I'm going to disagree with my colleague Jamelle Bouie a bit (don't tell him, he's sitting right beside me, and I don't want things to get awkward!), who argues that the Koch brothers' efforts to fund conservative campaigns aren't really such a big deal. This was prompted, of course, by as many as 1,000 protesters at a retreat run by the Koch Foundation yesterday. Bouie says:
Of course, I don't want to discourage progressives from pushing back against misinformation or faulty views. It's incredibly valuable! But I'm not sure if it's wise to treat the Koch brothers -- or any set of right-wing donors -- as boogiemen. They can't shift the tides of public opinion, and they can't reverse an election result; all they can do promote their ideas to elites, and -- in some cases -- make an electoral environment a little more favorable. In other words, I'm not sure that it's worth the energy to protest.
I agree with Bouie that, in the micro, the Koch brothers don't have much of an impact. Face-to-face campaigning and local issues play a big role in each district, and the national tides can only swing those races to a degree. But I do think that on the macro issues, the Koch brothers hold a lot of sway. We know from Jane Mayer's terrific reporting in The New Yorker that they've helped fuel campaigns against items on Obama's agenda from climate change to health-care reform. Much of that work amounts to a giant misinformation campaign that works to some degree, and if it hasn't diminished support for the bills entirely, it's certainly slowed down the speed at which we address those problems. It's also helped give power to the politicians who support trying to unravel those efforts.
The Tea Party, while probably a smaller group than what was painted by the media, nonetheless made a lot of noise and helped draw attention away from constructive political discourse. If a rowdy protest helps draw attention to the men who helped drive the Tea Party agenda, then I'm all for it.
-- Monica Potts