A documentary about the influence of the Koch brothers’ money on politics during the emergence of the tea party movement with special attention on the Citizens United decision and the labor union dispute in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker; directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin.
This movie’s title gives the impression that it’s an in-depth profile of the Koch brothers and how they use their massive fortune to promote their pet political causes and candidates. That’s a misnomer. We learn precious little about the Kochs. [Amount of money I was paid to write this observation: Just enough to be an objective and dispassionate critic/reviewer; in other words, incalculable.]
If not that then perhaps the film discloses the caustic influence of corporate money in politics generally — and yet exclusively the way it causes Republicans to shill for the filthy rich. But, we don’t need a film to tell us that obvious truism, now do we? [Amount of support I received to make this statement: zero from Republicans, zero from Democrats, zero from any other political group as they don’t even have two nickels to rub together.]
So, if it’s not a biography of the Koch brothers, and there’s no earth-shattering revelations about money in politics, maybe it’s really about the Citizens United Supreme Court case, which opened the floodgates for unlimited spending on political candidates and causes (and, again, that would be just the scourge of corporate spending exclusively to benefit Republicans and conservative causes). Nope, it’s not that either as it fails to get into any depth of analysis of this case, how it came about, the history of campaign spending, or the decision itself. [Who buttered my bread regarding this argument: Certainly not the trial lawyers, who would be pleased to have any mention of a lawsuit in a movie.]
Ok, maybe it’s really about the rise of the tea party movement — after all, the Koch brothers helped fund this original grassroots outrage, but, as we know now, this contribution was really only a front to support causes and candidates that promote corporate interests. No such luck. Just throw this aspect overboard as there is scant analysis of this political phenomenon. [Received a pat on the back for this comment from: Certainly not Sarah Palin, who is featured not once but twice in the film giving one of her patented speeches about the evils of Obama during the Wisconsin labor union battle and who herself would no doubt abhor casting aspersions on the Kochs.]
Well then, maybe it’s about the exploits of one Charles Elson “Buddy” Roemer III. Who, you might ask? You remember; that would be the former Louisiana governor who ran for president in 2012 — as a Republican candidate, then as a Reform candidate, then as an Americans Elect candidate. But, he never garnered enough support to even be included in any of the candidate debates. The film portrays him as a straight-talking, uninfluenced, untarnished champion of the people who would have been attractive to voters if the moneyed candidates and their corrupt system didn’t silence his voice. Never mind that he was a Democrat before a Republican (and Refomer, and Americans Elector) and that he has his own political skeletons and baggage that are never revealed in the film, which would indicate that he is just another run-of-the-mill, flip-flopping, opportunistic politician. [Governor Roemer begged me to mention that he’s in this film, but he didn’t produce any essential greenbacks, hence the unvarnished commentary herein.]
Fine, then the film’s essentially about that nasty nationally noticed labor union battle with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Indeed, this topic takes up much of the film’s running time, but precious little, if any, new insight is gleaned about this skirmish where Governor Walker and his Republican legislators stripped collective bargaining rights of public employees (other than the obvious influence of corporate money and virtually nothing about any other political values and beliefs that were at work during this episode in 2011-12). [I disclose that I’ve received no labor or corporate money in making this assertion — nor have I ever spoken to Governor Walker about this (not even disguised as the voice of David Koch over the phone).]
Geez, then it must be about the disillusionment and frustration of Republican voters that their party is in bed with the top one percenters, right? Nope. Although there are a couple of real Republican voters interviewed in the film, they are really just miffed at Governor Walker’s efforts to take away their rights as workers, not the larger issues involved with such political disgruntlement. [Not being a union dues paying member, I’m apparently free to express this impression of the film.]
Maybe the film’s really about its own back story — how it was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and was intended to be shown on public television, but was withheld due to some suggestion that the Koch brothers (who provide beaucoup bucks for PBS and affiliates) were not pleased with being vilified, so then the filmmakers further edited it and released it as this independent film. If so, not sure how viewers are to come across this history as none of this struggle is mentioned in the film and must be learned from extraneous sources (who are unwilling to fully disclose the truth anyway). [No one threatened lawsuits regarding this column, so it has not been edited, revised, or otherwise modified at the behest of outside interests — including this publication’s Editor-in-chief.]
How about the view that very little if anything in this film is not completely obvious to anyone who’s been paying any attention to politics over the last four to five years? It’s old ground that’s been well-trodden by talk radio, cable news, blogs, tweets, etc., regarding the influence of corporate bigwigs on politics. Yawn — tell me something I don’t know. Yeah, ok, there’s the one tidbit that recalls that the Citizens United group helped finance ads supporting Clarance Thomas’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, a forgotten factoid that given this group’s rise to prominence from its Supreme Court win warrants much more examination of the influence of money on the judicial branch than this film provides. [Of course, I fully respect the neutrality of the judicial system — I swear — I’m telling you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.]
What we are left with is a film that stands for the proposition that the American people are merely empty vessels, infinitely malleable and helplessly susceptible to the persuasive power of the almighty dollar in deciding their candidate choices and forming their political positions and values. [Of course, this must be the case as Politi-Flix has spoken!]
Neither The Colorado Statesman nor anyone affiliated with the making or promotion of Citizen Koch pressured the writer of this column to review this film in this manner or to express such a volatile and controversial statement about the film’s fundamental messages or of the American people’s political disposition. Please contact Doug Young directly to ascertain this column’s independent validity.