The Triumph of the Diligent Dozen
Richard W. Behan, AlterNet
June 5, 2003"Can a society whose culture is so given over to excessive commercialization ever function as a deliberative democracy? Can the public find and develop its own sovereign voice, or has its character been so transformed by commercial media . . . that public life will forever be a stunted thing?" -- David Bollier, p. 148 in "Silent Theft."
David Bollier's alarming and vital book, titled "Silent Theft: the Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth," describes a stealthy, violent attack on public life in America. The things we share freely and enjoy in common -- our culture and public knowledge, public assets, public services, public spaces, public lands -- define us as the American people. Slowly, deliberately, they are becoming private assets and services, private spaces, proprietary knowledge, and trademarked culture, to be marketed for corporate profit. The vibrant body politic is becoming a mundane body economic.This sea change in our public life is primarily the result of the efforts of 12 archconservative philanthropic foundations that set out 40 years ago to advance an ideology known as "neoliberalism," or "free market theology." These foundations -- call them the Diligent Dozen -- chose to fund not humanitarian projects but ideological programs, and they were willing to do so decade after decade, spending hundreds of millions in the effort.The Diligent Dozen: The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Charles G. Koch, David H. Koch and Claude R. Lambe charitable foundations, the Phillip M. McKenna Foundation, the JM Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Henry Salvatori Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.Combined, these 12 fund an intricate, comprehensive network of neoliberal programs all across the country, but their most conspicuous and powerful beneficiaries are the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and their virtual creature the Cato Institute, all in the nation's capital. These three think tanks have crafted or influenced virtually the entire agendas of both domestic and foreign policy for the George W. Bush Administration. And the interwoven personal network of operatives, corporate supporters and corporate beneficiaries is sobering. [See Sidebar.]The Triumph of NeoliberalismThe main agenda of each of these think-tanks funded by the Diligent Dozen is to push the ideology of neoliberalism. Nations prosper, neoliberals assert passionately, only when citizens are at liberty to exchange rights of private property in free, unfettered markets. When governments seek to regulate markets free exchanges are tainted with some degree of compulsion, and social welfare suffers accordingly. That is the extent of their argument.A facile dichotomy of market vs. government is a gross oversimplification. Mr. Bollier shows how markets are literally embedded in a matrix of governmental institutions, from contract law to public infrastructure to the definition and prohibition of criminal behavior. Government is a precondition for the market system. Nowhere in neoliberal rhetoric is the corporate domination of markets even noted in passing. Exploiting a systemic advantage in bargaining power, modern corporations coerce the markets for their own inputs, and manage the markets for their outputs with advertising and administered prices. They distort -- they regulate -- "free markets" far more than governments possibly can. Failing to account for this, the neoliberal argument is fatally incomplete.Despite its glaring shortcomings, the neoliberals have now triumphed. Bollier's book describes the accelerating "enclosure of the commons." The primary political processes of enclosure are privatization and deregulation. Serious proposals are underway to privatize Medicare, Social Security, public education, and the national parks and forests, and deregulation has been a touchstone of public policy for at least two decades. Think airlines, banking, the telephone system, media ownership, the distribution of electricity and natural gas, corporate mergers and acquisitions, international trade, and the global mobility of capital.Privatization and deregulation serve exquisitely well not the public interest but the corporate. Scratch the surface of a neoliberal scheme and you will discover the creation, enhancement, or protection of a corporate profit opportunity. And you will see the public interest ignored, compromised, or devastated. The deregulated Enron Corporation and others like it testify to this, enriching their executives, directors, and political patrons while savaging their stockholders, employees, suppliers, and customers. Add the wholesale deceit and dishonesty of deregulated Wall Street. Add the $1.5 trillion liability of American taxpayers imposed by the deregulated savings and loan industry. When neoliberal ideologues seek "unfettered markets" what we get is unfettered corporations.It is not stupid to understand and to exploit this consequence. By far the bulk of funding for the neoliberal movement comes from corporate sources. Nor is it stupid to put the public sector on a secular starvation diet, through round after round after round of tax cuts. What better way to shrink the government-as-problem, or to encourage privatization and deregulation? It is no accident the economic and political power of American corporations has risen dramatically in the last several decades, while the economic and political power of the American people -- read democracy -- has suffered a corollary decline.The Annual Dinner of the American Enterprise Institute was held last February 26th, in Washington. The featured speaker was President Bush, who "delivered a historic address on the need for a new government in Iraq and the role it could play in spreading democracy in the Middle East." Soon thereafter Mr. Bush showed the world we mean business, indeed.The philanthropic funding of an ideology -- its articulation and dissemination -- is rare, perhaps unprecedented in American politics. To have sustained the effort over decades must be unique. It was a brilliant strategy brilliantly executed, but it begs to be counteracted if a decent, civil, compassionate public life is not to become a stunted thing.What a Tangled Web We Weave# Jeb Bush, the President's brother, served until recently on the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Foundation, whose two main goals are to privatize Medicare and public education.# Charles Koch is a founder of the Cato Institute, his brother David is a director. Their foundations are major contributors to Cato, which champions the privatizing of Social Security and federal public lands.# Charles and David are also co-owners of Koch Industries, a $35 billion privately-held oil company indicted in 1999 of cheating on its oil leases on those lands. The Kochs and their employees contributed generously to George Bush's several campaigns. David Koch and his wife Julie gave $487,500 exclusively to Republican candidates in the 2000 election cycle. Among the energy industry donors in that cycle only four companies -- Enron, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, and BP/Amoco -- outdid Koch Industries, which contributed well over a million dollars, 90 percent to Republicans. Koch Industries was charged by the Clinton Administration's Justice Department with $352 million in pollution and hazardous waste violations. The Bush Administration dropped the charges when Koch Industries agreed to a settlement of $20 million.# The Kochs have also given handsomely to the neoliberal Mercatus Center at George Mason University, as did Enron Corp. CEO Kenneth Lay. Wendy Gramm, Sen. Phil Gramm's wife, was an ardent deregulator at Mercatus, and sat on Enron's Board of Directors. Mr. Lay in turn sat on the Board of Trustees of the American Enterprise Institute. He no longer does, but corporate America remains well represented; more than half AEI's current trustees are CEOs of American corporations, including Dow Chemical, State Farm Insurance, Mead Westvaco Corporation, American Express, Merck & Co., Motorola, and Exxon Mobil.# Vice President Richard Cheney once served as a Trustee of the American Enterprise Institute, too. His wife, Dr. Lynn Cheney, is currently a senior staffer there. So is Richard Perle, a chief architect of the Bush National Security Strategy and the preemption policy that drove the invasion of Iraq. Thirteen other American Enterprise Institute staffers serve in senior positions in the Bush Administration.Richard W. Behan's most recent book is "Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands" (Island Press, 2001). Behan is currently working on a more broadly rendered critique, "Degenerate Democracy: A Primer On the Corporate Seizure of America's Agenda." He can be reached by email at email@example.com. For more on David Bollier's book, visit SilentTheft.com) 2003 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.Neocon Convergences
A funny thing happened while following the money trail of the neoconservatives who have hijacked U.S. foreign policy. The path led to a network of financial and intellectual resources that also is dedicated to neoracism.
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has been the economic fount for the neoconservative notions of global affairs now ascendant in the Bush administration. According to a report by Media Transparency, from 1995 to 2001 the Milwaukee-based foundation provided about $14.5 million to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the think tank most responsible for incubating and nourishing the ideas of the neocon movement.
The Bradley Foundation also made grants totaling nearly $1.8 million to help fund the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the influential group that had urged an invasion of Iraq since its 1997 founding. PNAC, headed by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, boasts a membership that includes many players in the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
The Bradley foundation also helped fund Samuel P. Huntington's neocon classic The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, a book that brought the domestic culture wars to the global stage. Hitting a familiar, Eurocentric note, Huntington's book argued that the Judeo-Christian "West" is the protagonist in an epic struggle of civilizations against the "other" (this time the Islamic East). For a group that supposedly has left Marxist thinking behind, these neoconservatives are rigidly dialectic.
All of this wouldn't much alarm me; after all, the battlefield of ideas is as good a place to fight as any. But then I began to notice other beneficiaries of Bradley's largess since 1995, and I found some troubling patterns. The foundation has provided nearly $2 million to the National Association of Scholars, which played a key role in the anti-affirmative action campaign known as the Californian Civil Rights Initiative and regularly questions black-oriented scholarship. It has also given $1.8 million to help fund the Madison Center for Educational Affairs, a group that provides guidance and support for 70 right-wing campus papers across the country.
The Bradley Foundation seems to have a soft spot in its heart for the kind of neoracist ideas that have gained currency in recent years. It has heavily subsidized authors like Charles Murray and Dinesh D'Souza, whose work on welfare and race has reinforced ancient stereotypes. Murray's book Losing Ground argued that poverty is the result of personal failings and thus most government anti-poverty programs should be eliminated. And his book The Bell Curve (written with Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein) argued that poverty is the result of genetic traits of a subclass of human beings. These arguments were deployed to help convince conservative legislators of the futility of affirmative action and other compensatory social programs. After all, if African-Americans are genetically incapable of achieving racial equality, we must rethink the goals of the civil rights movement.
David Horowitz, one of neoconservatism's most incendiary racial provocateurs, has raked in nearly $4.5 million in grants from the Bradley Foundation for his think tank, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Horowitz's combative tactics seem designed to ratchet up tensions between blacks and Jews, a theme that seems to be a Bradley favorite.
It's clear to me that the Bradley Foundation has forged a link between a neo-imperialist foreign policy and a neoracist domestic policy, and that it provides generous funding to push these views in both realms. And Bradley is just one of other like-minded foundations such as the Koch Family Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundation, and the Adolph Coors Foundation, groups examined in the report "Buying a Movement: Right Wing Foundations and American Politics," by People for the American Way.
The link that connects these views is the notion that Western civilization is both the global ideal and the world's official arbiter. It's an old notion: white supremacy unhinged--the same notion that justified the original imperialism and slavery. What's particularly troubling to me is the lack of domestic concern about this connection. Did the world not reach a consensus on the dangers of racist reasoning and military aggression following World War II?
That neocons are galvanized by race is no surprise. One of the founding documents of neoconservatism is Norman Podhoretz's 1963 essay "My Negro Problem--and Ours." In that famous Commentary essay, Podhoretz's comments helped create a gap between blacks and Jews that has yet to be bridged. Among other things, he suggested that the solution to America's racial problem would be for blacks to accept miscegenation as an unobtrusive form of genocide.
Victims of these evils see the link between neo-imperialism and neoracism much more easily than the victimizers. And they fear this axis of evil much more than the one concocted by Bush's speech writers. That's likely one reason black Americans resisted overwhelming media propaganda and opposed the Iraq invasion. The funding priorities of the Bradley Foundation show those fears are not misplaced.
Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983, and a weekly op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune. He is currently a Crime and Communities Media Fellow of the Open Society Institute, examining the impact of ex-inmates and gang leaders in leadership positions in the black community.