FIFTY YEARS OF AMERICA’S
RADICAL RIGHT-WING MOVEMENT
[Paul Levy © 2019]
For 50 years a powerful Right-Wing Movement has transformed America, capturing the Republican Party and achieving many other notable victories such as Citizens United, popularizing school vouchers, and reversing a growing commitment to address climate change by promoting climate change denial.
Recent exposés such as Jane Mayer’s Dark Money and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains help reveal this often stealthy Movement, but it has actually been recognized for some time. An early description of it, for example, was a book by John Saloma III entitled Ominous Politics: The New Conservative Labyrinth. Saloma was a moderate Republican and a founder of its Ripon Society. Writing in 1984, he saw the movement as a major danger to the advancement of his Republican Party. Here is how he summarized it:
Over a period … political conservatives have quietly built a vast coalition of think tanks, political action groups, religious broadcasters, corporate political organizations, senators and representatives, Republic Party officials, and other groups with budgets totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually. I emphasize the “quietly” because this major development … has arrived almost unannounced.
Although the Movement has grown enormously since 1984, many of its early benefactors and most of its original design such as think tanks, political action committees, and partnership with the Religious Right remain at its core today. We think of the Koch brothers as being pivotal to today’s Movement, but they were already key players in 1984 and their father was before them. In fact, the term Kochtopus, commonly used today to refer to the brothers’ broad influence, was coined in 1980.
Progressive and Centrist activists need to confront this Movement – to shape an effective vision and set of strategies and launch a countermovement, if you will. But a prerequisite to doing this is to understand the Movement’s history, affluence, structure, strategies, institutions, entrenchment, victories, and core ideology.
This document is an attempt to advance these understandings. It is a collection of relatively brief descriptions of key Movement elements. Each contains citations and often supplemental material as well as references and links to Related Essays that I have written.
 Mayer and MacLean use the term “Kochtopus” to identify the reach of Koch activity and influence, so it seems recent. However, Saloma also uses the term, and it was originally coined by Edward Konkin III, a left-wing libertarian in 1980 (New Libertarian’s Manifesto).
Paul Levy grew up in South bend, Indiana. After graduating from Amherst College, he obtained a social work master’s degree from Case-Western Reserve University and a law degree from Georgetown University. For many years he was a lawyer with Legal Services of Indiana representing poverty groups such as neighborhood groups, public housing tenant councils, and community economic development corporations. He was a legal advisor and community organizer with the Vermont Center for Independent Living for several years and helped organize cross-disability advocacy groups around that state. For two decades, Paul was an adjunct teacher at Indiana University and Smith College and in retirement was an adjunct at Southern New Hampshire University.
In mid-career, Paul returned to school to obtain a doctorate in social work from Columbia specializing in social welfare policy. His dissertation (with honors) was, “Supreme Court Welfare Reform – Has It Lasted?” and his advisor was Richard Cloward who, with wife Francis Fox Piven wrote extensively about social movements.
After obtaining his doctorate, Paul became a professor in the School of Human Services (SHS) at Springfield College. SHS was an experimental program for working adults and offered bachelor and masters degrees. Paul taught courses in political economy, social policy history and analysis, strategic planning, alternative human services, and various other subjects, working primarily in the School’s satellite program in Manchester, NH, and for several years co-directed a leadership master’s degree program in Sweden.
In retirement, Paul wrote a book about his Uncle Phil who was killed in World War II (Finding Phil: Lost in War and Silence) and has written numbers of articles for the Concord (NH) Monitor. He also has volunteered with numbers of human service and advocacy organizations.