Like the spoiled kid whose extravagant birthday party is ruined by one of the kids his mom made him invite, Charles Koch is sick and tired of being yelled at for trying to remake the entire country as he sees fit. Koch, of the "Koch brothers" Kochs, wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal that — with the palpable annoyance of the aggrieved ubermensch — laid out why America was wrong for criticizing him.
Here are the agreed-upon facts about the Koch brothers.
- They are very wealthy, running a private business that made over $100 billion in 2013 and employs 60,000 people.
- They adhere to a staunchly libertarian worldview, of the Norquist/drown-it-in-a-bathtub variety.
- They like to be involved in politics.
From those facts, Charles Koch builds out one narrative — an attempt to rebut the more popular narrative that hangs from that framework.
As Koch presents it, it is not only he who is under attack, but America. "In a truly free society, any business that disrespects its customers will fail, and deserves to do so," he writes. "The same should be true of any government that disrespects its citizens." How is Barack Obama's America disrespecting its citizens? By assuming that "you are incapable of running your own life" which is "the essence of big government and collectivism." And Thomas Jefferson warned us about this! "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground," he wrote, as quoted by Koch. Of course, Thomas Jefferson's version of liberty included the belief that his slaves were similarly incapable of running their own lives. Which is to say: Nuance exists.
The Kochs' current jeremiad centers primarily around Obamacare, the target of thousands of ads from the Koch-bolstered political group Americans For Prosperity. The Kochs, in adherence with their worldview, see Obamacare as a broad expansion of government involvement in the private sector and — perhaps equally importantly — don't see any benefit from it.
That's a critical thread to both Charles Koch's argument and the strain of libertarianism popular among the already-wealthy: There is no benefit for them from government programs that bolster the needy, so they oppose offering up the taxes that pay for them. It's not irrational. But it's going to make people mad.
At right is a graph created by The Washington Post earlier this year to demonstrate the way in which the Koch brothers, through a variety of corporate and non-profit structures, pass money to conservative causes and campaigns. It's really pretty breathtaking in its scope, and all fully within their rights as private citizens. (If you click on it, you can go see the big version.)
"Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents," Koch writes. "They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.)" Well, look, dude. Free and open debate includes criticism of people who actively and intentionally step into the world of politics. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's hyperactive and at-times-weird campaign against the Kochs is pretty ridiculous. But it's also calculated. The Kochs invested millions in politics; politics hit back. That's how it works. Deal with it.
What's more, the Kochs political investments aren't libertarian; they're Republican. That's because, like any donor, the Kochs want a return on investment, and libertarian candidates aren't going to win most races. So the Kochs spend lots of money on candidates that have a lot of socially conservative views as well as fiscally conservative ones. "A truly free society is based on a vision of respect for people and what they value," Koch writes. The problem the Kochs run into is that a lot of people take strong issue with the non-libertarian parts of some of the campaigns that the Kochs fervently support, finding them disrespectful. (Think: Republican opposition to gay marriage, among other things.)
Charles Koch is wealthier than you will ever be. His companies made tens of billions of dollars last year, somehow despite the octopus-like tentacles of creeping collectivism from Washington. Koch is frustrated and upset that people hate him and that they don't want him investing heavily in politics. He is angry that someone invited the non-mute public to his birthday party. Sounds like someone doesn't encourage free and open debate.
Update, 6:30 p.m.: Employees of Koch Industries who might not subscribe to The Wall Street Journal didn't need to worry about missing Koch's essay. It was emailed to employees, with the gentle suggestion that it be shared with anyone who might be interested.