Skip to main content

A Peek Under the Hood at the Koch Agenda

It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy like Kyle McKenzie. Knowing he’s the research director for Stand Together, an advocacy group owned by the Koch family, I’m not inclined to sympathy.

But as a former advertising guy, who once sat through too many focus groups to count, I know well how consumer research can undo the best-laid plans.

In McKenzie’s case, the plans were to figure out how the Kochs should handle HR1 — the massive voting rights bill now reaching the Senate — where they are once again on the wrong side of history. McKenzie was charged with finding ways to undermine any positive perceptions the public might harbor about making it easy for people to vote.

What they were looking for was a message — any message — that might convince the public that the right to vote is overrated.

We know this thanks to the amazing Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Somehow, she obtained this eye-opening audio of a ten-minute conference call, in which McKenzie presents his research findings to his bosses.

In it, you can hear McKenzie — in his most genial, research-presenter-with-slideshow voice — working hard to make the best of what he’s reluctant to tell his boss is an utter disaster. As tap dances go, it’s not bad.

The presentation was January 8, a mere two days after the Capitol insurrection, and a full two months before it became blatantly obvious that red state GOP legislatures were hellbent on stripping voting rights from as many people as possible.

Back then, the good folks on McKenzie’s focus group panels — presumably “average Americans” all — had, for the most part, never heard of HR1. But when presented with a “neutral description” of the bill, virtually everyone was wildly in favor. Including conservative voters. This is not what a research director wants to tell his bosses.

Even worse, while he couldn’t come up with any message that was an actual winner, he did manage to identify one huge loser. When presented with the notion that “HR1 stops billionaires from buying elections,” people on both the left and right loved it — overwhelmingly. Democrats, are you paying attention?

But there were actually a few messages that gained a little traction, and you can feel McKenzie working up to them.

There was the idea that even liberal groups, like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, were against the bill. Huh? This was, of course, not even remotely true. It was a hypothetical, but the panels weren’t told that. Predictably, it got them thinking that, gee, if both liberal and conservative groups are against it, maybe we should think twice.

But the idea that actually did get a better-than-tepid reception from the panel was the notion that Congress has too many other things on its plate. That Congress is way too busy right now to be worried about something as trivial as the right to vote. And at the front of the line of these “other things” was — wait for it ­— “healthcare” and “the economy.”

And with that we go right down the rabbit hole. Just imagine poor McKenzie, having to tell the Kochs that the best way to get rid of voting rights is to focus your efforts on healthcare. Or on economic relief. Neither of which come within light years of the Koch agenda. Yet that was their one winner, and you can be sure they’ll be fashioning bogus healthcare and economic messages around it, if they haven’t already.

But the conclusion McKenzie comes to — weighing his words very carefully — is that turning voters against HR1 won’t work. He even off-handedly suggests that they might do better with, get this, “under-the-dome-type” strategies. The dome being Congress. He doesn’t elaborate on what those strategies might be, but after all these years of Mitch McConnell, we can safely guess that parliamentary obstruction will play a key role. Especially the filibuster.

So what are we to make of this presentation, this peek under the hood where the real horsepower of the GOP resides?

For one thing, it could explain why Republicans are hyperventilating so much about the filibuster. HR1 puts a floor under voting rights and gerrymandering, and if they can’t use the filibuster to block its passage, they might never win another election. That’s not acceptable.

But mostly this recording makes two things absolutely clear:

The first is that the Kochs and their ilk are, in fact, determined to keep buying elections.

The second is something that has been obvious since Reagan, but has rarely been so clearly underlined: For them, everything is about the messaging, nothing is about reality.

Nowhere in McKenzie’s presentation does he even vaguely hint that maybe working on real solutions to the country’s real crises — as opposed to just messaging about them — might resonate a little more with their focus group panels.

But the right is totally invested in these messages, to the point where their entire track record is made up of nothing but. No accomplishments, just messages. All those messages — going back decades — have been lies. And most of those lies have been repeated so often, they’ve become myths.

Underneath the mythology, the real agenda is tax cuts and deregulation. Period. Both of which are deeply unpopular. So they hire guys like McKenzie to distract. They buy and pay for false messages, and they invest billions in spreading them around. It’s a well-oiled machine, and it’s been really effective for a long time.

But listening to McKenzie’s presentation, you can’t help feeling that they’re rattled, even if only a bit. The last thing they ever want to see is an election they can’t buy, which makes HR1 a real threat. And that “under-the-dome” strategy is looking shakier all the time — it’s not a coincidence that so many GOP senators have announced their retirement.

So McKenzie’s presentation is a fascinating and, yes, chilling look at how the messaging sausage gets made. And how it will keep getting made going forward.

Never mind that the market for the sausage is shrinking. Never mind that the ingredients are getting smellier, more contaminated, and much harder for all those “average Americans” to digest.


Comments

  1. Or "More GOP Bullshit." The voters who support them are just not bright enough to see what is going on just as the heavy-duty Trumpists had no idea that he actually hated them and wanted them dead. He only wanted their votes and didn't give a shit what happened after they voted for him. Now Mitch says big business should stay out of voting rights. Always remember to hate Mitch out loud every day at least once.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The best news I heard today is that Oregon is requiring that all students take a civics course in high school. Unfortunately the mandate doesn't take hold until 2026, long after the next election. Folks need to wise up to the hypocrisy. Yes Mitch, business should stay out of government and corporations are people, a la "Citizens United". I guess corporations are "citizens" Mitch!

      Nice job as usual Andy!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Guess Where You Can Find the Real Pedophiles

When political discourse turns to pedophilia — which it should never, ever do — it helps to separate fiction from non-fiction. The fictional narrative, widely disseminated by QAnon-addled propagandists, is that the Democratic Party is a vast conspiracy of ravenous child abusers, who just barely managed to cover up Hillary Clinton’s bloodthirsty coven in the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor. The non-fiction narrative — profusely-documented but with a much lower profile — is that both the priesthood of the Catholic Church and the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have indulged and protected a stunningly large number of child molesters, and allowed them to enjoy long and predatory careers within their respective churches. In the last few weeks, these two stories flew somewhat under the radar, but both are worth looking at, not so much for the staggering hypocrisy of its characters — hypocrisy fatigue has long since rendered us numb — as for its legal and political i

Sex: The Abortion Origin Story

In the next month, five ultra-Catholic ideologues, unencumbered by any rational thought process, will decide that a fetus has more rights than its mother. When that happens, the legislatures in as many as 26 states will likely enact laws, under which a pregnant woman will, in effect, be legally obligated to carry to term every fetus that takes root in her body. Whether or not she was raped by a stranger, or by her father. Whether or not she miscarries. Whether or not the baby dies in her womb. Whether or not the baby is capable of life outside her womb. Whether or not that baby’s survival is likely to kill her. The rights of her fetus will, apparently in all cases, supercede hers. And her partner’s, too. Because for every beer-soaked asshole who will now be empowered to force his battered wife to carry his baby, there will be hundreds of responsible husbands legally barred from responsibly planning a family, or from ending a family-crippling pregnancy, or from choosing the life

The New York Times Is Doing Us No Favors

I am a life-long customer of The New York Times, and generally a satisfied one. For sheer news-gathering firepower, they continue to stand out in a tarnished but still important field. They’ve covered — or uncovered — virtually every major story of the last century and a half. Their investigative prowess is unquestioned. Plus, they have Paul Krugman on their op-ed page, an invaluable source of level-headed insights on a wide range of subjects. He combines a Nobel-level knowledge of economics with an astute political eye that is almost always dead on. He alone is worth the paywall, at least to me. But with all that said, the Times has lately been pissing me off. They’ve become unreasonably invested in what Krugman himself has decried as “false equivalency” — better known as “both-siderism.” They continue to pretend that our two major parties are equally engaged in reasonable discourse, and are equally responsible for the fractious and violent state of the nation. The Times scrup