Useful Idiots: Zephyr Teachout and RNC Highlights

In this week’s quarantine episode of our Useful Idiots podcast, hosts Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper are joined by attorney, author and former New York gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, who spoke about the role of monopolies in the American economy.

For Democrats suck, Matt and Katie weigh into the supposedly toxic, Bernie bro-eque online culture surrounding the Ed Markey vs. Joe Kennedy III Senate race in Massachusetts. Out hosts are not sold on Kennedy’s accusations leveled at the Markey campaign of online cyberbullying  “I mean come on, there’s a freaking band called Dead Kennedys,” says Matt. “This is now officially a thing. A way to get at or change the subject in a campaign between two people who can’t disagree over substantive issues, is just to talk about somebody saying something mean on Twitter, even if it has nothing to do with the candidate. And journalists are very complicit in this.”

“It’s a totally disingenuous smear that’s occasionally regurgitated by good-faithed people who don’t know that they’re just parroting talking points,” adds Katie, who posits that Kennedy feels so attacked because of the color of his hair. “It’s easy for you and me to dismiss representation I think, because we are not part of a certain demographic, which Kennedy is part of… We’re not gingers.”

Matt and Katie break down the first couple of nights of the Republican National Convention [Editor’s Note: this episode was taped on Wednesday, before the third day of the RNC], including a heated discussion of if “beam me up, Scotty” makes sense as a joke for describing an abortion. Our hosts hypothesize that Trump was expecting to be running against Bernie, and hasn’t changed course on messaging for Biden. “They have not recalibrated from that mindset. I don’t know if they want to, but they have conditioned for their followers to this idea that they’re going to be running against ‘the squad.’ But they’re actually running against Nancy Pelosi,” says Matt. “That disconnect is going to end up being a problem for them, because the messaging is going to be way off.”

Zephyr Teachout, who posted big numbers in her progressive primary challenge against New York Governor Andew Cuomo in 2014, joins our hosts to about monopolies in America, the failure of the Bernie campaign, and her new book Break ‘Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money.

“I want to shake the shoulders of my progressive friends, and tell them that we need to do so much more about taking on corporate power, and not simply talking about the problem of corporate power, but going at the root of power,” says Teachout.

Teachout argues that among many other things, the Covid-19 pandemic played a role in Bernie’s loss. “The anxiety and the return to comfort moment was a part of that,” she says.

Teachout points to different areas of the American economy that are being ruled by too big to fail companies, including tech, and particularly their power over the journalism industry. “It is amazing that we allowed Google and Mark Zuckerberg to be basically the kings of our news industry,” says Teachout, who argues that big tech’s dominance of where news outlets put their products has resulted in the death of local news. “I think publishers should march on Washington.”

Teachout also speaks to the relationship between race and monopolies. “This is not racially neutral. When you wipe out funeral homes through mergers, you wipe out black-owned funeral homes that played a central role in every part of the ongoing civil rights movement,” she says. “Or when you wipe out, as we are allowing to happen right now, 40-50% of black-owned businesses, because the CARES Act gave a bazooka to big white money, and gave nothing to small businesses and people of color who are overrepresented in own small businesses, that is not a racially neutral policy.”

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