Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The unbearable gravity of wealth

I'm about a day behind everyone else in posting this article, but it's something I wanted to kind of chime in about. It's from Dave Johnson (who recently outed himself as the Issues Guy at Seeing The Forest) of the Commonweal Institute, writing about the financing of the far right by a handful of wealthy folks:

Who's Behind the Attack on Liberal Professors?

The upshot of Johnson's analysis finds a mere handful of wealthy conservatives are actually responsible for an outsize quantity of the conservative "thought" that gets spread around the countryside. The chief suspects: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Richard Mellon Scaife, Joseph Coors's Castle Rock Foundation and the Olin Foundation.
So it turns out that every single right-wing source mentioned in their article owes some portion (if not all) of their livelihood to a very small core group of funders. In my experience, this is not atypical among conservative opinion-makers. It appears that the majority of the conservative experts and scholars writing newspaper op-ed pieces, books and magazine articles, and even the organizations that generate the "talking points" and position papers used by TV pundits and radio talk show hosts, are directly funded by, or work for organizations supported by this core group of funders.

This pattern of concentrated, interlinking financial backing is not found when you look into who is funding people and organizations that would not describe themselves as "conservatives".

One of the important things to note about the activities that all of these wealthy conservatives are busy funding lately has to do with intimidating dissent from the conservative party line. The arguments they raise do not address the points raised by the dissenters, but merely impugn the patriotism of the dissenters, and attempt thereby to silence them by raising the specters of the "war on terrorism" and "national security."

Johnson's article focuses on the attempts to stifle dissent emanating from academia and threaten the livelihoods of liberal antiwar protesters within the ivory tower. But these attacks are also occurring on a broader base against liberals generally, and are becoming increasingly threatening in tone.

These include:

-- William Bennett's Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, which has vowed to "take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing."

-- The recent letter (signed and then disavowed by Tom DeLay) from the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation that called labor unions a threat to national security and accused firefighters and policement of exploiting the 9/11 tragedy for their personal gain.

-- Paul Weyrich and his Free Congress Foundation, which are currently in the process of whipping up war hysteria on two fronts: Framing the war on terrorism as a cultural conflict between Islam and the West; and attacking multiculturalism and liberalism generally as the source of a "fifth column" that is enabling Islamic terrorists' attacks on America.

-- Ann Coulter's frequently broadcast antics, including her calls for the "physical intimidation" of liberals and her suggestion that Tim McVeigh should have bombed the New York Times building instead.

-- Borderline extremist "transmitter" organizations like WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, as well as such talk-radio appendages as Michael Savage, come right out and call liberals traitors to America and vow to "do something" about them.

Of course, Johnson points out how the wealth behind these propaganda campaigns has given a handful of people an extraordinary amount of power over the national discourse:
Now, after 30 years of effort, this core FSFG has built a comprehensive ideological infrastructure. There are now over 500 organizations, with the Heritage Foundation at the hub, all funded by this core group. David Callahan's 1999 study, $1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s, found that just the top 20 of the organizations spent over $1 billion on this ideological effort in the 1990s.

... The right-wing movement's messages are orchestrated and amplified to sound like a mass "movement" consisting of many "voices." Using "messaging"--communication techniques from the fields of marketing, public relations, and corporate image-management--the movement appeals to people's deeper feelings and values. Messages are repeated until they become "conventional wisdom." Examples include lines like "Social Security is going broke" and "public schools are failing." Both statements are questionable, yet both have been firmly embedded in the "public mind" by purposeful repetition through multiple channels. This orchestration has been referred to as a "Mighty Wurlitzer, " a CIA term that refers to propaganda that is repeated over and over again in numerous places until the public believes what it's hearing must be true.

As a study by the People for the American Way, has put it: "The result of this comprehensive and yet largely invisible funding strategy is an extraordinary amplification of the far right's views on a range of issues ..."

And, of course, as Johnson points out, this apparent "consensus" and the seeming "broad trends" are nothing other than a carefully manufactured illusion.

I've mentioned previously that it has long been apparent that the extremist right in America -- the neo-Nazis and skinheads, tax protesters and "Patriots," gay-bashers and anti-abortion radicals -- are being quietly funded by some very wealthy right-wing "sugar daddies." These people may not necessarily share all the views of these extremists, but they deliberately underwrite their causes as a way of creating "wedge issues" -- mostly racial and class issues that serve to keep the working class firmly entrenched in the conservative camp -- that help drag the national center rightward and start a million fires that keep liberals busy extinguishing them.

As with Johnson's 'Four Sisters,' their money grossly distorts the national body politic by exerting a strong gravitational pull rightward, and helps put a broad array of extreme agendas into play in the mainstream, when they might otherwise be relegated to the fringes. The real danger, as I've been discussing, is that the commingling of all these elements in an anti-liberal right -- especially one that is being whipped up with the kind of rhetoric that traditionally escalates into physically violent reaction -- may bring about a genuine coalition of corporatism and proto-fascism, all bent on destroying liberals.

I'll be trying to get into this more in the next couple of days, with (I'm hoping) the latest installment in my series on fascism.

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