Here's a reading assignment designed to induce a nasty case of political bipolar disorder: Elizabeth Warren vs. The Koch Brothers.
For the past week or two, I've been alternating between two books on the nightstand that clearly spell out the primary ideological war taking place in this country. It's enough to make your head spin, given the stark opposition of these ideologies.
One is Elizabeth Warren's "A Fighting Chance," which gives a deceptively folksy account of the brutal pillage and plunder that the American economy, and the middle class in particular, suffered when the U.S. Treasury and White House bailed out the banks and predatory mortgage lenders, all while forsaking individual homeowners and workers.
It's no secret that for the New Deal-embracing wing of the Democratic Party, Warren's takedown of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and even President Barack Obama over the generous protection of too-big-to-fail banks has propelled her to the top of the 2016 presidential wish list over the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Warren is the one who likes to remind the Koch brothers that the $115 billion-a-year private industry empire they created was done so on the backs of the infrastructure, tax breaks, workers and consumers they've availed themselves to here in America. It's the crux of the national corporate takeover of American government.
Meanwhile, while Democrats try and rally a winning strategy and re-engage the young and minority voters who gave Obama the presidency in 2008 and 2012, the Republicans have their own inner ideological war to battle between now and 2016. That's because the Republican Party that's about to control both houses in Congress is no longer the Republican Party. At least it's not until the establishment Republicans demonstrate that they can thwart the activist, Tea Party wing of their party. Until then, the GOP is ready to play its role as a free-market advocacy cabal that aims to dismantle the tentacles of the federal government, all in the name of freeing us from a welfare state whose final destination is collectivist thumb sucking, bed wetting and liberal use of food stamps.
How these anti-government governors, U.S. senators and congressmen have commandeered the Republic is what makes so fascinating Daniel Schulman's book, "Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty." No matter how many references you've read to the Koch brothers, or how many articles have attempted to show the scope of their influence, "Sons of Wichita" makes plain the genealogy of not only the Koch Industry family, but also the anatomy of a libertarian infiltration of our two-party system.
Since 2008, the Koch brothers' influence on American politics has been on display in the guise of the Tea Party. The anti-Obama protests and "grassroots" uprisings against big government may seem like a spontaneous combustion against an "other" kind of Democratic president, especially after the economic meltdown caused by our dear old friends the bankers, but they're not. "Sons of Wichita" makes it clear that the Koch brother's march toward infiltrating and tearing down the U.S. government has been a steady 40 years in the making.
Schulman details how, by 1965, Charles Koch -- already steeped in deep anti-communism activism by his industrialist father and founder of Koch Industries, Fred Koch -- was well on his way to embracing and promoting Libertarian view far right of even the John Birch Society. According to Schulman, Charles became “a full-throated libertarian evangelist. It was an extreme ideology, in which the role of government was nearly non-existent, and one that fell well outside the traditional left-right poles of political thought.” Government, according to Charles Koch, "is to serve as a night watchman, to protect individuals and property from outside threat, including fraud. That is the maximum.”
After the Nov. 4 elections, with its widespread Republican victories, it was somewhat intriguing that Sen. Mitch McConnell's first message after winning re-election in Kentucky was that he and House Speaker John Boehner would not allow another government shutdown, or sink the country's economy by defaulting on our debt. McConnell is now the most-watched man in Washington; the most powerful Republican in the country whose aim is to continue to nullify the Obama presidency. But no matter how obstructionist McConnell has been, and continues to be, the real issue for Congressional GOP leaders is just how much of the Koch brother's anti-government, Libertarianism-on-steroids agenda they're going to try and carry out.
Those of us neophytes who aren't students of American political influence may choose to see Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Scott Walker as newfangled embodiments of libertarianism, creatures given life and breath in direct reaction to the ascension of Obama the Other. But the seeds for this stark division have been in the political ground for decades. The installment of anti-government, anti-union, anti-regulation candidates in state and federal government has come courtesy of the Koch brothers' 40-year effort to strip the federal government of much of its regulatory power.
The "purity" of the Kochs uber-libertarian vision dovetails splendidly with Koch Industry's insatiable appetite to extract, refine and transport all manner of oil, gas and other natural resources and commodities. Toss in Citizens United and the decision to let campaigns be financed by corporations and the Kochs are now sitting atop their perfect storm of political victory of, again, the national corporate takeover. I shudder to imagine that McConnell and Boehner can do anything given the tensions within their own party.
For Warren to be able to incite a broader, populist uprising against the corruption that the monied class has commanded of our financial, governmental and political institutions, more "regular" i.e. working class and middle class Americans are going to have to buy into a future where shared interests underlie government policy. This is the case she emphatically makes, drawing ire and steam from her first-hand witness of the bank bailout and her call to arms over the economic policies that favor the industrialists, bankers and the 1 percent.
There's little question that the ideological divide between the Elizabeth Warren wingers vs. the anti-government crusade of the Koch brothers will be resolved any time soon. Heck, given the odds, a direct collision course between the Kochs and Warren will not likely take center stage. If nothing else, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may muddy the ideological waters just in time for 2016. For now, though, in the "quiet" hours after the 2014 elections, the political battle can be distilled -- or dizzyingly revealed -- in the pages of Warren's "A Fighting Chance" and Schulman's book on the Kochs, "Sons of Wichita."
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.