OMINOUS POLITICS: The New Conservative Labyrinth by John S. III Saloma

OMINOUS POLITICS: The New Conservative Labyrinth

Email this review


Completed shortly before the author's death and published through the auspices of The Nation magazine, this guide to New Right people and organizations by a founder of the liberal Republican Ripon Society has all the weaknesses and none of the virtues of the sponsoring magazine. Specifically, the assertion that the new conservatives are different from their more established versions because they are more ideological and inflexible is as close as Saloma gets to an idea. For the rest, he has produced a catalogue of cross-membership between foundations, corporations, think tanks, publications, and politicians that adds up to very little beyond guilt by association. For example, Saloma tells us a lot about the American Enterprise Institute: it had an $11.8 billion budget in 1982; it has established several study centers, like the Center for the Study of Government Regulation; it has spun off institutions, such as the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies; it has raised endowment money for chairs at AEI and elsewhere from the Reader's Digest and other conservative sources; it publishes several periodicals; it supports some 145 resident fellows and staff, as well as over 80 adjunct scholars. But when it comes to showing us what AEI does and how it does it, Saloma misses the mark by merely showing us more connections: AEI fellows appear on television, either on their own programs (Ben Wattenberg) or as analysts for the networks. (""Norman J. Ornstein consulted with CBS News on the 1982 Senate races; Richard M. Scammon continued his fifteen-year association with NBC News on election night that year; and Howard R. Penniman has advised ABC News since 1960."") AEI fellows also appear regularly in print (Irving Kristol in the Wall Street Journal), while AEI staffers send out a steady flow of Op-Ed pieces, news releases, and other media-oriented goods. Saloma, however, never subjects this activity to a critical reading; in fact, he never bothers to even describe the material. If AEI is effective in disseminating any particular ideas, as opposed to promoting particular people, we never learn what they are or how it's done. The main figures in Saloma's web are the likes of Adolph Coors, Richard Scaife (who controls two Mellon foundations), Stephen Bechtel, Jr. (chairman of Bechtel Group, employer of George P. Shultz and Caspar Weinberger), and R. Randolph Richardson (president of the Smith Richardson Foundation, funders of Jude Wanniski and the supply-side faith). These people specialize in funneling money through family foundations closed to public scrutiny; from investigative reports and other printed sources, Saloma has culled enough information to chart the personalities and numbers. What they add up to, if anything, is absent.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux