AMY GOODMAN: Well, as the Koch Brothers gear up for the 2018 elections, we turn now to look at the ideological roots that have reshaped the Republican Party in recent decades. A new book by the historian Nancy MacLean uncovers the instrumental role the late libertarian economist James Buchanan played in the right’s campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize schools and curb democratic majority rule. Her book is titled Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. MacLean is a professor of history and public policy at Duke University.
Nancy MacLean, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
NANCY MacLEAN: I’m so pleased to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start with today’s headline, the healthcare bill. Deeply unpopular. Let’s just look quickly at the polls, across the board. You have the Quinnipiac poll that says 16 percent of people in this country approve the Republican plan. You’ve got the USA Today poll, only 12 percent. You’ve got NPR/PBS/Marist poll, 17 percent. And yet the Republicans are attempting to revive it and push it through once again. In your book, Democracy in Chains, you lay out the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America. Talk about this as an example of what you have found.
NANCY MacLEAN: Yes. I had never encountered James Buchanan before I started the research that ultimately became this book. But what I learned in the course of that research is that this economist, who was trained at the University of Chicago, who was part of the same milieu as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and so forth, he went a distinctive way. And he used the economic tools he got at the University of Chicago to look at politics in a new way. And he produced, ultimately, the kind of pernicious cynicism that we see all around us today and that Donald Trump’s candidacy and rhetoric embodies. And in the healthcare debate, what we see is that Buchanan gave the advice to others on the right and to his corporate funders and donors and the people that he talked to that for capitalism of a kind they wanted to thrive, democracy must be enchained. Democracy must be, in effect, shackled, to prevent the majority will from being expressed, because it would take too much from people of great wealth, and that would be a problem for them.
And so we see this being played out in the healthcare debate now, in which, as you quoted in those polls, most people are horrified by this Republican proposal. They don’t want it. They understand that people will die from it. They understand that people who have cancer will be paying astronomical rates for their healthcare if this thing goes through. They understand what a—what a total disaster it is. And yet one of our major political parties has become captive to these donor interests, using the strategy that comes from Buchanan of changing the incentives and the rules, and they are beholden to those donor networks. What I think is fascinating is that our democracy is still working. And so, some Senate Republicans are wavering, because they are actually listening to their constituents and their voters, and they’re getting tons of calls from their constituents and their voters, and they’re defying the Kochs.
AMY GOODMAN: But those were Buchanan’s ideas—
NANCY MacLEAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —a Nobel Prize-winning economist.
NANCY MacLEAN: Right.