In a “Crankocracy,” the Rich Call the Shots

Sheld­on G. Adels­on and his wife.Sheld­on G. Adels­on and his wife, Miria­m, have donat­ed milli­ons to a super PAC that is suppo­rting Newt Gingr­ich’s presi­denti­al campa­ign. (Photo: Patri­ck T. Fallo­n for The New York ­Times­)

Timothy Noah makes an interesting point in the April 19 edition of The New Republic: at least so far, the most visible effect of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has been not so much a flood of corporate cash into politics as a flood of cash from billionaire cranks into politics.

“Super-rich, hard-right tycoons like Foster Friess (mutual funds), Harold Simmons (chemicals and metals), Bob Perry (home-building) and Sheldon Adelson (casinos) are, through the new vehicle called the super PAC, leveraging their fortunes to seize hold of the political process,” wrote Mr. Noah, a senior editor at the magazine, in an article titled “Crankocracy in America.” “Super PACs have made it so easy for millionaires and billionaires to spend unlimited sums on behalf of a particular candidate that these groups are now routinely outspending Republican presidential primary campaigns.”

Rich crackpots of the world, unite!

What I would note, however, is that to a large extent we’ve been living in Mr. Noah’s “crankocracy” for decades. There have been limits on the ability of rich crackpots to intervene directly in elections, but not on their ability to finance think tanks, provide sinecures for deferential politicians, and so on. And the prevalence of crankocracy explains a lot about our current state of affairs.

For what the money of rich cranks does is ensure that bad ideas never go away — indeed, these ideas sometimes gain strength even as they fail in practice again and again. The notion that wonderful things happen if you cut taxes on the rich and terrible things happen if you raise them has a stronger hold than ever on the G.O.P., despite our experience of the Clinton tax hike and the Bush tax cut. Climate denialism gains force even as the planet warms. And so on.

And this isn’t just a matter of self-interest on the part of rich cranks; even they will suffer if the economy remains depressed for decades, or the planet becomes unlivable.

But those are facts they’d rather not believe in, and their resources ensure that lots of people share
their blinkers.