Majors||

    I usually enjoy the heat and texture of Koch, more than the actual taste, which ideally is minimal.

    But then I first had a taste in the heady days of 1980, trying to pump up the Clark/Koch vote. We stayed up late and did it all day and night, but then I was much, much younger.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement