The New York Times often uses its book review to make liberal political statements under the cover of criticism, whether by praising books by liberals that bash conservatives, or eviscerating books by conservatives that attack the left. Sunday brought the first kind, summed up by this online teaser: "'Dark Money' argues that the Koch brothers and a small number of allied plutocrats have essentially hijacked American democracy."
The cover of the Times Sunday Book Review takes on three new books about the conservative movement under the headline “Rightward Bound.” First up, Alan Ehrenhalt, senior editor of Governing magazine, embraced liberal journalist (and Koch brother obsessive) Jane Mayer’s Dark Money – The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.
Ehrenhalt is a big fan of the latest by Mayer, who co-wrote Strange Justice, a vituperative attack on Clarence Thomas, and who has been issuing dark threats about the Koch brothers for years:
Mayer marked 1980 as a watershed year for conservatives, with one public event – Reagan’s election – and one “utterly private event whose significance would not be noticed for years. Charles and David Koch, the enormously rich proprietors of an oil company based in Kansas, decided that they would spend huge amounts of money to elect conservatives at all levels of American government....”
By 2010 the Koch Brothers master plan of world domination was complete, at least through two screens of paranoia, both Mayer and her sympathetic reviewer, Ehrenhalt:
Thirty years later, the midterm elections of 2010 ushered in the political system that the Kochs had spent so many years plotting to bring about....The brothers had spent or raised hundreds of millions of dollars to create majorities in their image. They had succeeded. And not merely at the polls: They had helped to finance and organize an interlocking network of think tanks, academic programs and news media outlets that far exceeded anything the liberal opposition could put together.
It is this conservative ascendancy that Jane Mayer chronicles in “Dark Money.” The book is written in straightforward and largely unemotional prose, but it reads as if conceived in quiet anger. Mayer believes that the Koch brothers and a small number of allied plutocrats have essentially hijacked American democracy, using their money not just to compete with their political adversaries, but to drown them out.
Ehrenhalt shares Mayer’s dark and literally “conspiratorial” tone:
Mayer also sheds some useful light on the co-conspirators who helped the Kochs build a movement that spread far beyond electoral politics. Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Mellon banking fortune and to much of the wealth of Gulf Oil, was the financial presence behind the Heritage Foundation. John M. Olin, whose family chemical corporation was a major beneficiary of federal weapons procurement, focused on the creation of faculty positions for conservatives at prestigious university campuses. The Bradley brothers, Harry and Lynde, used proceeds from the merger of their family electronics firm with Rockwell International to underwrite a whole array of publishing and research ventures.
He predictably lamented the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, “which removed virtually all limits on corporate campaign funding and fostered its anonymity” in the service of “Free-market orthodoxy” and against “action against climate change.”
Ehrenhalt returned to the liberal bugbear of Citizens United in his conclusion.
....In the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, that no longer seems a realistic prospect. This alone may make the indignities that Mayer writes about a departure from the ones that have gone before.
National Review’s Jonah Goldberg was brutally sarcastic in a column responding to Mayer’s overwrought book thesis: “Dear God, it’s worse than I thought! They want to change the conversation! They want to persuade Americans to vote differently! The horror, the horror. You might be forgiven for thinking that this is pretty much exactly what democracy is about. But no. For you see, only Hollywood, college professors and administrators, the ACLU, People for the American Way, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, Emily’s List, the Ford Foundation, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, MoveOn.org, the NAACP, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, Steven Spielberg and, of course, publications such as the New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation and Mayer’s own The New Yorker are allowed to try to change conversations and argue for people to vote differently.”
Also on the front of the Book Review was Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist, reviewing two books on conservatism, Why The Right Went Wrong by liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. and Too Dumb To Fail by Matt K. Lewis.
Wooldridge, a Brit, was a 2004 co-author of The Right Nation, which was rather hostile to conservatives, and his views dovetail neatly with the ones in the accusatory tomes he critiques on the front of the Times Book Review.
May you live in interesting times” is said to be a Chinese curse. The same kind of curse may apply to people who support interesting parties. There is no doubt that the Republicans are more interesting than the Democrats at the moment -- their rhetoric is more incendiary, their divisions more profound, their behavior more outlandish. But the very antics that encourage people to tune in to the presidential debates also discourage them from pulling the voting lever: Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the White House in November seem to be getting higher largely because she is a safe pair of hands.
Wooldridge then lumped with Donald Trump the entire GOP.
But two things make Trump’s candidacy both more interesting and more worrying. The first is that he’s more of an exclamation mark than an aberration. The Republican Party has been playing with fire for years: This is a political organization that, because of its intransigence, has closed down America’s government (and reduced its credit rating), and that has nominated the ridiculously unqualified Sarah Palin for the vice presidency....
Why the Right Went Wrong and Too Dumb to Fail are both attempts to make sense of all this. On the face of it E. J. Dionne Jr. and Matt K. Lewis could hardly be more different. Dionne is a much-garlanded member of the liberal establishment -- a fellow of the Brookings Institution, a Washington Post columnist and a fixture on big media. Lewis is a product of the conservative counterestablishment as reinvented by the Internet revolution. He writes regularly for The Caller, as well as The Week and The Daily Beast, and records a weekly podcast, “Matt Lewis and the News.” But they both agree that the buffoonery on the right is bad not just for conservatism but for America.
Wooldridge claimed “Dionne is notably fair-minded.” (NewsBusters readers might disagree) while finding his book “much too long and frequently disorganized.”
He lovingly quoted Lewis’s claim that the movement has been captured by “empty-headed talking point reciters, rookie politicians who’ve never managed anything in their lives, media clowns such as Donald Trump, dim bulbs in tight pants or short skirts, professionally outraged shout-fest talking heads and total political neophytes.”
Says Wooldridge of Lewis: “He notes that the movement is full of overdogs pretending to be underdogs. Ted Cruz, the Tea Party’s leading champion, was educated at Princeton and Harvard Law School and is married to a Goldman Sachs executive. He accuses these assorted freaks of caring more about stoking outrage than in governing the Republic....
Freaks? So much for the vaunted British gift for understatement.