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Are These Young Conservatives Just Another Front for the Koch Brothers?

Known for a viral video depicting Obamacare as Big Government gynecology, Generation Opportunity bills itself as independent and apolitical. That's not the whole story

Back in September, Generation Opportunity, a “liberty-loving,” “nonpartisan,” “youth advocacy group,” made a name for itself with two viral videos, each featuring a character named Creepy Uncle Sam.

The clips were a minute long, and offered the group’s take on what would happen after Obamacare—officially known as the Affordable Care Act—went into effect. In one scene, a woman in her 20s sits back on a gynecological exam table, her feet set in stirrups. The doctor leaves her alone in the room, and Creepy Uncle Sam rises from between her legs, causing her to shriek. In the other, a man of the same age is inexplicably told by his general practitioner to drop his pants, get on the table and bring his knees to his chest. Again the doctor leaves, only this time Creepy Uncle Sam rises from behind, as if he was about to check the patient’s prostate. Both videos end with the same warning: “Don’t let government play doctor.”

These ads, ironically a kind of reverse-communist agitprop, were part of the group’s “Opt Out” campaign, which suggested to uninsured young people that it would be better not to enroll in the new health care exchanges.

The videos’ dark, mixed metaphor and the campaign’s message caused an uproar. But in terms of publicity, both were a success. Collectively, they’ve been viewed more than 3 million times.

At one point, the noise reached such a fever pitch that President Obama felt compelled to comment. “Some of the wealthiest men in America,” he said, “are funding a cynical ad campaign trying to convince young people not to buy health care at all.”

The men in question were Charles and David Koch, two conservative billionaire brothers who, since Obama’s election, have been supporting conservative libertarian causes—often covertly—through layers of benignly named nonprofits. One of these nonprofits is Freedom Partners, a trade group that provided more than $5 million to Generation Opportunity.

The Kochs’ strategy, according to Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive, is “not about health care,” but rather “to continue to try to make the Affordable Care Act unpopular and tied to Democrats,” who, historically, are less likely to support their overall business interests.

But this position may stand at odds with what is best for young Americans, and that is Generation Opportunity’s challenge: to reach a typically liberal demographic and convince them that Obama’s agenda is harmful.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Evan Feinberg, the president of Generation Opportunity, stood before a dry-erase board at the group’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. His hair was impeccably coiffed, as if the gel had held firmly since his senior prom. And his attire—blue blazer and tan corduroy pants—reinforced the notion that he was a figure of maturity in the room.

“You know the rules,” he said, holding a marker in one hand and a Ping-Pong ball in the other. “No judging. If you judge, you get a ball thrown at you.”

Around 10 members of his staff were seated in front of him on boxy leather furniture, and they all chuckled. The group was fresh-faced and eager, full of earnest, post-college spirit. The boys were either dressed in form-fitting khaki pants or the rumpled tech attire made familiar by Mark Zuckerberg. The girls, however, were more uniformly well put-together, tending toward business casual—skirts and power suits—except one, who wore designer jeans and equestrian boots.

The theme of today’s meeting was government spending, and how it adversely affects young men and women. “So what are the problems that face our generation?” Feinberg asked.

There was a freeform exchange, the staff members calling out a barrage of answers. “Generational theft,” one said. “The Federal Reserve,” said another. “Cronyism.” “Credit cards.” “Student loans.” “What about the Chinese threat?” one girl asked.

Feinberg recorded the answers on the wall and said, “OK. Do you guys think there are any underlying messages here? Anything that could be the backbone of a campaign?”

They all seemed to agree on “generational theft.”

“So what does that mean?” Feinberg prodded.

“I think it means there’s someone stealing from another,” a young man volunteered. “It’s like what the left does with women’s issues. The left does a really good job at identifying that. We could say it’s like a war on youth.”

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