By Mark Ames
Mar 30, 2014
This Saturday’s "StopWatching.Us" protest in Washington DC promises to be the Mother Of All StrangeBedfellowsPaloozas, the apotheosis of sentimental Boomer politics in which right-wingers hold hands with left-wingers in a righteous People’s Crusade against the government Death Star.
I wouldn't be the first to point out how embarrassingly easy it has been for rancid Koch libertarian front groups to convince those on the Left that they are all on the same team. As Salon writer Tom Watson wrote, the event is "fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups [who stand] in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat."
What hasn't been revealed until now, however, is how the libertarians got so good at fooling their lefty marks. For that you have to look back 35 years, to an amazing series of articles in the Koch brothers' REASON magazine in which prominent libertarians lay out to a new generation of followers a playbook of "tricks" to fool earnest leftists, liberals and hippies into supporting their cause.
If you really believe that these events are about promoting freedom and humanitarianism, you're going to be even more disturbed by what libertarians had to say about conning liberals in their more unguarded moments, before their "tricks" worked and they were able to pull off these big DC "strange bedfellows" events like clockwork.
One of the most shocking strategy articles comes in a REASON article headlined "Marketing Libertarianism" written by Moshe Kroy, and published in the February 1977 issue. The article begins by acknowledging libertarians’ frustrations:
A paradox most libertarians (if not all) are acutely aware of is the gap between the self-evidence of libertarianism, on the one hand, and the difficulty of communicating it to nonlibertarians on the other hand. The fact that the free market is the only economic-political system which makes human existence possible—as human existence—seems to be very easily demonstrable.
But alas, the sheeple are too thick to grasp what a wonderfully liberating experience the free market offers to non-millionaires. Here’s where the marketing expert lays it all out on the table, reminding his libertarian followers that by its definition, libertarian politics will never catch on with a public brought up on majority rule—not unless you trick them:
This article may seem somewhat cynical and opportunistic—but if you read it closely you will see that it involves no falsity or deception. The point is that you can use tricks—and you'd better, if you really want libertarianism to have a fighting chance.
In a sense the author is right: the article is honest in assessing libertarianism as a marketing ploy rather than political idealism, and the only way to con customers into buying a product that’ll likely do them harm is the same way you sell them Florida real estate: by tricking them.
Kroy lays out three "simple facts" which "a libertarian (of all people) should know." They are:
1. Libertarianism is an idea. And ideas are products, to be sold on the market. This implies, basically, that to turn another person into a libertarian you have to sell him the idea. And selling involves salesmanship.
2. To sell a product, you must wrap it in an attractive package. If you try to communicate an idea in a form which contradicts the basic convictions of your client, you will fail. Thus, if you explain to a Catholic that libertarianism is based on the virtue of selfishness, or to a communist that libertarianism is for pure capitalism, you will fail. The words you use will turn them off, and they will never consider the idea. This, in turn, implies the following principle.
3. To sell libertarianism, you must sell it under a formula which corresponds to the basic convictions of the guy to whom you sell it. In effect, to try to change his basic convictions, to try to make a Catholic accept Rand's thought first and then libertarianism as a byproduct, is utter folly. You may either fail immediately or succeed after eight years of hard work. So you have produced one more libertarian in eight years...
In other words, if you’re one of the libertarian True Believers rather than one of the Galtian players, you’re probably not going to be much help to the movement—so bugger off. The Kochs’ REASON is directly appealing here to what it hopes is a smarter, "cynical" subset of its small, cash-rich libertarian movement—Randroids, snotty heirs, and various reactionary sociopaths who understand that the key to their success is conning the sheeple, and enjoying it. What follows is a catalogue of libertarian "tricks" tailored to various marks.
Libertarianism for decent folk. A decent, hard-working, never-thinking bloke will not buy "individual rights"—he does not understand what you are talking about. It is quite too late to send him to a Montessori kindergarten to develop his conceptual faculty. Instead, what you can do is to explain to him that libertarianism is just against one thing: CRIME. By crime you mean just what he means: theft, robbery, kidnapping, enslavement. He will of course agree, because he thinks this is obvious. Then you just explain (at great length, and with many examples) that taxation is armed robbery, that inflation through deficit spending and money printing is theft—as well as forgery of money—that [the] draft is basically kidnapping, etc.
You know the line. The point is one of equity: If you are not allowed to do any of these, why should a group of people called the government be allowed to do them? Clearly, he will object that the government is a totally different thing. But he must resort to explaining that the government is, basically, against crime, and then he has a paradox on his hands—and a paradox which he can understand.
Here the author makes clear one of the fundamental differences between libertarians and their marks: A libertarian is "cynical" and deliberate; he "tricks" with intent. Their target audience, on the other hand, is assumed to be earnest and gullible—vulnerabilities to be exploited. Other vulnerabilities targeted for exploitation: hippie narcissism and delusions of grandeur:
Libertarianism for romantic souls. A romantic soul is not interested much in economics or in politics, but he has great admiration for greatness. (That is why many Randists are ex-romantic- souls). He is all for the good, wise, great, smart hero, for the genius, against mediocrity. For him, Iibertarianism would make sense simply as the context where greatness would not be persecuted, hampered, restrained, destroyed. So that is the only point on which you sell libertarianism to him.
Behold the libertarian rank-and-file: the Legions of WäffenSchrutes.
More relevant to our time are REASON magazine’s suggested "tricks" to con idealistic leftist marks, and to con hippie hedonists:
Libertarianism for justice and freedom fighters. You will find this individual in the left radical movement, fighting for what he was told is freedom and against what he was told is slavery. So assure him that you are just against one thing: enslavement. Assure him that you are just for one thing: social justice. Having this agreement, start to communicate to him the true meaning of slavery—and why taxation, controls, draft, are slavery. (Start with draft, because he is already against that.)
Libertarianism for hippies. The hippie has the right to take marijuana, walk naked on the beach, and have his own sex without anybody interfering, hasn‘t he? Isn’t that just what libertarianism is all about? Libertarianism was created to free him from the oppression of a conformist, square society, imposed on him at the point of a gun.
The next thing you know, Bill Maher, South Park’s creators, Hefner and the like are all running around smugly describing themselves as "libertarians" and feeling like they’re really sticking it to The Man in saying so.
Finally, the piece ends with a strange libertarian appeal to relativism and something verging on Leo Strauss:
Every point of view is based on recognition of some real problem and grasp of some truth. It involves, usually, many falsifications of facts.
The point, however, is that you can make an individual a libertarian on the basis, almost, of whatever point of view he possesses—if you communicate the idea to him in his own frame of reference, based on his own fundamental convictions, in his own terms and words... Your problem, as a libertarian, is to create a libertarian society. To do that, you need many, many new libertarians. Their other convictions, whatever they are, are none of your business. They concern you only insofar as you use them—as the basis for your sale of libertarianism.
All of that is stunning enough—and something to keep in mind if you find yourself getting all dewy-eyed as you take your place on the bottom of the "strange bedfellows" at the StopWatching.us rally, topped by such rancid libertarian outfits as FreedomWorks, the Kochs’ climate denial frontCompetitive Enterprise Institute, the Kochs’ new anti-Obamacare Astroturf front Generation Opportunity, Students For Liberty (funded by CIA/NSA contractor Peter Thiel), Ron Paul’s Young Americans For Liberty, theLibertarian Party....
Anyway, just in case "Marketing Libertarianism" hadn't got the rulebook out widely enough, REASON ran a second article later in 1977 headlined "How To Get Converts Left & Right: Political Cross-Dressing Is The Answer."
The article essentially repeats the same dark message as before, in language clear enough so that even the dimmest narcissist on the lower rungs of the libertarian movement could grasp their instructions.
That they even had to run two articles in the space of a few months on how to trick Americans into accepting libertarianism shows what a hard time REASON was having selling such a counterintuitive political scam to a generation enamored with its idealism. It also shows a certain impatience on the part of the Kochs and the libertarian movement.
The problem was simple: In 1976, the Kochs threw a lot of cash into bankrolling a Libertarian Party presidential campaign, and they got zilch in return, despite buying all sorts of good press about what mavericks the Libertarians were. The movement was all lobbyists, no Indians. Which is to say: no voters.
Another thing that REASON’s unvarnished nihilism reveals is that they had no audience outside of their own numbers; no one in their right mind read the crap published in REASON back then. Only the tiny numbers of fellow libertarians, most of whom were on one political flak's payroll or another. In that sense, the REASON of 1977 was more like a Koch Industries PR department newsletter for the company's flaks. No need to mince words.
Having no outside readers also helps explain why REASON got away with publishing so much Holocaust denial crap. As I wrote a few weeks ago, in 1976 REASON devoted an entire issue to promoting Holocaust deniers—one of the deniers was Ron Paul’s Congressional aide at the time, Gary North, who wrote in REASON that the Holocaust was "the Establishment's favorite horror story" and recommended a book called "The Myth of the Six Million." It wasn’t the first time or last time that REASON or the Kochs published Holocaust deniers. If you can get away with denying the Holocaust, you can certainly get away with telling your libertarian base to trick and con as many sincere suckers out there as possible to help Master Koch.
Back to REASON’s article, "How To Convert": It begins by contrasting a slick, savvy libertarian trickster like 1976 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Roger MacBride with a common rank-and-file libertarian imbecile:
As Libertarian Party candidate for president of the United States, Roger MacBride campaigned and spoke in many cities. He constantly sought brief and effective ways to present libertarian ideas. During a question-and-answer session in Phoenix, Arizona, a member of the audience rose and said, "I like a lot of what you’ve said, but I disagree with you on gun control. Surely you realize that Saturday Night Specials have to be banned."
MacBride waited a few seconds before answering. He replied, "Laws that forbid inexpensive handguns deprive blacks and other low-income minorities of a means of self-defense. Poor blacks living in ghettos cannot afford $200 pistols. How can you defend a racist proposal like this?"
The questioner was stunned. He stared at MacBride for a moment, then sat down.
Confronted with the same question, most libertarians would have talked about the right to self-defense, the immorality of government coercion, the Second Amendment, or some other point equally unimportant to the questioner—who would have remained unpersuaded.
Note again the emphasis on tricking an earnest mark. Earnestness, sincerity—these are mere weaknesses to the libertarian. The libertarian is expected to be "cynical," manipulative and deliberate; the mark, the average American voter, is assumed to engage in political debate honestly and sincerely, unarmed with tricks and strategies. Here the libertarian is assumed to be someone who can’t be persuaded by fair and honest debate; the only thing that threatens a libertarian’s commitment to the Movement is a sense of failure, the sense that no one else is being persuaded, the sense of a lost cause.
The author of the article, Michael Emerling, is a bit less crude than Moshe Kroy. The best liars are those who believe their bullshit; Emerling, whose bio boasts that he lectures around the country on "The Art of Political Persuasion," is a bit slicker and more nuanced in his presentation:
In 1976, I discussed this problem with John T. Hamilton III, a libertarian strategist and activist living in Tucson, Arizona. He had developed an enormously effective technique for bringing the left and the right to a consistent libertarian position.
It is called "political cross-dressing." "Cross-dressing," of course, refers to the adoption of the dress and behavior of members of the opposite sex. For the libertarian, political cross-dressing means using right-wing words, evidence, and arguments to support civil liberties, and left-wing terms and reasons to support the free market.
Political cross-dressing is based upon a sound principle of salesmanship: it shows the prospect how the "product" will fulfill his wants and needs. This can be done because freedom has something for everyone.
The author holds up Milton Friedman as the libertarian con-artist par excellence for "cross dressing" minimum wage to conceal its benefits to corporations and the rich, and instead package it as its opposite: anti-elitist populism and pro-black activism. Keep in mind this is 1977, when Milton Friedman was busy experimenting with Pinochet’s concentration camp libertarianism. REASON writes:
Milton Friedman is a master of this [cross-dressing] technique. Consider one instance. In opposing minimum wage laws, he says: "You very seldom find poor people testifying in-favor of the minimum wage. The people who do are those who receive or pay wages much higher than the minimum. Frequently northern textile manufacturers. John F. Kennedy, when he was in Congress, said explicitly that he was testifying in favor of a rise in the minimum wage because he wanted protection for the New England textile industry against competition from the so-called cheap labor of the south.
"The effect of a minimum wage law," [Friedman] continues, "is to produce unemployment among people with low skills. And who are the people with low skills? In the main, they tend to be teenagers and blacks, and women who have no special skills or have been out of the labor force and are coming back."
It’s kind of amazing to read that today and realize how utterly credulous liberal-minded hippies must’ve been that they could be persuaded by such facile tricks. But again, it worked.
From here, the author goes on to provide specific examples of how to con a mark, sort of like the earlier REASON article. For example: How to con leftists into agreeing to privatize the US Postal Service. (This one has particular relevance to StopWatching.us — one of the most shocking scandals to emerge from the Church Committee hearings in the mid-1970s were revelations that the CIA and FBI had been opening up people’s mail without warrants, and recording citizens’ metadata on the envelopes.)
First, REASON poses the trickster’s goal and his mark:
How could free-market mail delivery be sold to the left?
And then offers a series of possible libertarian sales pitches:
The postal monopoly delays, loses, damages, and destroys thousands of letters and packages each day. It is unresponsive to consumers. It over-charges the consumer on first-class mail to subsidize Big Business on second-, third-, and fourth-class mail. It lets the CIA and FBI open and examine private communications.
Next, REASON gets into slightly more sophisticated marketing strategies to help explain libertarianism’s appeal to a generation raised on consumerism. The strategy is called "left drawer/right drawer" and its appeal is that it impresses the consumer and gives him the sense that merely "wearing" his libertarian ideology makes him appear special and unique— not for the political substance of the ideas so much as the impression it creates on other consumerist imbeciles, thanks to its mix-‘n’-match fashion:
There are ways of making political cross-dressing even more effective. One is called "left drawer/right drawer." It consists of cross-dressing issues while alternating left- and right-wing conclusions....Observe the pattern: left-wing reasons for free-market mail delivery, right-wing reasons for gay rights, left-wing grounds for opposing gun control, right-wing arguments for legalizing all drugs, and so on.
"Left drawer/right drawer" produces some interesting results. First, it prevents the average person from classifying libertarianism as "left" or "right."....Second, by appealing to the right and left at the same time, the libertarian confuses the left/right spectrum.
Because the approach is refreshing and original, people are often motivated to rethink their positions. And because the arguments are new and unusual, they get exposure. The working press appreciates hearing something different. So does the public.
So there you have it, the libertarian "tricks" laid bare. It’d make for some funny reading if it weren’t so self-consciously smug and sociopathic—and if it wasn’t so painfully effective in bringing to life the libertarian dystopia we all inhabit today.
Which brings me back to the StopWatching.us rally. The problem in the "strange bedfellows" coalition gathering together is the vast difference in their approaches. The Left and liberals who are part of this coalition have not, to my mind, thought through the politics. For the Left, the question over whether or not to join the StopWatching.us coalition with all those right-wing and libertarian outfits comes down to a moral, quasi-religious question, a question of ideals or lack of ideals: Are you for or against Big Brother government spying?
For most on the Left or liberals, the choice about whether or not to join the coalition comes down to this moral/religious choice, and therefore the answer is to do what every secular Christian knows is right: side with what looks like good.
There’s no political program presented by the Left as an answer to NSA spying; there are no deals cut with interest groups in-advance, no fleshed-out politics of what would come after abolishing or not abolishing the NSA, and who would benefit from this new arrangement and who would lose out... more importantly, from the Left there’s no suspicion about what the libertarians have thought out, what sort of broad political program, or deals cut, or interest group backing might be shaping their right-wing allies’ interest in StopWatching.us.
There is just the earnest Left/liberal assumption that the right must share some of their liberal distaste for Big Brother for the same humanitarian reasons as the Left.
As you can see from some of the more honest libertarian writings, that makes the Left a perfect mark, should the libertarians and FreedomWorks and the Kochs have thought their politics through already. Not to mention what Google’s interest is, given the fact that Google is the chief funder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an outfit that’s been busted on numerous occasions over the years as an undisclosed lobby front for Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley corporations, and given the fact that Google "stores more personal data from more sources than any entity in history."
To get a sense of what the libertarians leading this movement might be up to, just look at the last time the Left got in bed with them over the TSA. A few years ago, the media was in hysterics over the so-called TSA “Gestapo.” In hindsight it looks rather embarrassing; but at the time, the hysteria over theTSA "Gestapo" was relentless, generated by the same libertarian-right front groups out of DC that are leading the StopWatching.us rally—the same lobbyists, the same assholes who "tricked" a good portion of the Left into agreeing with them that TSA airport gate security posed the greatest threat to our civil liberties, our privacy, our Fourth Amendment rights—since the Revolution.
No one on the Left was about to make an ass of themselves defending the TSA—why would they? The Left’s aversion to authority is stronger than its political sensibility—they never saw the angles on that campaign because they were never interested in knowing if there were any.
We now know what the angles were: The GOP and the libertarian lobby world planned to privatize the TSA entirely, abolish the agency and privatize the workforce before it succeeded in gaining union rights as a public sector union... with the ultimate goal of replacing the TSA with private contractors deploying "Israeli-style" racial profiling in our airports.
Unbeknownst to the liberal dupes who joined the anti-TSA hysteria, in November 2010, the TSA’s 50,000 security officers were finally allowed to unionize after a 10-year struggle to win collective bargaining rights. President Bush denied them that right during his entire presidency; and in the first two years of Obama’s presidency, Sen. Jim DeMint led a one-man filibustercrusade to block the appointment of a TSA chief, thereby blocking any possibility of the 50,000 employees gaining collective bargaining rights. It was only in early 2011 that the Obama Administration, having overcome DeMint’s filibuster and appointed a TSA chief, finally granted the TSA workforce the right to unionize. When they certified their collective bargaining agreement, it turned out to be the GOP’s worst nightmare: The single largest unionization drive in decades.
The GOP never gave up on their plans to privatize and destroy the TSA, of course. One of the planks in the 2012 Republican Party platform promised toprivatize the TSA if Romney won, dole out security to private contractors, mass-introduce Israeli-style racial profiling into airports, and abolish the union.
What's the GOP's reason for constantly linking TSA privatization with introducing Israeli airport security? If you're lazy, you might assume it's because they're evil. If you try thinking it through a libertarian's way of thinking, you'll follow the money and find a more simple explanation. NASCO(National Association of Security Companies), the DC lobby outfit representing private airport security contractors, happens to be led by the Israeli lobby’s closest equivalent to a princeling—Washington lobbyistStephen Amitay, whose father and partner is Morris Amitay—ex-head of AIPAC, vice chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security (JINSA), and co-founder with Michael Ledeen of the Committee for Democracy in Iran. The Amitays father-and-son have represented Northrup Grumman and Israeli Aerospace Industries among their many clients, and together ran the pro-Israel Washington PAC. I dunno, call me krazy, but something tells me that there’s a connection between the messaging about privatizing the TSA and replacing it with Israeli-style contractors, and the fact that the chief lobbyist for the private airport security contractors association is also an A-list Israel lobbyist.
My point is that the Right didn't go into the big anti-TSA campaign merely shaking their fists without larger political plans to exploit the potential political benefits. In this case the Left, having abandoned Labor years ago, never saw the labor angle when it joined in demonizing the TSA. The Left never thought of the TSA officers as anything but evil Gestapo cops too. Having effectively demonized TSA officers as "rapists" and "jackbooted""Nazis" running "porn scan machines" (those were the actual real talking points used), the libertarian/GOP right-wing created a favorable political atmosphere to carry out a full-bore privatization. Even though the libertarians and right-wingers pushing the anti-TSA crusade talked openly about replacing the agency with privately-run Israeli racial profiling, nevertheless the Left stayed on board and refused to get in the way, either out of sheer fecklessness, or cowardice—the fear of being shamed for appearing to support Police State "TSA" airport gate security. Yes, they really were that gullible.
Even that YouTube hero sensation John "Don’t Touch My Junk" Tyner turned out to be a fraud. Liberals and libertarians alike hailed Tyner as an American hero standing up to the Obama Administration’s Big Brother imperial machine. No one on the left was allowed to raise questions about Tyner, God forbid. Later, long after the peak of the hysteria, we discovered that the anti-Big Brother libertarian hero John Tyner is a military-intelligence contractor who works for a San Diego company called ViaSat. Tyner's company makes components for everything from battlefield drones used in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere; NSA spy satellites; integrated battlefield communications equipment for the Pentagon; and communications gear for the Department of Homeland Security.
Even as liberals and leftists rallied with their libertarian bedfellows behind a sentimental, idealized Tyner, the real John Tyner was busy tapping out insane radical-right political solutions on his blog—calling for firing the TSA's pro-union workforce, privatizing the agency, and replacing it with private airport security contractors specializing in "Israeli-style" racial profiling. And the libertarians pushing that agenda almost made it happen—they went into the anti-TSA crusade with everything worked out in-advance: Who would benefit, who would be hurt, the larger politics, the interest groups, everything. The left skipped along in smug ignorance as their unwitting accomplices, and nearly let themselves be used as dupes to bust a union and introduce privatized racial profiling in our airports.
So yeah, deciding whether or not to join with the libertarian far-right in another "strange bedfellows" coalition—without having the politics completely worked out, or knowing what the angles are—requires much more serious thought. It’s not merely a facile moral choice, an exam in a school civics class or a Sunday School catechism. In the strange bedfellows coalition to kill the TSA, the Left had nothing worked out beyond their own moral egos—and that made them accomplices in a crime against tens of thousands of struggling non-unionized workers, and the untold numbers of passengers who stood to be victimized by for-profit racial profiling.
The Left willed themselves into self-protected ignorance—but if the TSA was privatized, and replaced with airports run by private racial profiling contractors, it would be at least as much the fault of the leftist dupes who fell for the anti-TSA idiocy.
So this Saturday, as leftists join hands in righteous ignorance with their libertarian strange bedfellows to protest government surveillance, the rest of us will have to wait and see what the more sophisticated and cynical libertarian-right has planned to take advantage of today's anti-NSA outrage—what opportunities does it create? Already some are floating the idea of completely privatizing the NSA more than it already has been. I think we can assume they’ve already got a program worked out, and that it’s not something any of us would like. Until that time, here’s an idea for a counter-protest movement: "StopKoching.us" — no strange bedfellows allowed.