The Brittle Grip, Part 3

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April 3, 2014 11:21 a.m.

There is a level of vilification that is not appropriate in politics. Having someone make fun of your name does not reach that high threshold.

We can have some fun with billionaire Charles Koch’s Perkinsesque cri de coeur about attacks on him, his political giving and his “vision for a free society” as he puts it. But it is in line with, part of, the Perkinsonian vision of contemporary American political economy in which the extremely powerful nonetheless feel embattled and threatened. I see it as part of the larger story I wrote about here as the “brittle grip.”

Extremely wealthy people – enabled by a series of key Supreme Court decisions as recently as yesterday – want to be able to spend gargantuan amounts of money in the political process and remain essentially private persons who don’t get knocked around or criticized like everyone else in the political arena.

This is frankly ridiculous.

The Kochs, Sheldon Adelson, to a lesser degree George Soros (since his political giving does not approach the scale of these men and has declined in recent years) are massively influential players in our political process. Under the current system of lax or non-existent restrictions on political spending, billionaire givers are at least as influential as any individual member of the House or Senate, probably a bigger deal than the chairmen of the two major political parties. In the GOP today, the role of the Kochs and Adelson and a few others is likely greatly understated by those comparisons.

The same issue has come up recently with demands from mega-givers not to have to disclose their giving on the argument that they’re likely to be criticized or “vilified” or “intimidated.” Again, creeping Perkinsism. So intense political participation — intense “speech” — without having to enter the political arena and become a political entity who like everyone else in this democracy thing can be supported and criticized.

It doesn’t work that way. There’s no reason why it should. Free speech is freedom to speak. Not freedom to speak and not have anyone disagree with anything you say.

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