The Long Game

By James Kwak

Charles Koch recently made headlines by saying that it is “possible another Clinton could be better than another Republican” in this year’s presidential race. Some people find this surprising: how could the Koch brothers sit by and let another Democrat be elected to the White House? But that’s a reflection less of the Kochs’ political acumen than of our collective quadrennial fixation on the presidential election.

I find it unlikely that the Kochs would actually support Hillary Clinton—it’s more likely Charles was taking the occasion to signal his displeasure with both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz—but it’s quite possible that they will simply sit out the battle for the White House. Unlike, oh, just about everyone in the Democratic Party, the Kochs have never panicked at the thought of losing any particular election. Instead, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson put it:

When conservative business leaders such as Charles and David Koch invested in Cato, Heritage, the American Enterprise Institute, and all the other intellectual weapons of the right, they were playing the long game. When Republican political leaders like Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell developed new strategies for tearing down American government to build up GOP power, they were playing the long game.

That’s from the conclusion of their new book, American Amnesia (p. 369).

Since the 1980s, if not earlier, the story of the Democratic Party has been a reasonably successful attempt to take or maintain control over the presidency at any costs—combined with a complete failure to articulate a compelling, long-term vision, or to build lasting networks and institutions that provide the infrastructure for political change. We bet everything on the political skills of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, and then we act surprised when they end up following moderate Republican policies—in part because they are blocked in by Republicans in Congress, in state houses, and in the federal judiciary. (And for those who think this is hyperbole, it was Bill Clinton himself who said, “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. . . . We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?” (Hacker and Pierson, p. 163).)

The story of the conservative movement, on the other hand, is the opposite: serial failure to come up with a compelling presidential candidate—since 1988, no Republican nominee has won a plurality of the popular vote, except W. when running as an incumbent after “winning” a war—combined with a consistent vision, a massive advantage in fundraising not dependent on a unique individual (like Obama or Bernie Sanders), repeated victories in state legislative and gubernatorial elections, successful gerrymandering in multiple states, a structural lock on the House of Representatives, and consolidation of the small-state bias in the Senate. Sure, things haven’t been all rosy for libertarian conservatives like the Kochs—there was the huge expansion of government under W., and now Obamacare. But they’ve reduced the chances of higher taxes to nil, they’ve blocked any action on climate change, they have Barack Obama reduced to trying to pass a “free trade” agreement (because he can’t pass anything else), and they’re just one presidential election—now, or 2020, or 2024—from a massive restructuring of the tax code and all social insurance programs.

American Amnesia is a great read, for several reasons. It’s a passionate and fact-based argument for what Hacker and Pierson call the “mixed economy” (what that David Kotz calls “regulated capitalism” in The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism), one in which government plays an active role in structuring and supplementing markets. It’s long on American history going back to the Founding Fathers. Not only does it emphasize the importance of everyone’s current favorite founder, Alexander Hamilton, who favored a strong (for his day) federal government; it also shows James Madison to be a proponent of a strong central government, and even describes Thomas Jefferson’s reconciliation to Hamiltonian economic policies. And it’s deep on details of everything that’s wrong with American politics and economic policy today.

I think the best part of the book, however, is its emphasis on the interest groups and ideologues who brought about the current state of affairs. The title of the book refers to the fact that Americans no longer remember that it was the mixed economy that made the United States the most powerful country in the world. But the word “amnesia” is slightly misleading, because it connotes passive forgetting. It’s more accurate to say that the idea of the mixed economy was actively pushed aside by the ideology of all-powerful and universally benevolent competitive markets—what I call economism because of its exaggerated dependence on Economics 101 models, and Hacker and Pierson call Randianism after Ayn Rand.

Like Kotz, and like Cohen and DeLong in Concrete Economics, Hacker and Pierson discuss how something went wrong beginning in the 1970s and especially from the 1980s. (That’s also the inflection point in 13 Bankers, but we were focusing just on the financial sector.) The second part of American Amnesia focuses on several of the actors behind that historical shift. There is future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell encouraging American business to become a force for deregulation and small government. There is Newt Gingrich, who hit on the brilliant idea of destroying the reputation of the very institution he inhabited. And, of course, there are the Koch brothers, with that same Charles Koch saying (p. 232):

 The most important strategic consideration to keep in mind is that any program adopted should be highly leveraged so that we reach those whose influence on others produces a multiplier effect. That is why educational programs are superior to political action, and support of talented free-market scholars is preferable to mass advertising.

The Friedrich Hayek of “The Intellectuals and Socialism” could not have wished for a better student.

Through it all, the key is that these men were playing the long game—not the short game of trying to win the next election. And they are still playing it. In the long run, what matter are ideas, institutions, and money—not the millions of $25 donations that can make the difference in a presidential primary, but the million-dollar checks that build up think tanks, academic institutes, Astroturf organizations, 501(c)(4)s and super PACs, training courses for activists and local candidates, and all the other infrastructure necessary to build a long-term political movement.

They have it. We don’t. Hacker and Pierson write, “Those like us who believe we can and must build a mixed economy for the twenty-first century—they need to play the long game, too” (p. 369). The more I have studied the development of modern American conservatism, the more I agree. Unfortunately, that’s not how Democrats roll—at least not so far.

12 thoughts on “The Long Game

  1. The long game can easily be lost in the short run, yet i leave politics behind so as to not be held liable for political mistakes, simply because so many of them have already been proved to be destructively oriented.

  2. JK wrote above, “But the word “amnesia” is slightly misleading, because it connotes passive forgetting. It’s more accurate to say that the idea of the mixed economy was actively pushed aside by the ideology of all-powerful and universally benevolent competitive markets—what I call economism because of its exaggerated dependence on Economics 101 models, and Hacker and Pierson call Randianism after Ayn Rand.”

    We have got to stop inventing “isms” :-)

    A “mixed economy” is nothing other than double-entry bookkeeping – REALITY. Supply and demand meets operations/creation/sustainability. Man to land ratio.

    And that horror, Rand, re-ignited the smoldering ashes of WWII “ism” psychosis! Ick. She was never anything other than a Nihilist, Hedonist and Anarchist.

    Randists et al will NEVER fund a “long game” science project like this one that reveals WHAT IS TRUE about the human species:

    The “long game” to neutralize their “long game” is to say – “Get out of my face”.

    These trillionaires EXIST to put the hurt on people.

    Will that truth not be take seriously until an “ism” is attached to it?

    So how about this – Bat Sht Crazyism?

    Every human being has the INALIENABLE right to make their life less miserable through honest work. And NO ONE has the inalienable right to collect “rents” from that.

    “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps”

    and when you do…

    “She’s an uppity upstart”

    Isn’t that their “long game” in a nutshell…?

    Take a look at what churns out of those un-think tanks – it ALL puts the hurt on the individual! Stop rationalizing it with the yaddayadda….

    They keep screeching that the poor want to re-distribute “wealth”.

    THEIR plan was, still is, and will always be – TO TAKE IT ALL from YOU.

  3. Don’t get upset Annie, The Dr. and court house are feelin about as useless and troubled as $3 bill right about now. Their whole world is about to go up in smoke like a bad Cheech and Chong movie. Like someone in the theater yelled “DOCTOR” as they cut a nice juicy “FART”.

  4. I just don’t understand that Willie “satan” Spoons and his tribe of little pecker butt f*ckers, if they don’t get their way over everything he has this suicide pill he delivers to all comers to whittle down the opposition. Now he has a majority of unlimited following, and the courts and politicians on his side too, BUTT how can he STILL sleep at night?
    He is most disgusting thing that ever walked the universe and pretends he does not exist. His actions are unforgivable yet STILL universal, is there no God in the universe? Nope there is not, it’s been proved, only satan and the devil, and if you give the devil his due, he, she, and they, WILL take you for all you are worth with out you being aware.
    So Willie, you pitiful fool, take all you can now you little pecker head, i’ll get you back in the next life time, you and the Feds made this one toast.

  5. Look forward to reading the book. Their previous work Winner Takes All Politics was equal parts illuminating and disconcerting.

    With respect to the Kochs and Clinton, I’m sure that Clinton is probably not a first, second, or third choice, however, she’s probably a much more reliable option than a complete wild card like Trump. It’s worth noting that Koch Industries was a major donor to Bill Clinton’s pet project the DLC in the 1990s and had a seat on the board. Lee Fang with the Intercept has highlighted some of the other connections with respect to bundlers.

    The ties don’t run as deep as they do with the GOP these days, but they have hedged their bets. The bigger wager is probably in the efforts to help the GOP downballot.

  6. It is important to view everything going on today that is orchestrated by the Shamans of Gizmology – worst priest class, ever, to torment the human race – with an eye to the “long game”.

    Case in point – GoldmanSucks investing billions in the Uber “app” – why? Sneaky way to build a global “army” – operations-wise. Gettin it on “paper” first for leverage. The using people’s resources – their vehicles – and then the psychotic extreme avarice of their soulessness kicks in – sucking $$$$ out of local economies, impoverishing the “working class” even more.

    Manchurian candidate cars – the mind spins with possibilities for orchestrated “terrorism”….

    Yup – tailor “products” to entice the friendless and cheap people to get a ride somewhere….the NWO “economy”?

    Nope. It is about building an “army”.

  7. The Dr. doesn’t care about peoples pain and sufferings, it’s no skin off of his back if you are not a like minded thinker. He’s an army birthday party animal who’s formula for success can not be denied at this time. Money is his god, dry powder high energy is his name, and secret competition of eugenics is his game.
    His end of the world is the end of YOUR world, he delights at that sight, gain his strength from his might, everything in his life is alright. Plus soon as you throw him off balance, he refuses to acknowledge or talk about it, this way he justifies and makes your life hard, and his life easy.

  8. They are not “passive”. “Don’t care about the hurt they cause you.”

    They EXIST to put the hurt on you. They are PREDATORS.

    They have been using “government” to put the hurt on you. Get it?

    That is not a passive psyche ops stance…

    And where is Homeland Security in all this when people are flash-mobing political conventions – waving the flag of Mexico in Orange County CA and wearing hats that say, “Make America Mexico Again”?

    Right. Homeland Security is too busy figuring out how to siphon off the retirement savings of baby boomers…

  9. Annie, gvt IS the hurt, they are the problem, they need to be REFORMED or eliminated, there are no other choices. So elimination it shall be since they can’t be reeducated to suit the laws of nature, it’s been proved over and over again.

  10. Hillary would be the absolute worst of all evils for this country, this feller from another blog explains it well.
    “According to the OCC, as of December 31, 2015 there were $237 trillion in notional derivatives (face amount) at the 25 largest bank holding companies, with the bulk of that amount on the books of the insured banks. That compares with $169 trillion on the books of the 25 largest bank holding companies at December 31, 2007, just prior to the implosions on Wall Street. This means there has been an explosive 40 percent increase in eight years, when the Obama administration was supposed to be reining in risk on Wall Street.
    When you hear Hillary Clinton repeatedly tell the public that she wants to continue along the same pathways as President Obama, and that the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act is not needed, let the image of Goldman Sachs Bank USA and its FDIC insurance logo and its $41 trillion in derivatives come to mind.
    According to the latest report, from the the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC), on the derivatives exposure four largest banks, credit exposure from derivatives versus the bank’s risk-based capital is as follows: JPMorgan Chase 209 percent; Bank of America 85 percent; Citibank 166 percent and Goldman Sachs (wait for it) – a whopping 516 percent.
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but you might recall that one of the key promises of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation was that after the largest bank bailout in financial history in 2008, these derivatives were going to be pushed out of the insured bank into bank affiliates that would not endanger the taxpayer-backstopped deposits and force another monster taxpayer bailout in the next crisis. This became known as the “push-out rule” which could never seem to materialize into a hard and fast law. Then, in December 2014, Citigroup simply used its muscle to legislate the rule out of existence.”

    Now not that Trump would be a whole lot better, yet I prefer Trump more because I can at least play him like the fiddle he is, I mean what better way to turn the lights off on the public nuisance that is politics than to elect a Trump to the white house and then let nature take it’s course as the sheep simply continue being sheep.

    Here kitty kitty kitty, we are finally playing your song.

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