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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Citizen Koch

The power, money and politics of the Koch Brothers

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It’s naïve to believe in a golden age when money didn’t matter in politics, but in the last few years, the cost of democracy has skyrocketed, the restrictions on campaign spending have been annulled and the big corporations have removed their gloves. In the Citizens United decision (2010), a case of what the right wing otherwise denounces as “judicial activism,” the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unrestricted election spending by corporations is a constitutional right. Koch Industries is just like you and me, the court decided. But we know better: Koch is worth billions and controls a big piece of the American economy. Even before Citizens United, the Koch brothers spent a fortune on media and political campaigns, seeking to remodel the U.S. according to their own fantasies. The pace has only accelerated.

As the documentary Citizen Koch shows over and over, David and Charles Koch aren’t the only billionaires bent on controlling the country, but they are the prime movers. Wisconsin, once a progressive state, became a battleground and test case when the Kochs’ favorite son, Scott Walker, pulled a fast one on voters and turned “reform” into union busting. Walker thwarted a grassroots campaign to recall him, outspending his opponents eight to one on the largesse of out-of-state donors.

Directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal caught Walker on camera blandly discussing his scheme: destroy the state’s labor movement by “divide and conquer,” starting with public service unions, since many people hold vague resentments over workers paid with taxpayers’ dollars. The mania to dismantle unions has a financial motive, since unions are a major source of funding for Democratic Party candidates. But running at a deeper level is a dark current of ideology. The Kochs’ father was the racist anti-Communist paranoiac who co-founded the John Birch Society. Although the Koch-funded elements of the Tea Party parade the occasional African American in a show of diversity, Citizen Koch visits a Tea Party gathering during the Walker recall whose John Birch speaker blamed America’s decline on the malign influence of Jews who fled Nazi Germany for America. Little wonder, given the clarity of such thinking, that the Tea Baggers shown in Citizen Koch can’t decide whether Obama is a Fascist, a Socialist or a Communist. Of one thing they are certain: he’s not an American.

Citizen Koch may be preaching to the choir, but its directors hope to win a few converts. They interview several genuinely conservative Republicans dismayed by the radical shift in their party, and follow the 2012 Republican presidential campaign of Buddy Roemer, a banker and former Louisiana governor who couldn’t raise enough money to buy a seat in the GOP primary debates. Disgusted by the overweening power of corporate contributors, he quit the party.

Citizen Koch runs at the Downer Theatre through June 26.