The Astroturf Study

The Left is jumping with both feet on this study:

A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.

Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.

Taken purely as “science” — taxpayer-funded science incidentally — there are several problems with inhaling their conclusions without a hint of critical thinking. Sullum:

The main evidence for this thesis is that Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), a think tank co-founded by libertarian billionaire David Koch and economist Richard Fink in 1984, received donations from tobacco companies (mainly Philip Morris) between 1991 and 2002. A year or two later, CSE split into two organizations, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, that have helped support and organize Tea Party activists. How much tobacco money did CSE get? According to Glantz et al., $5.3 million over 12 years, which amounts to roughly 11 percent of CSE’s revenue as of 2002. That’s a substantial share, but was it enough to corrupt “a think tank dedicated to free market economics” and backed by an ideologically motivated billionaire? Glantz et al. show that CSE saw eye to eye with Philip Morris on issues such as tobacco taxes and smoking bans, which presumably is why the company supported it. But they do not present any evidence that CSE took positions contrary to its avowed principles because it was eager to keep the tobacco money flowing. Nor do they claim that FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity, the groups that have aligned themselves with the Tea Party, receive substantial tobacco industry funding, let alone that such money is important enough to sway the entire Tea Party movement.

I didn’t realize that smoking rights was such a big deal to the Tea Party. I mean, every Tea Partier I’ve talked to has had that moment when his eyes glazed over and he mumbled, “People should be free to smoke anywhere. Tobacco taxes are bad. I like Phillip Morris better than Cats. I am going to smoke it again and again and again.” But I never thought anything of it.

Incidentally, you know who else got money from Big Tobacco? Algore. Yet, somehow, this does not discredit his opinions on global warming.

Sullum again:

If these positions are so clearly indefensible, why does the money matter? “It is important for policy-makers to be aware of the corporate funding sources for organisations that work to influence public policy,” Glantz et al. write. “It is important for policy-makers,the health community and people who support the Tea Party to be aware of these complex and often hard-to-track linkages.” But they never really explain why. Surely it is possible to judge arguments and evidence on their own merits, without reference to the alleged financial interests of the people offering them.

But rather than respond with arguments and evidence of his own, Glantz seeks to discredit his opponents by implying that they do not really believe what they are saying, that they are only in it for the money. “It is important for tobacco control advocates to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies,” Glantz and his co-authors write, “and to ensure that policy makers, the media and the public understand the longstanding intersection between the tobacco industry and the Tea Party policy agenda.” In other words, if you don’t have logic and facts on your side, smear your opponents as Big Tobacco shills or dupes.

Exactly. Ever since the Tea Party arose, the goal of the Left has not been to engage them or debate them or defeat them. It has been to discredit them. To claim that millions of people with concerns ranging from illegal immigration to Obamacare do not come by these views honestly, but are racists, sexists, idiots or shills in some sort of Koch-funded behaviorist experiment.

Liberals, of course, come by their views honestly and with intellectual rigor. But anyone who disagrees with them must be insane, deluded or brainwashed. So … tobacco money! … or something. It is part of what I call the Grand Liberal Conceit: the belief that everyone is naturally liberal, that liberal views are intrinsically objectively correct and that the only reason anyone isn’t a liberal is because of some evil conspiracy. This view, of course, is the descendent of the “false consciousness” of Marxism, an idea that still extends its vile and vain tentacles into all branches of intellectual thought.

Bullshit. I’ll repeat what I said in a slightly different context, when Bill Maher complained that Obama’s opponents were running against an imaginary straw man:

not all of the complaints against Obama — not even a significant minority — are illegitimate. Obamacare is not a figment of the fevered Right Wing imagination; it’s an actual law that was actually passed and actually massively increases federal control over the insurance system. The crummy economy is not some specter conjured up by Rush Limbaugh. The massive deficit is not an illusion created by Fox News. We can argue over how much responsibility Obama bears for these things; but we can’t argue over whether they exist.

If you ask people why they don’t like Obama, I guarantee you that, except for a handful of pundits, the words “Saul Alinsky” will never pass their lips. They will cite bailouts, which Bush started but Obama supported and manipulated to the advantage of his political allies. They will cite the economy and the debt. They will cite Obamacare. They will cite Dodd-Frank. They will talk about a man who looks at our ridiculous tax system and proposes more complications.

These are not imaginary hobgoblins we attribute to some Barack X candidate who only exists in our diseased conservative minds (Maher, of course, thinking all conservative minds are diseased). These are things the President bears responsibility for.

Yes, some of the organizations affiliated with the Tea Party have taken tobacco money at some point and some have been funded by David Koch. So fucking what. George Soros has been doing that for years and failed to get a real movement going. Ross Perot tried that and failed to get a movement going. All the tobacco and Koch money in the world would not not have made a lick of difference were it not for genuine and legitimate concern about the direction in which this country is headed.

To be honest, this study and the reaction to it tells you a lot more about the Left than it does about the Right. All politics they disagree with is the result of shadowy conspiracies and rich oligarchs. The world is filled with fundamentally evil forces — Big Oil, Big Tobacco, the Koch Brothers — who infest and corrupt anything they touch. There are not legitimate Right Wing movements, only Left Wing ones. And if that all sounds familiar, it’s because those are views and prejudices that they constantly accuse the Right of having.

Hell’s teeth, I tire of that attitude. I wish a thousandth of the energy spent investigating and spreading BS conspiracy theories about the Tea Party or any movement were spent engaging and exploring their concerns and ideas and how those can be addressed in a sensible way. But I guess that tolerance and patience only applies to Occupy Wall Street.