Charles and David Koch are billionaire industrialists who have used their vast wealth to launch major campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels to influence (read ‘buy’) legislators so that they can get legislation passed that advances their own interests. They do this by contributing to contributing to candidates directly or through Super PACs, creating and supporting so—called think tanks that advance their interests, funding lobbying groups that work ceaselessly on their behalf, and in any other way that they can think of.
Their main goal is to dismantle all government regulations that hamper their wealth accumulation and this includes measures to address climate change since they have extensive investments in the oil industry. This has made them the poster children for critics who argue that the role of money in public affairs has got completely out of hand. Naturally the Kochs feel aggrieved because we know that the members of the oligarchy have extremely thin skins. It is not enough that they are vacuuming up all the money around for themselves, they also want to be loved and they are hurt that so many of us are saying mean things about them and they are anxious to let us know that they are actually nice people.
So the Koch brothers have started giving interviews to persuade us that the negative image we have of them is unjustified. In this one in the Financial Times (subscription required), Charles Koch makes his case. (You can get a fuller and free description of the interview here.)
Koch would like us to get to know him. Or, more accurately, he has been persuaded that staying silent is counterproductive both politically and, increasingly, for his business.
“We’re being attacked every day by blogs, other newspapers, media, people in government, and they were totally perverting what we do and why we do it. We have had other people answering it,” he says of the criticism, “but I’m the evil guy, so I need to come out and show who I am, like it or not.”
So what would he like you to know about him? One is that he has not endorsed any Republican candidates so far and the quality of the field disappoints him. He opposes Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims since that is antithetical to a free society. He favors rolling back harsh sentencing laws and wants to reduce the size of the prison population.
About current US wars, he says, “We have been doing this for a dozen years. We invaded Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq. Has that made us safer? Has that made the world safer? It seems like we’re more worried about it now than we were then, so we need to examine these strategies.” He opposes Ted Cruz’s plan to bomb the hell out of Muslim countries saying that it will only create more enemies.
“Mao said that the people are the sea in which the revolutionary swims. Not that we don’t need to defend ourselves and have better intelligence and all that, but how do we create an unfriendly sea for the terrorists in the Muslim communities? We haven’t done a good job of that.” With about 1.6bn Muslims worldwide “in country after country. What,” he asks, “are we going to do: go bomb each one of them?”
In another interview his brother David has said that he supports pot legalization and same-sex marriage and favors cuts in defense spending and the withdrawal of the US military from the Middle East.
Does all this sound surprising? It shouldn’t. A lot of wealthy oligarchs have quite liberal views on social issues because those are the norms of the elite circles in which they move.
The point to bear in mind is that whatever their views on these other issues, their primary goal is their own wealth accumulation. They will back the most anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-choice, warmonger as long that politician promises to dismantle any government regulation they dislike. Despite the fact that the politicians who share their views on treating government as the enemy also tend to have the most abhorrent views on all these other issues, they are perfectly willing to set aside their social goals and back them.
So their views on all these other issues are not really relevant and they should not expect us to give them a free pass. Their money is what really speaks for them, not their words.