In defense of the Cato Institute.
Mar 26, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 27 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
And because I know these people I won’t pretend I don’t have a dog in the fight. I’ve been friends with Ed Crane and Cato executive vice president David Boaz for 25 years. Cato has aided me with almost everything I’ve written about politics. Maybe saying so will lower the institution’s prestige enough that the Koch brothers will leave it alone. If they prevail they’ll lose Cato’s H.L. Mencken Research Fellow. (The position—unpaid and worth it—was conferred on me by Crane back when the insensitive language in Mencken’s diary was shocking the kind of people who’d later forget to be shocked by Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.)
More to the point, the Koch brothers will lose the think tank’s impressive roster of thinkers and scholars. I haven’t polled them as to who would stay and who would go under a Koch regime. But, as I said, I know libertarians. If the Kochs win the pot, they’ll have to piss in it. It will be empty otherwise.
Meanwhile we neocons and paleocons and rank-and-file Republicans should understand how important Cato is. Libertarianism is of great worth even to those who consider Atlas Shrugged useful mainly as dead weight to keep the tarp on the above-ground pool from blowing away.
It can be said, with some justice, that libertarians apply only one measure to every issue. But what a sublime yardstick it is. Libertarians ask, about each thing they encounter in public life, “Does this promote the liberty, responsibility, and dignity of the individual?” Libertarianism can have political implications, but politics is, by definition, mass action. And libertarians don’t believe in the masses. They believe in the individuals huddled in those masses. A pure libertarian is opposed to politics down to the soles of his shoes (or, libertarians being libertarians, down to the bottom of his sandals worn with socks). Libertarianism is contra-political, an emetic dose to be given to politics. As we’ve seen lately, all politics needs one sometimes.
There’s no point in vilifying the Kochs. We can leave that to the vilifier in chief. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, said of the Koch brothers that their “business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump” and that they “bankrolled Tea Party extremism and committed $200 million to try to destroy President Obama before Election Day.” As there’s some truth in the latter part of this statement, bully for Charles and David. And I don’t mind the lie. Five dollars a gallon is a small price to pay to make Obama a one-term president. The Kochs are good citizens with honest wealth who’ve put their money where their minds are. They’ve donated large amounts to Americans for Prosperity and various PACs on the side of my better angels. They’ve funded the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. And they’ve given more than $600 million to medical research, education, and the arts.
All this does not, however, in the case of the Cato Institute, keep them from being fools.
P. J. O’Rourke is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.
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