A new conspiracy theory began percolating on the port side of the Internet last month. The essentials of the story are best summed up by this Huffington Post headline: “Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers.” Confirms? Many on the left have alleged that the Koch brothers, prominent philanthropists and supporters of libertarian causes, were puppeteering the Tea Party, which in fact was as spontaneous a political uprising as any seen in recent American history. Whatever one’s views of the Tea Party, whether one takes the Koch accusation seriously has proved to be a good litmus test for honesty and sobriety in political discourse. As for the supposed role of Big Tobacco in the Tea Party, The Scrapbook is regrettably well-versed in left-wing conspiracy theories, but the allegation that the Tea Party wants to give you cancer was new to us.
So who cooked up this latest absurdity to discredit conservatives? We were a bit taken aback by the answer—the source was a “study” funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Here are your tax dollars at work, folks: “Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry’s anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda.” The “study” goes on to note that two Koch-funded groups, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, are “supporting the tobacco companies’ political agenda.” Further, tobacco companies—along with many other corporate entities—gave Koch-funded groups a few million dollars over decades.
But the pièce de résistance unearthed by the study was the fact that Citizens for a Sound Economy—a precursor to FreedomWorks—had set up a website with the address USTeaParty.com back in 2002. The website was “open to all Americans who feel our taxes are too high and the tax code is too complicated.” As Jacob Sullum at Reason magazine reports, one of the authors of the study went on to say, “The records indicate that the Tea Party has been shaped by the tobacco industry and is not a spontaneous grassroots movement at all.” Case closed!
It falls to The Scrapbook to point out the obvious here. One, the Koch brothers are worth in excess of $80 billion; a few million dispensed to pet political causes hardly indicates fealty to Big Tobacco. Two, the Tea Party is a well-known and much--beloved event in American history that used to be (and perhaps still is) taught to every American schoolchild. That otherwise unrelated groups holding shared antitax views would seek to wrap themselves in its aura reveals nothing but its political potency.
And speaking of shared political views, the Huffington Post informs us that this study was “peer-reviewed,” which rather depressingly says a lot about the general intellectual milieu of those on the receiving end of government research grants.
The good news is that Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, was asked about the study last week at a congressional hearing. Not only did he refuse to defend the study, Sullum reports Collins said he was “quite troubled” by it. Collins added, “We thought we were funding a different kind of research when those grants were awarded.”
So, to summarize, a powerful federal bureaucracy claims your tax dollars to fund research aimed at discrediting those who feel the federal government is too big and powerful. When asked to account for this, the bureaucrats-in-charge concede the government is too sprawling for them to keep tabs on. And yet, somehow the Koch brothers are the ones with a sub rosa agenda aimed at controlling the lives of Americans.
The final indignity is this: David Koch is perhaps the largest private funder of cancer research in the country. He gave $100 million to build the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has done much more. What exactly does the National Cancer Institute think it is doing when it subsidizes hamfisted attempts to discredit him?