Book Review: Lee Fang's 'The Machine'

Lee Fang has delivered the ultimate guide to the right. He untangles the right wing funding network and puts them all in their proper place.

After the 2008 and 2012 elections, we all thought the country was shifting toward liberal values. The right wing saw it too, so they warmed up their machine built over 30 years, stretching from Capitol Hill to local school boards. Think tanks and lobby houses, new media and old, consultants and old-time party hacks all fell into line to rev up The Machine against the newly-elected moderate Democrat named Barack Obama.

Yes, Hillary Clinton, there was and still is a vast right wing conspiracy. Luckily for us, Lee Fang has written the story of the conspiracy in the Clinton years and following right up to the 2012 election. Names, dates, and secret meetings are all in one compact book, where Lee's narrative proves what we all know: A small handful of billionaires and corporations drive politicians, the news, and day-to-day political discourse in this country.

Lee is one of the best investigative reporters out there, and his light shines brightest when he takes what he knows and puts it into the context of what we're living through. Those astroturf groups cropping up all over the place during the health care debate? Lee places them with their founders and paints the larger picture of how all of the cogs move together to grind out the daily message. From top to bottom, Lee takes the reader through the mazes of lobbyists, front groups, think tanks, strategists and their associated social media branches.

All of that is great, but it would be a boring read if it were something like a dictionary of right-wing organizations and their roles in the larger scheme. It is a lot of things, but it is definitely not boring. It reads more like a spy novel. Beginning with the tobacco lobbying groups and the Clinton administration through their relative dormancy during the Bush years, to the pre-emptive planned strike when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, readers get to jump on the ride and observe it in real time as Fang unfolds the story, dropping names, places, and dates of meetings. Lee brings an insider's view to the intense competition on the right between the fiscal conservative machine headed up by Grover Norquist and the lesser-known Weyrich Lunch, named as a tribute to Paul Weyrich. Despite some overlap between the two groups, there's a constant tension to control the overall message. Right now the Weyrich Lunch bunch are winning that battle, but winning is less important than keeping the war raging on more than one front.

From the book:

The most prominent, and underreported, example of Weyrich Lunch influence was its role in elevating radical right Senate candidates in Delaware and Alaska. Early in 2010, a parade of far-right challengers hoping to upset Republican establishment-ordained candidates for Senate visited D.C. -- and specifically the Weyrich Lunch -- to find support. In Delaware, the Republican establishment sought Representative Mike Castle (R-DE), one of the most moderate members of the entire Republican caucus, to run for Senate...However, a local antiabortion activist named Christine O'Donnell -- known primarily for her status as a perennial fringe candidate -- went to the Weyrich Lunch for support.

O'Donnell had known the Weyrich Lunch leaders through her work leading the abstinence group The Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth, and the Weyrich Lunch supporters admired her staunch right-wing positions, particularly in contrast to Castle.

Of course, it wasn't just O'Donnell and Joe Miller. Others close to the Weyrich Lunch group, which also meets on Wednesdays, include Senator James Inhofe, Rep. Louis Gohmert, and Governor Ultrasound Wannabe Ken Cuccinelli, aka "The Cooch."

Why read a book like this, where you know the outcomes even if you don't know the players? Fang explains at the end and I agree wholeheartedly. Quoting Jefferson's concerns that there would be a day in this country where a hereditary aristocracy would take control of the country, Fang expresses concern that "Jefferson's dark vision of an America governed not by and for the people but ruled instead by a small, selfish oligarchy is coming true because of the conservative machine."

It is that concern which compelled Lee to write this book and which compels me to buy copies of it to give to my conservative-but-not-wingnut friends and relatives. Lee has not written a book for True Believers. He's written a book for anyone who believes that the foundations of this country rest in citizen participation, voting and representative government, regardless of whether one is conservative or liberal.

So get it. Read it. And share it. You won't be sorry.

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