The 1971 Memo That Changed America

34 pages written by Lewis Powell made America take a hard right turn.

Video Transcript with Linked Sources

Have you ever wondered why conservatives and billionaires seem to dominate a lot of our society in a not at all random way? Well, you can thank this absolute daddy for that. 

Lewis F. Powell. Author of the Powell Memo. Supreme Court Justice. Barrel of laughs.

Introducing Lewis Powell. He wrote a 34-page memo for the Chamber of Commerce in 1971 that changed America and became the blueprint for the Conservative movement. Let’s walk through this memo. 

Back in the 70s, Big Business was feeling more than a little attacked. It was the New Deal era, workers had power, and social justice movements were racking up wins.

So Powell wrote a step-by-step manual for conservatives and big businesses to roll it all back. 

Step one: The campus.

Powell was no fan of the hippies and Marxists in academia. So he used the disguise of “fairness and balance” to call for a wave of right-wingers to flood America’s schools from high school through graduate programs. Later on, Fox news thought this was a good idea, so they made it their slogan. 

The first step on campus was to hire hot, smart people. Powell called to recruit and pay an army of scholars, speakers, and media personalities to demand equal time on campus anytime a leftist did so much as slip on a banana peel. And he said they should be hot… Smart move.  

Second: scrubbing textbooks. 

He wanted a panel of fat cats to continuously review, rewrite, and fight any textbook from the high school to graduate level that wasn’t sufficiently pro-business.

Third: hiring conservative faculty. For “fairness and balance” Powell wanted every professor with a hint of leftism to be matched by a right-winger. The Koch network later ran with this and poured tens of millions into hundreds of universities to spread the conservative agenda. 

Fourth: business schools. They’re the pipeline to leadership in government and business and Powell wanted the right-wing to own them. Their graduates are architects of today’s super inequality. 

And last, high schools. Powell called for pro-business action programs and text book scrubbing to get the kids early. 

Step 2: the public. 

Powell wanted total dominance of all media by right-wing viewpoints with constant surveillance of content and appeals for equal time to the Federal Communications Commission. 

He called for big businesses to donate 10% of their advertising budget to fund political media including radio, newspapers, books, pamphlets, scholarly journals, and paid advertising. 

We’re short on time, but he’d be proud today. Right-wing media is 24/7 and on every device. 

Step 3: politics and the courts.

Conservatives have dominated here. A single family, The Koch’s, budgeted nearly a billion dollars to spend on the 2016 election, and it’s only gotten worse from there. 

Right-wing think tanks exploded and cranked out model legislation on nearly every outrage in the news from Stand your Ground laws to the most recent anti-trans bills. 

And they’ve packed the courts, most famously with Mitch McConnel holding a supreme court seat open for 8 months, and then going back on his own rule with no hesitation. 

The last step was Confrontational Politics.  

Powell called for no quarter of anti-business thought in the public square. And for big business to rain down unlimited money to cement its agenda. 

So yeah, none of this was an accident and we’re living in Lewis Powell’s dream world right now. Thanks for nothing, Lewis.


And as a bonus chaser, here’s a great thread from a friend on ol’ Lewis: