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Paul Ryan and the Long War on Democracy
Paul Ryan. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Paul Ryan and the Long War on Democracy

Paul Ryan. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate is the present culmination of more than two centuries of war on democracy and – in modern times – on the specific gains made through political struggle during the Roosevelt administration after the devastation caused by the Great Depression and on those specific gains for civil rights codified into law during the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson.

To read more articles by Danny Weil and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

The passage of major environmental, civil rights and campaign finance reform in the late 1960s and early 1970s sounded alarm bells in the corporate world as these democratic reforms came on the heels of those enacted during the New Deal. The response of corporate America to this spirited wave of public, political activity was to develop and fund a sustained and united countervailing political force to directly confront perceived radicalism and threats to cultural, political, patriarchal, racial and economic hierarchy.

The Powell Memo and the Growth of the Reactionary Right

The strategy and tactics to create a sustained and united countervailing political force was laid out in a memo written by Virginia corporate attorney and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice, Lewis Powell. Many see this memo as the chief catalyst for the paradigm shift in corporate strategy from bipartisanship to far-right acrimony. Written in 1971 at the request of his client at the time, the powerful US Chamber of Commerce, the Powell memo advised the Chamber that corporations needed to organize to stop what he referred to as an “attack on the American free enterprise system” (Powell Manifesto: “Attack of American Free Enterprise System“).

The Powell memo went even further, urging corporations to jointly cough up substantial funds to pool for a sustained and coordinated political offensive. More significantly, Powell identified working through the judicial system and an “activist-minded Supreme Court” as essential to shaping “social, economic and political change” for corporate benefit and the assurance of a white, patriarchal hierarchy.

The Chamber of Commerce has always been a leading voice of the right, but since the ’60s and ’70s upheavals, the US Chamber of Commerce has become an increasingly well-funded and powerful voice on behalf of corporate interests in Washington and a deep-pocketed friend to reactionaries on the campaign trail. In fact, since 1997, the Chamber of Commerce has been deeply involved in political activism and is currently a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

In 1972, Powell was appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon (many say as a result of his memo). A close reading of Powell’s rulings on the high court finds he overwhelmingly favored corporate power. Justice William Rehnquist, a well-known conservative, was also a Nixon Supreme Court appointee in 1972 and sat on the bench with Powell.

This is the same Rehnquist that, according to Al Jazeera, guarded a largely African-American polling site in South Phoenix, Arizona, in his youth for the Republican Party:

He even made those who spoke accented English interpret parts of the constitution to prove that they understood it. The lines were long, people fought, got tired or had to go to work and many of them left without voting. It was a notorious episode long remembered in Phoenix political circles.

It turned out that it was part of a Republican Party strategy known as “Operation Eagle Eye” and “Bill” was future Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. He was confronted with his intimidation tactics in his confirmation hearings years later and characterized his behavior as simple arbitration of polling place disputes. In doing so, he set a standard for GOP dishonesty and obfuscation surrounding voting rights that continues to this day.

Rehnquist also had a hand in the impeachment of Bill Clinton and then went on to decide the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. Bush turned right around and appointed John Roberts, now chief justice of the Supreme Court (Chief Justice Roberts, who clerked for Rehnquist and considers Rehnquist his mentor), and Roberts went on to deliver the Citizens United decision, setting the stage for the corporate takeover of the government.

Reactionaries Mount Calls for Ryan’s Candidacy With Romney

The reactionary Koch brothers, along with Tea Party advocates and gloves-off free-market capitalists have used the Citizens United decision to pressure Romney into selecting Ryan as his running mate. The Koch brothers are staunch supporters of Ryan; in fact, they have been among the largest contributors to Ryan over his entire political career.

Ryan’s mission is likely to fulfill papa Fred Koch’s vision to restore America to its former glory days as a white Christian nation ruled by a plutocratic moneyed elite. The elder Koch was the founder of the notorious John Birch Society (“Diamond,” Sara (1995). NY: Guilford Press. p. 324. ISBN 0-89862-862-8). As the progenitor of the Koch family, the elder Koch candidly and unabashedly wrote, “the colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” and “welfare was a secret plot to attract rural blacks to cities, where they would foment a vicious race war”).

It is likely the Kochs and their right-wing supporters actually expect Romney will lose the 2012 election, and perhaps they are using his candidacy as a platform to launch Ryan’s 2016 run for the presidency. Michele Bachmann’s labeling of Huma Abedin as a Muslim terrorist may have been a trial balloon for what is to come in 2016 as the nation’s economy plummets further toward the bottom. The same might be said for Romney’s TV advertisement attacking welfare recipients, an ad Fred Koch would have applauded.

North Carolina is another cautionary tale of what may lie in wait for working Americans, the LGBT community, women, people of color and the poor. In North Carolina, Koch ally Art Pope used his money to engineer a takeover of both the state Senate and House by hard-line conservatives in 2010; they have been extremely busy implementing a right-wing agenda throughout the state, as well as preparing to tackle Obama at election time.

On Monday, July 2, reactionary North Carolina Republicans closed the 2012 legislative session by overriding four gubernatorial vetoes in a late night session to: allow fracking; defund Planned Parenthood; slash $190 million from public education; and undo the Racial Justice Act, which allowed appeals of death sentences based on racial bias.


As in North Carolina, the Kochs from Wisconsin have been busy funding a national Republican Party purge of what are called “moderates,” people who were deemed conservatives in the past. The takeover of the Republican Party by the forces of reaction is nearly complete. The reactionary agenda is part of the war on women’s reproductive and social rights; it is a war against the gains made in the civil rights movement of the sixties as well as the New Society; it is a war against education and the environment. In fact, it is a war on the Enlightenment itself with appeals to dark religious fundamentalism clothed in free-market fundamentalist rhetoric arguing for a new Digital Dark Ages equipped with neo-feudalistic socio-economic and cultural arrangements.

In many ways Ryan is THE American Taliban, as he stands for theocracy over democracy and ideological indoctrination over democratic education. His nomination as a running mate for Romney is an indication of how thoroughly our government has been infiltrated by those seeking to subvert the Constitution, undo decades of humanitarian gains and institutionalize a plutocracy fashioned after the Gilded Age and yet firmly set on a medieval past.

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