Shades Of McCarthyism: Federal Government Funds Smear Campaigns On Tea Party, Kochs

by Hans Bader on February 15, 2013 · 4 comments

in Features, Politics as Usual, Sanctimony, Zeitgeist

In backward cultures, people ignorantly blame their misfortunes on witches and the devil. Similarly, progressives scapegoat the Koch brothers for seemingly everything, with equally little basis in reality. For example, the Kochs were falsely blamed by an MSNBC commentator and others for pushing gun rights legislation in Florida, even though it turned out that the only position the Kochs ever took regarding guns in Florida was to oppose, on property rights grounds, an NRA-backed bill that would have forced businesses to let employees bring their guns into employee parking lots. Now, having destroyed the Kochs’ reputations by blaming them for all manner of real or imagined extremism, progressives — aided by government funding — are smearing others by associating them with the Koch brothers and Big Tobacco (The Koch brothers have nothing to do with Big Tobacco).

A government-funded study — paid for by the National Cancer Institute! — says (ridiculously) that Big Tobacco and Koch brothers created the Tea Party. The study is now being parroted by Al Gore. The study is based on strange reasoning, such as the fact that one group funded in small part by tobacco companies used the word “Tea Party” in passing in 2002, a group largely unrelated to the groups that later came into being and used it in 2009. (Because, obviously, no one had ever used the words “Tea Party” before the 21st century.) Never mind that much of America’s non-profits get money from tobacco companies, which fund countless causes, such as arts funding, domestic violence shelters, and non-profits across the political spectrum — the family behind Lorillard Tobacco is famously liberal and donates to liberal politicians. But Al Gore trumpets the study, relying on its taxpayer-funded status to buttress its credibility:

A new study by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Medicine reveals that the Tea Party Movement was planned over a decade ago by groups with ties to the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. The movement was not a spontaneous populist uprising, but rather a long-term strategy to promote the anti-science, anti-government agenda of powerful corporate interests.

As the Huffington Post notes, this “study” was “funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health.” The federal government has become so politicized that it can even use money intended for cancer research to demonize the administration’s critics. Here’s a link to the government-funded study by left-wing activists Stanton Glantz and Amanda Fallin. “Co-author, Amanda Fallin, PhD, RN, adds: ‘The records indicate that the Tea Party has been shaped by the tobacco industry, and is not a spontaneous grassroots movement at all.’” The reasoning is based on associating the Tea Party not only with groups that used the word “Tea Party” at some point in time, but also with completely different groups that existed back in the 1980s and didn’t use “Tea Party” terminology at all, but merely happened to share their opposition to big government. As syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum notes, the study argues that supporting “private property rights, consumer choice and limited government” can make you a tobacco-industry tool regardless of whether you get any tobacco money or not. He quotes from the study:

“Echoing well-established tobacco industry arguments and the patriotic rhetoric of the [industry-backed] smokers’ rights groups, they argued for private property rights, consumer choice and limited government.”

According to Glantz et al., then, supporting private property rights, consumer choice, and limited government makes you objectively pro-tobacco, whether or not you are getting any money from cigarette manufacturers. After all, those are “well-established industry arguments.” Likewise, if you oppose ObamaCare, you are doing the bidding of Big Tobacco, even if you don’t realize it.

Despite the study’s logical leaps, the Huffington Post ate it up: “A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene. . .The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes.”

Your tax dollars at work! Whatever government bureaucrat funded this “study” doubtless took solace in the fact that this kind of thing is rewarded by the Obama administration. President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security earlier depicted people who believe in federalism or states’ rights, or oppose illegal immigration, as “right-wing extremists.” The Obama administration demonizes its critics, and seeks to silence them (examples here, here, and here), in a fashion worthy of “gangster government,” to quote veteran political commentator Michael Barone of The Washington Examiner. Its contempt for the rule of law is also illustrated by what even the liberal Washington Post referred to as Obama’s “bullying of bondholders” at GM and Chrysler. Other government officials have also depicted peaceful Tea Party protesters as potentially dangerous right-wing extremists.

Go to a left-leaning blog, and you will find innumerable comments blaming every socially conservative movement; every unaffordable tax cut; and every war entered into by the U.S. government, on the Koch brothers. The irony is that the Koch brothers are not behind any of these things. They support gay marriage and support cuts in Pentagon spending (as the gay community publication The Advocate reported), believe tax increases may be necessary to deal with skyrocketing budget deficits; and are deeply skeptical of U.S. military intervention overseas. That’s why David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 1980, against Ronald Reagan. They oppose Obama not because they are right-wing, but because they view Obama as being extreme and bad for the economy and individual freedom.

(By the way, remember the Florida Stand Your Ground law that the Koch brothers were falsely smeared as promoting (even though they had nothing to do with it)? The law turns out to have made only minor changes to pre-existing law in Florida, and it had nothing to do with the killing of Trayvon Martin. Defendant George Zimmerman’s lawyer said at one point that he wouldn’t even use the law as a defense, because it makes so little difference in Zimmerman’s case.  The concept behind the law — that you can defend yourself rather than retreating in the face of grave physical threats – originated in many state judiciaries in California and elsewhere. Indeed, Robert Leider points out in The Wall Street Journal, “California became a Stand Your Ground state more than 150 years before Florida.” The concept was then adopted legislatively in various other states. As law professor Michael Mannheimer has noted, “the law in America has always been ambivalent about the duty to retreat, with about half the States at any given time recognizing the duty to retreat and about half abrogating it. This is not a new development.”)

Rogier February 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Excellent post. Thanks!

Hans Bader February 17, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Ironically, as Jacob Sullum notes, under Al Gore’s strange logic, Gore himself could be classified as a front for the tobacco companies, since Gore, unlike the Tea Parties, received cash from the tobacco companies for many years:

“Given Gore’s own financial ties to cigarette manufacturers, it seems equally reasonable to conclude that he was invented by Big Tobacco.”

Al Gore, unlike the Tea Partiers, supported federal tobacco subsidies at taxpayer expense.

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