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Wall Street, The Koch Brothers and the Alternative

Wall Street and the Koch brothers have an agenda for America that, unless you are worth at least $50 million and are a top executive of a huge and powerful corporate conglomerate, won’t work out very well for you. The Democratic Party must embrace a progressive populist economic agenda if it wants to offer a winning alternative in 2016. Here’s what JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon said recently: that his company’s “astronomical ... regulatory, legal, and political burden ... will go away.” He didn’t say how, but one can only assume that he is counting on his lobbyists to work with all the politicians he has given tons of money to in order to make that happen. Then there’s the Kochs and their libertarian think tank, Cato Institute . The director of Cato’s Center for Monetary and Financial Policy, George Selgin, spoke to a group of Wall Street bankers and advocated some pretty extreme ideas -that the FDIC and the SEC ought to be abolished, and that bank runs are in fact “great” things . The scary thing is that this extreme market fundamentalist ideology has firepower — the Kochs are planning to spend $900 million this election cycle. Accordingly, Scott Walker, is a major threat. As the Koch brothers’ leading politician puppet, he brags about wanting to take unions down and thinks the minimum wage is a “lame” idea. And these are just the positions he takes publicly. Let’s hope he doesn’t agree with Selgin on bank runs. There is a set of near-monopolistic corporate conglomerates in America who are overwhelming our politics with their money, and trying to take our country back to a predatory Social Darwinist economy controlled by them, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the robber barons of the late 1800s. I wrote about the Koch agenda when my colleague Lauren Windsor broke the stories last summer about their secret conference where Mitch McConnell and a series of other Republican politicians spoke. While what the politicians said to the Kochs and their friends was disheartening, what was truly scary was what Charles Koch and his minions described in their vision for America. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

In a series of big ideological speeches given the first day of their retreat (which Mitch McConnell called “very inspiring”), Charles Koch, his “grand strategist” Richard Fink, and the Charles Koch Institute’s VP for Research and Policy, Will Ruger, laid out a vision of government and society that would be pretty terrifying to anyone this side of Ayn Rand: The minimum wage (which leads to Nazi-ism) should be abolished; homeless people should be told to “get off [their] ass and work hard like we did”; and government should get out of the business of anything except the police force, military, and judicial system — no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, student loans, clean air or water rules, national or state parks, food safety, Wall Street oversight.”

The Koch/Wall Street vision for America, which is endorsed pretty much in whole by every Republican presidential candidate, is frightening: those with wealth and power getting ever more wealth and power, everyone else getting a lot less of both. According to every poll that has ever been done, this philosophy is wildly unpopular with the American people. It is only the Koch/Wall Street money and the finely-tuned message machine it funds that allows Republicans to win the elections that they do.

What progressives and Democrats need to do to win is to aggressively take on this debate, and show they have a clear alternative. We need to lay out our own agenda that serves as a bold counterpoint to the Social Darwinist- Koch/Wall Street vision. As I wrote last year:

The progressive movement and the Democratic party need to be ready to fully and forcefully engage the debate with them. We need to not just highlight their most incendiary quotes caught on tape at the Koch conference — we need to tell the American public why this philosophy is wrong. We need to sketch our own vision of what a free and fair society looks like: workers paid at decent rates, and fueling the economy with the extra money in their pockets; a strong public education system and the ability for anyone who wants to go to college to get there without amassing crippling levels of debt; investments in roads, bridges, and R&D so that the economy can keep growing; a more decentralized banking system so that more local businesses and homeowners can get loans, and so that there are no mega-banks too big to fail; small business and entrepreneurs able to compete with each other rather than getting trampled by huge monopolistic businesses; the creation of millions of new jobs in solar, wind, energy conservation, and other environmentally friendly businesses; older people able to live out their lives with secure incomes and good health care.

Hillary Clinton is getting there. While her speeches still don’t have much policy detail (and some of her policy advisors shoot down some of the most important ideas of progressives like a modern Glass-Steagall), she projected a thoughtful, progressive populist message in the economic speech she gave in New York on Monday. I like her growth and fairness framing a lot, because you have to have both. But it’s not just Hillary. Other Democratic candidates are preaching this message all over the country. They are increasingly sounding a lot more like Senator Warren than Third Way Democrats, and this is a very good thing.

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