Updated: June 23, 2011 12:34AM
I imagine the tycoons Charles and David Koch must have a war room, or more precisely a “war on liberal ideas” room, where plans are laid for well-funded assaults on progressives. Their targets are easy to guess: Democrats, unions, public school teachers, trial lawyers, environmentalists, the judiciary and academia. Like some deranged game of Risk, the brothers strategically deploy their riches to destroy, marginalize, subvert or infiltrate each of these constituent groups, with the result being that poorly funded progressives are overrun as easily as Poland.
The latest bombshell is from St. Petersburg Times writer Kris Hundley, who exposed a 2008 agreement between the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and Florida State University for $1.5 million. The money was to fund faculty positions in a new program promoting “political economy and free enterprise.” It came with the unconscionable condition that the foundation’s handpicked advisory committee hold veto power during the hiring process.
Disgraceful, yes, but this is just the newest revelation in what has been a well-reported mission by the Koch brothers to use their vast wealth, estimated at $22 billion each, to alter America’s thinking and turn average people against every government program that makes their lives better and more secure.
If you’re reading “Tea Party” here, you’ve got that right — call them the Kochs’ boots on the ground. But the Koch brothers know that they can’t rely solely on America’s angry, gullible know-nothings to change the national direction. Their ultra-conservatism needs a veneer of intellectual credibility, which is why for decades the brothers have lavished resources on a host of think tanks and academic institutions that are willing to make a case for anything a billionaire without a conscience would want.
And it has paid off handsomely. Policies on lowering taxes on wealth, dismantling Medicare, extinguishing labor rights and trashing environmental regulation have been finding their way into political action at the federal and state levels ever since Reagan.
This year has been a banner one for the Kochs. We’ve seen frontal political assaults on their entire enemies list, with Republican governors and legislatures going after public sector unions, the independence of the judiciary, public school teachers, you name it. The brothers have successfully insinuated their extreme brand of libertarianism into Republican DNA.
University economics departments, like FSU’s, are part of the mercenary army that gives the Koch brothers legitimizing cover. George Mason University, a public university in Virginia, is one of the best examples. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation has given more than $30 million to it over the last 20 years. The foundation’s pet project is the school’s Mercatus Center, over which it exerts tremendous control. The institute touts itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas.” Its scholars helped mold the Bush administration’s anti-regulatory policies.
At FSU, the newly exposed controversy has put President Eric Barron on the defensive. On Tuesday, he sent out a letter to “friends and colleagues” claiming that FSU “did not sell its academic soul,” (doth he protest too much?) but promising to “prevent outcomes like this in the future.”
Meanwhile the American Association of University Professors blasted FSU with a statement titled “The Perils of Outside Control,” saying FSU has “crossed a line.” The AAUP noted the obvious: that accepting a grant with these conditions means consenting “to ideological conformity from the outset.”
The Kochs may not like taxes but they sure like to leverage public funds to advance and amplify their own ideological agenda. That agenda leaves the middle class without a government protector in the face of laissez-faire capitalism.
Welcome to the Koch brothers’ war. Once America’s progressives are fully snuffed out, we will all be its casualties.
Robyn Blumner is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times.
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