Frank Rich's Connect-the-dots Errors, and Our Very Own "Libertarian Whore"


New York Times conspiracist Frank Rich had a column over the weekend positioning the Christine O'Donnells of the world as "useful idiots" providing "populist cover" for shadowy billionaires, especially the Koch family, who are cashing in on anti-government sentiment they themselves don't believe in, in order to stage a political "coup." Excerpt:

In fact, local chapters of Tea Party Patriots routinely received early training and support from FreedomWorks, the moneyed libertarian outfit run by the former Republican House majority leader and corporate lobbyist Dick Armey. FreedomWorks is itself a spinoff from Citizens for a Sound Economy, a pseudo-grassroots group whose links to the billionaire Koch brothers were traced by Jane Mayer in her blockbuster August exposé in The New Yorker. […]

However much these corporate contributors may share the Tea Party minions' antipathy toward President Obama, their economic interests hardly overlap. The rank and file Tea Partiers say they oppose government spending and deficits. The billionaires have no problem with federal spending as long as the pork is corporate pork. They, like most Republican leaders in 2008, supported the Bush administration's Wall Street bailout. […]

But while these billionaires' selfish interests are in conflict with the Tea Party's agenda, they are in complete sync with the G.O.P.'s Washington leadership. The Republicans' new "Pledge to America" promises the $3.8 trillion addition to the deficit and says nothing about serious budget cuts or governmental reforms that might remotely offset it. Surfing the Beltway talk shows last Sunday, you couldn't find one without a G.O.P. politician adamantly refusing to specify a single program he might cut at, say, the Department of Education (Pell grants?) or the National Institutes of Health (cancer research?).

This is the problem with connect-the-dots political journamalism: Aside from producing errors of fact, it gets in the way of a more interesting story.

FreedomWorks opposed TARP in real time (right here at Reason, among other places). And while my Google searching skillz were unable to unearth definitive evidence about the TARP views of David Koch (who sits on The Reason Foundation's Board of Trustees), the most important Washington institutions the Kochs helped found–Cato, the Mercatus Center–have produced voluminous anti-TARP material, as (of course) have we. You can find lengthy lists of real-world government cuts both in Reason's current 3-D issue and at Cato's DownsizingGovernment.org. As Ira Stoll noted in August,

[A] lot of Koch-backed institutions would be more accurately characterized as pro-individual or pro-small-government than as "pro-corporate." These think thanks and professors and groups were criticizing ObamaCare when the drug companies were backing it, criticizing TARP when the investment banks were backing it, criticizing the auto bailout when GM and Chrysler were begging for it, criticizing "clean energy" subsidies when GE and Ford were begging for them.

Rich is coming close to identifying the outlines of a genuinely interesting set of paradoxes. The "Pledge to America" is, as Jacob Sullum demonstrated last week to devastating effect, embarrassingly thin and unconvincing when it comes to trimming the sails of runaway government. The GOP establishment is trying desperately to co-opt a movement that is much more focused in its government-cutting than professionalized Republicans have been for a generation. But acknowledging that several arms of the mythical Kochtopus have been, and continue to be, wailing away at the Republican Party mucks up the crowd-pleasing narrative that a billionaire family is trying to deliver a GOP election in order to maximize corporate welfare for themselves and their Wall Street co-conspirators.

Speaking of crowd-pleasing conspiracy theories, Nation contributor and professional lesser half of Matt Taibbi Mark Ames went postal over the weekend on the work and universe of Reason contributor Will Wilkinson. This will give you the flavor:

[F]or him, the destruction of the middle-class to enrich the billionaire class was just another event, another opportunity to prove to Master Koch that "W.W." belonged inside the plantation mansion–in the butler's quarters–and not out there in the miserable slave cabins with the rest of us parasites.

The Kochs have been passing around their libertarian whore Wilksinson [sic] for awhile now, and getting a lot of mileage out of their investment[.]

This is the quality of analysis currently drawing applause from the reality-based community.