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Think Again: The Contours and Context of the Conservative Class War in Wisconsin

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When Ian Murphy of the online newspaper Buffalo Beast prank-called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, he was, as he admitted, "wildly unprepared." But it didn't really matter. All he had to say were the words "David Koch" and Walker was running off at the mouth about his plans to trick the missing Democrats from the legislature into returning for a phony-baloney negotiating session while the Republicans push through Gov. Walker's bill to destroy the unions' collective bargaining rights. (The Murphy/"Koch" suggestion that troublemakers be placed in the crowd is the newsmaker here, but not necessarily the most interesting news.) But whatever the eventual outcome of the Wisconsin struggle, there's no question that it represents a turning point in the shape and contour of American politics.

I warned in two recent Nation columns of the onset of a new "class war" here and here. Conservatives and their billionaire allies, having won enormous victory in shifting the tax burden from the rich to the rest of us, would now seek to use state financial difficulties to destroy public unions who were among the last bastions of money and people-power for progressive candidates.

ACORN was taken down with remarkable ease with the help of a cowed mainstream media as I discussed here and here. Right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers were behind almost all of these efforts, among others. They funded phony organizations as well as directed their actions, often unbeknownst to the people holding the signs and chanting.

Eric Lipton of The New York Times notes that the Koch-financed Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told a large group of counterprotesters who had gathered Saturday at one edge of a union protest, "We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation." But he failed to mention that a Koch-funded organization was planning to make this happen.

Koch was also a major funder of Gov. Walker, and sent his executives "to try to encourage a union showdown," as Phillips himself explained.

The desire by a coterie of wealthy right-wing activists to gin up conflict for the purpose of rewriting laws to destroy the power of any and all who oppose them on the national stage will set the terms of debate for the final two years of the Obama presidency. The biggest question is whether what remains of the mainstream media will be able to report these stories in context, as Mr. Lipton did.

In an extremely useful Think Progress post we see the long tail of these decades-long investments by wealthy right-wingers to redirect the entire course of American politics toward the power of the wealthy. It notes that:

  • Much of Gov. Walker's critical political support can be credited to a network of right-wing fronts and astroturf groups in Wisconsin supported largely by a single foundation in Milwaukee: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a $460 million conservative honey pot dedicated to crushing the labor movement.
  • The MacIver Institute is a conservative nonprofit that has provided rapid-response attacks on those opposed to Gov. Walker's power grab. MacIver staffers produced a series of videos attacking anti-Walker protesters, including one mocking children. Naturally, the videos have become grist for Fox News and conservative bloggers.
  • The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is a major conservative think tank helping Gov. Walker win support from the media. The institute has funded polls to bolster Gov. Walker's position, and like MacIver, produced a flurry of attack videos against Gov. Walker's political adversaries and a series of pieces supporting his drive against the state's labor movement. Over the weekend, the institute secured a pro-Walker item in The New York Times. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is supported with over10 million in grants from the Bradley Foundation.

As Think Progress has reported, the powerful astroturf group Americans for Prosperity not only helped to elect Gov. Walker but bused in Tea Party supporters to hold a pro-Walker demonstration on Saturday. The Bradley Foundation earmarked funds in 2005 to help Koch Industries establish the Americans for Prosperity office in Wisconsin. The foundation gave about $200,000 to Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin (also called Fight Back Wisconsin) from 2005 to 2009

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