Employers and Employees: Contemporary Liberalism and Class Warfare, Part 2

I wrote yesterday about liberal attacks on employers who communicate with their employees about politics and about how particular policies would impact their businesses. I noted that in this respect, the Citizens United decision has been interpreted as leveling the playing field between companies and unions, which have been telling their members–both willing and unwilling members–how to vote for many years. I argued that most workers identify their own economic interests closely with those of their employers, as they should. It therefore makes sense for employers to communicate with their employees about public policy. If an employee isn’t interested in, or persuaded by, his employer’s views, he can simply ignore them.

I linked to a left-wing site called In These Times that attacked Mitt Romney because he encouraged employers to communicate their views to employees. But it didn’t stop there. In These Times went on to attack the left’s bete noir, the Koch brothers, on the same ground:

On Sunday, In These Times broke the news that Koch Industries mailed at least 45,000 employees a voter information packet that included a flyer endorsing Romney and a letter warning, “Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences [of a bad election result], including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills.”

Garrett Epps

This theme was picked up by a left-wing law professor named Garrett Epps in The Atlantic. Epps refers, but doesn’t link, to an article in the Wichita Eagle based on interview of Charles Koch and Koch Industries’ Rich Fink. The Eagle story is generally sympathetic to the Kochs; Epps, of course, is not:

The main theme of Koch’s comments is the common but unbecoming self-pity peculiar to the rich and powerful. He and his brother David are being picked on, he says.

Charles Koch

Actually, the Koch brothers have received many, many death threats, and it is not unreasonable for them to believe that such threats are encouraged by the steady stream of vitriol directed at them by the Obama administration, the Democratic Party, and, left-wingers like Garrett Epps. These were the incidents itemized in the Wichita Eagle story that Epps derided as “unbecoming self-pity:”

Summer 2010: Austan Goolsbee, then Obama’s chief economic adviser, commented on Koch Industries’ tax status during a briefing with reporters in Washington, accusing the company of not paying taxes.

Under federal law, it’s a crime to improperly access or disclose confidential tax information, according to [Koch Industries General Counsel Mark] Holden, who suspects the administration was trying to intimidate them because of their political views.

“It was false and malicious, too,” Holden said. “We pay a lot of taxes.”

Stephanie Cutter

May 2012: Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said in a video that the campaign is “going to call their BS,” referencing the Kochs.

Mark Holden

“Really?” Holden said. “If my kids said that to me, they’d be going to their room. This is the deputy campaign manager? This is the discourse in this country?”

May 2012: David Axelrod, Obama’s senior political consultant, told the media in a telephone conference that Mitt Romney is being aided by “the (political strategist) Karl (Rove) and Koch brothers’ contract killers in super PAC land,” according to news accounts.

“And when you have Axelrod, one of (Obama’s) top campaign officials, saying we are contract killers — I mean, I don’t know how somebody in the administration can say that about a private citizen,” said Charles Koch. “The attacks are unbelievable.”

“It’s frightening because you don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said. “They have tremendous power. They can destroy just about anybody, whether you are totally innocent or not.”

July 2012: U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., read a statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate accusing the Koch brothers of being “two of the biggest sources of secret money in politics.”

With photos of the Koch brothers as a backdrop, captioned “The Koch Brothers: Subverting the Democratic Process,” Lautenberg spoke for three minutes, accusing the brothers of picking their preferred politicians.

“If these wealthy individuals want to pick our next president, they should have the muscle and the courage to stand up and say so, tell everybody … what they want to do to our democracy. They don’t have the courage,” Lautenberg said.

Lautenberg also read a list of Koch Industries’ consumer products into the record, detailing the various companies the Koch brothers own. Koch officials called that action tantamount to inviting a boycott by consumers.

The attacks have forced the brothers to increase security around themselves and their families, both said. David Koch said Obama’s criticisms might tempt disturbed people to hurt them.

And that doesn’t begin to count the many slurs that have been directed against the Kochs by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and other leading Democrats. No doubt, if the Bush administration had harassed and denounced liberal citizens who opposed its policies, leading to hundreds of death threats, Epps would have seen the matter quite differently.

George Washington

Epps cites the letter that Koch sent to its 50,000 or so U.S. employees, and weaves it together with a reference by Rich Fink to George Washington and the Founding Fathers (“[W]hat do you say to the Founding Fathers? … You say George Washington had too much influence? We … should have spread the influence around?”). Epps pushes the boundary between hyperbole and lunacy:

Were [the Founders] seeking to create a Koch-style libertarian utopia — a country where established wealth helps itself to public resources and the common people deferentially tug their forelocks? Hardly.

So how are the Koch brothers (“established wealth”) helping themselves to public resources? They have consistently opposed all forms of corporate welfare. Actually, it is government at various levels that helps itself freely to the Kochs’ resources, and those of their employees. And “common people tugging deferentially on their forelocks?” Epps, like so many leftists, lives in a fantasy world. Actually, America has historically been a land where common people achieve extraordinary success, and sometimes wealth, by working hard and being independent and creative, not by being toadies and currying political favor. That’s the way conservatives, including the Koch brothers, want to keep it.

The roots of “American exceptionalism” lie in the idea that ordinary Americans would be masters of their destinies — not serfs to a hereditary nobility, not servants of established wealth. If you want a picture of the Founding generation’s nightmare, consider the election packet recently sent to 45,000 employees of Georgia-Pacific, owned by the Koch Brothers. In no uncertain terms, the packet explains which candidates in national and state races employees are to vote for.

This spectacle — of working people dependent on rich employers who presume to dictate their politics — troubled the serious thinkers among the Founders.

Epps does not, of course, quote the Koch letter, which you can read here. It said:

To help you engage in the political process, we have enclosed several items in this packet. For most of you, this includes information about voter registration deadlines and early voting options for your state. At the request of many employees, we have also provided a list of candidates in your state that have been supported by Koch companies or by KOCHPAC, our employee political action committee.

I want to emphasize two things about these lists. First, and most important, we believe any decision about which candidates to support is – as always – yours and yours alone, based on the factors that are most important to you. Second, we do not support candidates based on their political affiliation. We evaluate them based on who is the most market-based and willing to support economic freedom for the benefit of society as a whole.

If you are concerned about our economy, our future and enhancing the quality of life for all Americans, then I encourage you to consider the principles of your candidates and not just their party affiliation.

A Serf

So Epps’s talk about “serfs” and “servants,” and “explain[ing] which candidates in national and state races employees are to vote for,” and about “working people dependent on rich employers who presume to dictate their politics,” is sheer left-wing fantasy. What actually worries Epps and his ilk is not that Koch’s management might “dictate” employees’ votes–we have the secret ballot, they can’t possibly do that–but rather the likelihood that those employees will betray Marxist dogma by favoring government policies that allow their own company, as well as the economy in general, to prosper.

Like many leftists, Epps mentions the Founders only to slander them. The pro forma nod he gives to George Washington et al. is merely a prelude to the Marxist ax-grinding that follows:

To many Americans on the right, the “Founding Fathers” (the phrase, as Jill Lepore reports in her book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History, was coined by that world statesman, Warren G. Harding) are gods. They have to be perfect, or America might not be perfect.

Let’s pause there. One leftist, Epps, quotes another, Jill Lepore. Did President Harding, a far more formidable figure than Epps realizes, originate the phrase “Founding Fathers?” I don’t know; the Encyclopedia Britannica says it dates to the 19th century. But who cares? Epps’s only point is to diminish the Founders, the ultimate objective being to undermine the authority of the written Constitution and the rule of law, as Progressives have done for more than a century.

And where does this nonsense about the Founders being “gods” and “perfect” come from? Not from any conservative I’ve ever heard of. Again, far-left fantasies breed endless straw men. The conventional conservative view is that the Founders were men and women of exceptional talent and vision who did an excellent job of creating a nation and writing a Constitution. So, does Epps agree with that description or not? He is coy, but I am pretty sure he doesn’t. Epps continues:

That’s why crackpots like Michele Bachmann insist that the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention were actually seeking to abolish slavery. There’s no evidence of that; but, like the story of Joshua making the sun stand still, it just has to be true.

I don’t know Epps, but I know Michele Bachmann, and based on Epps’s article, she would run intellectual circles around him. I don’t know precisely what Michele said about the Constitutional Convention and slavery, but it certainly is true that most of those present at the convention believed slavery was a retrograde institution that was on its way to extinction. Many thought that the Constitutional provision allowing Congress to ban the slave trade as of 1808 represented a death sentence for slavery, and Congress did indeed ban the importation of slaves as soon as it was able to do so. That, of course, was before cotton revolutionized the economics of slavery, and the Democratic Party became the world’s leading pro-slavery organization, a status that it retained for many years, even after the 13th Amendment was adopted.

Epps’s denigration of the Founders continues:

The fact that the Koch brothers are billionaires seeking to augment their fortunes doesn’t, in and of itself, make them a different breed of cat than the Founders. Some of them (Jefferson, Adams) were old rich; others (Washington, for example) were new rich; and some (Hamilton, for example) wanted desperately to become rich. Economic interest — the Virginians’ dependence on slave labor, Washington’s holdings in Western real estate, Hamilton’s vision of wealth as a commercial lawyer — influenced their vision of what the new country should become. The Koch brothers aren’t morally pure, but neither were the “founding brothers” of the Revolution and federal period.

John Adams

This paragraph is dumb in ways both small and large. Adams wasn’t “old rich;” he was never rich, period, although he made a good living for a while as a lawyer. More fundamentally, Epps suggests a Marxist diagnosis: the Founders’ “vision” was a function of their economic interests. This is profoundly stupid. If the Founders had wanted to pursue their economic interests, they would not have rebelled against England, as most wealthy Americans did not. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives and their fortunes as well as their honor, and a good number gave up both. Washington, as Epps admits, could have made a lot more money supervising his estate than commanding soldiers at Valley Forge; the same could be said of all the others. For that matter, Washington possibly could have been a king and certainly could have been president for life, if he had so chosen. It is hard to imagine a Marxist explanation of his career.

But if Epps’s view of the Founders is dumb, his attack on the Koch brothers (“billionaires seeking to augment their fortunes”) is almost equally stupid. If the Koch brothers were really devoted to augmenting their fortunes through politics–given that they are multi-billionaires, the proposition is dubious at best–they would be “green energy” magnates. They would seek political influence in order to obtain loans and guarantees from the federal government to fund businesses that are otherwise not viable, and they would pay lavish salaries and bonuses until the money runs out, and then stick taxpayers with the losses. Businessmen who want to make money through politics are very comfortable with the Obama administration.

Charles Koch anticipated Epps’s charge and rebutted it in the Wichita Eagle article linked to above:

Charles Koch says his enemies accuse him of maneuvering “so that we can be free to plunder or exploit people, exploit our employees, exploit our customers.

“And if that’s true, why are we the only large company that’s doing this?” he asked. “If this were the easy way to make money, why wouldn’t they be doing it?”

It is obvious that the Koch brothers’ lonely stand in favor of freedom is a matter of principle. You don’t have to agree with them; Epps obviously doesn’t. But it is not plausible to assign a mercenary motive to their efforts.

I am tempted to stop here, but since Epps doesn’t, let’s trudge on a little farther. He concludes with a dark vision of contemporary America:

Washington founded a new nation. The Kochs seem to want to re-found it to their liking.

I think it is obvious that the Kochs, like pretty much all conservatives, want to preserve the virtues of the original founding that have persisted through most of our history.

As James Fallows (a far more temperate figure than I) has explained recently, the last decade or so has begun to seem like a slow-motion coup d’état. Political forces unfriendly to our form of government have begun to transform it from within.

Actually, I think there is some truth to this. The extraordinary expansion of the administrative state over the course of the Obama administration is certainly anti-democratic, and could be described (with some exaggeration, to be sure) as a “slow-motion coup d’etat.” I don’t think that’s what Epps has in mind; but if not that, then what?

Political institutions are being crippled by hostile federal courts and paralysis-minded office-holders;

Huh? What political institutions? What “hostile federal courts?” Is he talking about the Obamacare decision? I don’t suppose so. And who are the “paralysis-minded office-holders?” Is Epps referring to the fact that Congress doesn’t pass the far-left legislation he would prefer? But Epps is a member of a tiny minority. We live in a democracy. “Our form of government” dictates that far-left policies favored by only a few are unlikely to become law.

the right to vote is being sharply cut back;

Really? How? Where? I assume Epps refers to the efforts, occasionally successful, to prevent voter fraud by requiring identification at the polls. Like they do in Canada and Mexico. But how is any legal voter’s right to vote being “sharply cut back?”

workers’ ability to resist employer domination is being destroyed;

Well, it’s true that wages are falling. But that isn’t because of “employer domination,” it’s because of the Obama administration’s horrible policies that depress economic growth and destroy wealth. Other than that, what on Earth can Epps be talking about?

secretive money is coming to dominate electoral politics;

President Obama has raised around $1 billion for his re-election campaign, the most in the history of politics, including unknown amounts of illegal contributions by foreign, fictitious or otherwise unlawful donors. Is this what Epps is referring to?

state courts are increasingly handmaidens of insurance companies and mining interests;

It’s fun to get a whiff of that old-time Marxist religion, isn’t it? Maybe we will see more of that as American industry rebounds under the Romney administration.

women’s hard-won gains will be reversed.

Really? What “hard-won gains” are those? The right to own property? To vote? To receive equal pay for the same work? To graduate from college in greater numbers than men? Or is this just another tiresome abortion reference? In which case it is misplaced, since the libertarian Koch brothers are pro-choice.

If these trends continue, the America of 2025 will look nothing like the republic we lived in when the coup began in 2000, with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.

Al Gore

More partisan hackery. For the record, the Florida Supreme Court, by a 4-3 all-Democrat majority, tried to steal the election for Al Gore by finding that the trial court that heard Gore’s challenge to the vote count had abused its discretion in making findings based on the evidence before it. That holding was completely groundless and obviously incorrect. (If you ever want to stump a liberal, ask him where, precisely, the trial court abused its discretion in making the findings that it did. In fact, Gore’s lawyers were lucky that they weren’t sanctioned for filing false affidavits. But no one remembers that now.) If it had been a Florida state race, the Supreme Court presumably would have left it alone, but the Court couldn’t in good conscience allow partisan Democrats to steal the presidential election for Gore when there was no rational basis for finding that the trial court had abused its discretion. By any objective standard, Bush won Florida. And it was only close because the TV networks collaborated with the Gore campaign to call Florida for Gore when the heavily-Republican panhandle was still voting. That was one of the great unexplored scandals of our political history.

The Kochs may actually be the founding fathers of this new nation. God save my grandchildren from living in a republic “founded” by such as these.

Actually, Garrett, your grandchildren should be so lucky. America is in decline, not because of Bush v. Gore but because government spends money like water, Congress has run up a $16 trillion debt, and federal policies discourage economic growth at every turn. The Koch brothers want to restore American freedom, prosperity and greatness. If your grandchildren are lucky, they, and we, may succeed.


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