February 21, 2011
BY COUP (FDR) OR BY CASH (OBAMA):
GOVERNMENT TAKEOVERS THEN AND NOW
by Myriam Miedzian
In 1934, General Smedley D. Butler testified to the Congressional McCormack-Dickstein Committee—formed to investigate Fascist and Communist activities—concerning a plot to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt. Butler stated that Gerald C. MacGuire, representing some of the wealthiest Americans including the DuPont family, and leaders of U.S. Steel, General Motors, Standard Oil, Chase National Bank, and Goodyear Tire and Rubber, had tried to recruit him to lead veterans in a coup against Roosevelt. He was promised $300 million in financial backing and the support of most of the media.
Butler would become the head of the American Liberty League, founded to further their goal. The plotters, who had sent MacGuire to Europe to study the important role that veterans played in bringing dictators to power—and maintaining that power—believed that Butler's enormous popularity with veterans would facilitate recruiting 500,000. Butler would assemble the vets in Washington; this show of force would help "convince" Roosevelt—and the public—that the president was in bad health and overworked, and needed an Assistant President. The president's status—if he stayed around—would become ceremonial. Butler would become Secretary of General Affairs, and would run the country under the guidance of his financial backers.
Butler had pretended to go along with the plot in order to discover its backers and their goals.
In its February 1935 report the committee stated that it: "received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist government in this country... There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient."
Butler was deeply disappointed that the report suppressed the part of his testimony containing the names of the high level conspirators and did not take action against them.
In a 1971 interview with Jules Archer, author of The Plot to Seize the White House, Former Speaker of the House and head of the Committee, John McCormack, confirmed that, "There was no doubt that General Butler was telling the truth... Those fellows were afraid that Roosevelt would take their money away by taxes... The plotters definitely hated the New Deal because it was for the people, not for the moneyed interests... They were going to make it all sound constitutional... with a high-sounding name for the dictator."
It is interesting to note that General Butler was first approached in July 1934, weeks after FDR told congress that "next winter we may well undertake the great task of furthering the security of the citizen and his family through social insurance." The plotters were furious that "socialist" FDR had gone off the gold standard, abolished child labor, introduced minimum wages, was working on a shorter work week. And now Social Security!
Today, more than seventy-six years later, some of the wealthiest Americans and corporate chieftains are railing against President Obama and many of the same programs: they want to get rid of Social Security and minimum wages, and want their tax reductions to be permanent. They reject Obama's "socialist "health care plan—a plan which does not include a public option, and is very similar to health care bills proposed in the past by Republican Senators including Bob Dole. They deny global warming, oppose legislation to protect the environment and protect Americans from pollutants, and want to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).)
But have no fear, in today's political process, thanks to the role of big, self-interested money—combined with brilliant strategy—there's no need for a coup against Obama.
The poster children for such strategic "investments" are the Koch brothers—Charles and David—each worth approximately $21 billion. They are major funders of, and fund raisers for today's ultra conservative-libertarian movement. They approach politics with what has been described by Jane Mayer in her August 30, 2010 New Yorker article, 'Covert Operations': The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama, as "the deliberation of an engineer."
Mayer quotes an interview with Brian Doherty, senior editor at the libertarian Reason magazine in which David Koch explains that, "To bring about social change," requires "a strategy" that is "vertically and horizontally integrated," spanning "from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action."
Idea Creation, Policy Development, Education: These are provided by Koch funding of right wing think tanks, including the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which produce papers arguing for free markets—only lowering taxes and getting rid of most regulations aimed at business will create jobs—the abolition of most government agencies, opposing any form of universal health care, and denying global warming. These conclusions are then presented in the mainstream media—rarely are readers informed that these spokespeople are on a right wing payroll. This is how the public is "educated."
Grassroots" Organizations: The Tea Party—that organization of just plain folks fighting "socialist" Obama—was funded by the Koch brothers. Before the 2010 election, Tea Partiers were provided with lists of candidates to attack. The Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity advocacy group has held at least eighty events protesting cap-and-trade legislation. It spent $40 million on the 2010 election cycle, and organized rallies and phone banks, canvassed door to door in nearly 100 races across the country. Some of the beneficiaries are newly elected Reps. Morgan Griffith ( R. VA), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). All three now sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Lobbying and Political Action: Since 1998, Koch Industries has poured more than fifty million dollars into lobbying. The company's political-action committee, KochPAC, has put approximately eight million into political campaigns, more than eighty percent of it to Republicans. Since 2006, Koch Industries, heavily invested in oil, has outspent all other energy companies in political contributions. Other gifts by the Kochs may be untraceable—federal tax law permits anonymous personal donations to politically active nonprofit groups.
Litigation: According to the Kochs, Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas have been guests at their biannual meetings in which conservative and libertarian millionaires and billionaires gather with conservative politicians such as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), and media stars such as Glenn Beck to raise money for politicians who support their causes and to develop strategies for preventing legislation deemed undesirable. In the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, Thomas and Scalia were 2 of the 5 judges who rejected government legislation to limit political spending by corporations in elections.
What is striking about today's "war" against Obama is that Obama is no FDR. He is a centrist pragmatist who received considerable Wall Street campaign funding, and included Wall Street insiders in his cabinet. Not surprisingly, the banking regulations he enacted are much weaker than FDR's. Unlike FDR, his stimulus bill did not include large public works programs. Unlike FDR, he has not increased taxation of the wealthy—he has not even let the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans expire. Unlike FDR, with the exception of a weak, insurance company friendly, health care bill, he has not introduced any new social welfare programs. Unlike FDR, he has not used his office as a bully pulpit to give moral, legal, and political justification to policies that help working class and middle class people.
Depicting him as a socialist—Newt Gingrich has called him "the most radical president in American history"—is absurd, and clearly used to discredit anything he stands for. And he does stand for continuing FDR's New Deal. So, with the addition of environmental protection, it is really FDR and the New Deal that are being attacked again—21rst century style!
Former philosophy professor Myriam Miedzian is the author of Boys Will Be Boys, and writes frequently on social and political issues. Her website is: