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From the Archive: Prof. Nancy MacLean on the Koch Network and GOP Election Rigging

Following Nancy MacLean’s recent appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, we repost her interview from 2017.Maher never gives his guests proper introductions, so viewers of the April 30, 2021 episode had little idea of her important work on the long history of GOP election rigging, identifying the Republicans correctly as a minority party that has figured out how to exert majority rule–using dark money, gerrymandering, and many other tactics.

On the show with panelist Thomas Frank, MacLean made many important points about campaign finance, the risks to our election system from the next round of redistricting and new GOP laws that limit voting.  And she deftly rebutted Maher’s embrace of GOP talking points that dismiss systemic racism as “woke” extremism.

Here’s the text from the original post of this interview:

Nancy MacLean is professor of History & Public Policy at Duke, and her new book traces the rise of the pro-capitalist, anti-government Libertarian movement fueled by billionaire Charles Koch.MacLean holds the Chafe chair at Duke, and her impressive new book is Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.

The book is focused on economist James Buchanan, who became a leading intellectual of the Koch movement, with the mission of creating a veto-proof supermajority, operating without majority support.  MacLean notes that the ongoing GOP scheme to dismantle Obamacare has never had strong public support, which shows the influence of campaign donors overrules the majority.  We talk about gerrymandering, and recent proposals to end direct election of senators, reverting to bygone eras.

Buchanan, trained at the University of Chicago school of economics that also brought us Milton Friedman, was hired at the University of Virginia in the late 1950’s, and Charlottesville was the scene of legal challenges to school segregation that became part of the landmark Supreme Court rulings in Brown vs. Board of Education.  Sen. Harry Byrd, described as an oligarch whose machine ran Virginia, led an effort to close all public schools in the state in resistance to integration, and Buchanan was part of it.

This history informs Buchanan’s path to leading conservative institutes at Virginia, Virginia Tech, and George Mason University.  As you will hear, he drew the attention of Charles Koch, who recruited Buchanan for work at the Cato Institute.

In this rich, wide-ranging conversation, MacLean explains some of the radical notions that have become policies: voter suppression, education “choice” that is influenced by old-style segregation, and the protection of property, wealth and capitalism from the interference of liberal governance, going back to the progressive era and the New Deal.

We also touch on Buchanan’s major role in advising Chile’s Pinochet on restructuring the Chilean economy after the brutal coup that deposed Salvador Allende, and ask why Buchanan was awarded the Nobel prize for economics in 1986.

MacLean acknowledges that the book exposes frightening people and ideas; but her hope is that exposure of the goals and methods of the stealth radical right will lead even a majority of Republicans to reject their agenda.