Scrooge Counter-Programming

When I saw a publicity emails pushing Politico’s morning story ‘The Kochs’ war on poverty’, I admit I thought the worst. I figured it might one of those articles with the message, ‘Hey, you might think the Koch’s are trying to shred the social safety net and only care about the super rich, but …’ But I was too cynical. It turns out the piece is pretty fascinating and not at all one of these ‘counterintuitive’ pieces where the reporter gets taken in by a lot of flimflam. In fact, the Kochs’ efforts are even more comical that I might have expected.

We’ve seen generations of conservatives arguing that liberal social programs are not simply unaffordable or ineffective but positively shackle people to poverty. If we could just embrace pure free enterprise and go back to the days before the New Deal when there were no poor people, everything would be great. But it’s actually a bit better, or worse, depending on your point of view.

The Kochs’ ‘war on poverty’ includes classes teaching poor people – or at least people willing to show up for a free hot meal – how to prepare “dinner on a dime” and lessons on “couponing”, along with the free hot meals, Turkey giveaways and guides for “learning about freedom.”

In other words, a good bit of the outreach is not only laissez-faire propaganda but actually tips on how to be poor more effectively, making the most of coupons, cooking more economical meals and other tips which certainly may be helpful at some level but seem like ones poor people might be in a better position to teach GOP operatives rather than vice versa.

The reporter also got one of the Kochs’ top lieutenants to concede that one additional benefit of the plan is to help secure Koch Inc’s tax status with the IRS as a nominally educational and charitable organization …

“Sometimes, we have not been as good at explaining the virtues of economic freedom and individual liberty to people who are struggling,” said Americans for Prosperity’s president Tim Phillips. He also conceded that AFP Foundation’s Bridge to Wellbeing initiative helps satisfy an Internal Revenue Service requirementthat the group focus its spending on educational or charitable purposes, not political or policy advocacy. “Part of it is we are a social welfare organization. And, so, yes, we do try to help folks live more prosperous lives. That’s not related to direct policy.”

At some level, the whole effort seems as much a matter of self-delusion as some effort to game the tax code. But it’s entertaining. And some deserving families are apparently getting free Koch Turkeys for the holidays. So there’s that.

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