The Kochs, Cato, and Miscalculation—Part III

by on April 20, 2012 · 9 comments

In previous posts about the battle for control of the Cato Institute, I’ve noted (Part I) that the “Koch side” is a variety of different actors with different motivations who collectively seem not to apprehend the Cato Institute’s value. Next (Part II), I looked at why the Koch side is fairly the object of the greater scrutiny: their precipitous filing of the original lawsuit.

My premise has been that the Koch side cares. That is, I’ve assumed that they want to preserve Cato and see its role in the libertarian movement continue. Some evidence to undercut that assumption has come around, namely, their filing of a second lawsuit—and now a third! [Update: Mea culpa—there hasn’t been a third lawsuit. Just a new report of the second one. I had assumed the second was filed in state court and thus thought this was distinct. I’m not following the legal issues, obviously, which matter very little.]

The Koch side may be “on tilt.” Lawsuit-happy, win-at-any-cost. We will just have to wait and see.

For the time being, I will continue to assume that the Koch side has the best interests of liberty in mind and explore the dispute from that perspective. I owe the world some discussion of Cato-side miscalculation—of course, there is some—but before I get to that in my next post, I think it’s worth talking about the burden of proof in the Kochs’ campaign to take control of Cato.

Only fringies will deny that the Cato Institute adds some value to the liberty movement. It does. The question—if preservation of liberty is the goal—is how well it will do so in the future. The central substantive issue in the case—there are many side issues—is how Cato will operate in the future.

Now, here’s a quick primer on public campaigns and the difference between the “yes” side and the “no” side.

A “yes” campaign is hard. The moving side—the “yes” side—has to make the case that there is a problem, and it also has to make the case that it offers the best available solution.

A “no” campaign is easy. The “no” side can choose to dispute the existence of the problem, or it can dispute that the “yes” side’s solution is the right one.

In 1994, I worked for a campaign to defeat a single-payer health care initiative, California’s Prop. 186. The most memorable work we did—and the most fun—was a weekly release we faxed out (yes, faxed!) called the “Whopper of the Week.” Our side would take any dimension of the other side’s campaign and pound on it as hard as we could with mocking disdain and a smattering of the facts as we saw them.

By the end of the campaign, the “yes” side was arguing that their losses in battles like this were becoming more narrow each time around. Pathetic. We blasted out an Alice-in-Wonderland-themed Whopper. No, health-care socializers, a loss is not a win.

In the battle for control of Cato, the Kochs are the moving party, the “yes” campaign. But it has done almost none of the work that a “yes” campaign should.

As I wrote previously, they didn’t even make the case that there is a problem:

In terms of communications and public relations, this is kind of jaw-dropping stuff. It looks as though the Koch side laid little or no groundwork for public discussion of their move to take control of Cato. They didn’t register a public complaint about the direction of Cato’s research. They didn’t enlist a single ally or proxy into raising questions about Cato’s management.

And it’s becoming conspicuous with the passage of time that the Koch side isn’t putting forward a solution.

When the Kochs filed their original lawsuit, their public messaging was that it was a narrow contract dispute. “Nothing to see here.”

Then, the Koch messaging aimed at Ed Crane’s personality and management style. A statement from David Koch cited Ed’s rudeness. A pair of unsigned stories on expanded on that theme a little breathlessly (using a picture of Ed that makes him look mean and fat!). I presume the Kochs helped with the placement of these stories, though I could certainly be wrong.

[UPDATE: (4/23/12) A third Breitbart story went up today, but is no longer available at its original source. A mirror of the story, “The Crane Chronicles, Part III: Ed Gone Wild,” is available here.]

You only have to look at that “mean and fat” picture of Ed Crane to know he was going to be out the door soon anyway. Hopefully, to a chaise lounge and a mai tai with a little umbrella in it. Ironically, the instant dispute may keep Ed at Cato longer than he would have been if someone just said “thank you” and thrown him a nice going-away party.

Attacking Ed Crane does nothing to make the Kochs’ case for taking over Cato. It is at best one-third of the first half of a “yes” campaign.

What about the other two-thirds of the “problem” statement? Has Cato’s fundraising lagged? Is the scholarship weak? Has Cato failed to strike the right balance between principle and relevance? These are important, substantive questions … that the Koch side has barely raised.

Much less has the Koch side put forward the solutions that it thinks are the right ones. PR statements won’t do for the people who dedicate their every work-day to advancing liberty. What is the Koch vision for Cato? Who do the Kochs think should be at the helm? How can we know that Cato will remain a distinct, non-partisan voice in Washington? It takes something more than words when the devil we know has a 35-year track record.

The evidence of miscalculation I bring to bear in this post is the dog that didn’t bark. By all appearances, the Kochs didn’t prepare for the campaign to take over Cato. A fair inference is that the Kochs aren’t prepared to run it.

I’m fascinated in writing this post that I feel the need to explain to whoever is running this issue for the Kochs what they should have done in the effort to get control of Cato. It’s not because I wish the Koch side success. It’s because the evidence we have indicates fairly strongly that the Koch side is not prepared to run the Cato Institute. What happens if the dog catches the car?

  • Make It Stop

    I hope “the dog catches the car” if for no other reason than to stop these idiotic posts.

  • Jim Harper

    Speaking of miscalculation… These posts would be more likely to continue interminably were the dog to catch the car.

  • nancy wood

    Bitch Plz, It’s a lawsuit not a campaign, all lawsuits are about money, but, I appreciate your attempt to translate it into something, whatever, for people who agree with you that the legal matters are insignificant, I feel sorry for those idiots, because the legal matters in this case are almost as mouth watering as those gorgeous photos of Ed that you referred to as ‘fat:’ Only a guy would have that take on them; girls get that Ed is a Samurai, sizzle and all.

  • Justin Raimondo

    The Crane Cult marches on. It’s all about Ed, and “rudeness” doesn’t quite cover it. Isn’t there a missing dimension to all this?  Why did the Kochs turn against Crane? Charles Koch went along with the purging of Rothbard, and together Koch brothers handed $30 million to Cato over the years. Then, suddenly, no more money, and a public fight to oust Crane. The explanation that we’re getting from the Crane cultists is that the evil right-wing Kochs want to put Cato at the disposal of Republican party, but since when has Cato ever been hostile to the GOP? We’re told Koch wants to hand Cato over to the neocons by appointing John Hindraker to the board — but what about when Crane appointed Rupert Murdoch, the kind of the neocons, to the board? Koch put Andrew Napolitano, a principle libertarian, to the board — over Crane’s objections. So the narrative the Craniacs are spinning doesn’t hold together, which brings us back to the question — what is the real issue here. I think it’s about to surface:!/RogerJStoneJr/status/193083395151101953

  • Jim Harper

    Unclear: Who’s in the “Crane Cult”? I’ve tried to explain why the anti-Crane meme is marginal, and you’re response is to raise innuendos about Crane? How does that answer concerns about the future management of Cato? How does this show that the Koch faction is qualified to run Cato?

  • Jim Harper

    Readers, there’s a comment on my first post in the series from a “nancy wood” that appears to be a perspective on the Rothbard issue. I don’t think that issue is terribly relevant, but the comment is worth taking a look at if you do.

    Judging by the language and tone, this is not the same commenter, just someone adopting the same handle. He or she usefully draws attention to the original.

  • nancy wood

    I’ve been told to mind my own business, which is good advice, it’s advice that I usually take, even from my target audience of teenagers; people who have even less authority than I do: and who are even more mesmerized by Cato, (I write civil rights books for young people, bitch plz, I’m nobody, my job in life is ‘art director’ of a mega store: Sometimes I kick cops to the curb in court on civil rights issues: it gives me something to write about). If you put meat in front of a hungry wolf, only one thing is going to happen; if you put a case in front of a lawyer, expect the obvious: a very anxious lawyer, pacing, waiting impatiently for the next round. The case looks to me like malice and conspiracy, it screams malicious prosecution with the intent of undermining Ed Crane III’s authority over Cato. I know that sounds absurd on it’s face, but people have brought legal actions for less reasonable purposes. I’m just curious, that’s all, just intrigued. Just ignore me, I have nothing to contribute to any of this. The entire thing is magnetic though. The worst that will happen for Ed is that he will not prevail and will have to leave with an 800K parachute, (Round of disappointed sighs from my girl posse: Crane is charismatic, no doubt about it.)

  • Jim Harper

     Probable trolling, probably by a member of what I’ve amusingly seen called the “Rothbard lumpen.”

  • Pingback: The Most Subtle Danger to Cato from a Koch Takeover: A Guest Post by Ted Galen Carpenter | Koch v. Cato()

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