It is the name that everybody dares to utter, the shorthand that signifies the speaker is with the rebels and not the Empire, a “get out of jail” card that may be played for maximum effect at any point in the game. It is a word that will be strewn brazenly across the comments below the fold of this very piece; the flag that is now raised before our national symposia may proceed; and the tired, flat clarion call that serves as the unmelodious overture to an increasingly populous parade of folly and of ambition. It is unfailingly, unalterably, unutterably tedious — a witless sobriquet that should inspire a rolling of eyes to match every gnashing of teeth, but which has somehow entered our consciousness and metastasized with vigor.
It is, of course, “Koch.”
First it was a hallmark of the fever swamps and the gutter press. Then it was adopted by the less self-aware partisans of the republic’s press corps, who nervously pulled it to their lips as a teenager might a joint. And finally — as his fortunes began to fade — the Senate Majority Leader himself picked it up and ran with it. Meditating on the troubles that the republic faces, Senator Harry Reid settled upon “Koch,” that all-encompassing and “un-American” malady. Koch is trying to “buy the country,” Reid announced from the Senate floor this week. Koch is proof that “whoever has the most money gets the most free speech.” Koch is “evil.”
Critics who have wondered where this preoccupation is leading us now have an answer: To an all-out political war. “Democrats,” intend to pick up the theme and to run with it the New York Times records today, and will soon be seen “embarking on a broad effort that aims to unmask the press-shy siblings and portray them, instead, as a pair of villains bent on wrecking progressive politics.” The campaign’s new slogan? “The G.O.P. is addicted to Koch.”
At a recent retreat, the Times explains, it was “emphasized that one of the best ways to draw an effective contrast is to pick a villain.” ‘Twas ever thus. And so we are to watch one of America’s two parties endeavor to construct their very own Emmanuel Goldstein — defining themselves in opposition to a shadow, and selling themselves as the brave opponents of malevolence.
“The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day,” George Orwell wrote in 1984,
but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching.
Substitute “teaching” for “money,” and what, pray, do you see?
Efficacious as this approach can prove to be, one can’t help but notice that the Kochs are a peculiar choice of popinjay. Certainly, the pair vehemently opposes the Democratic party’s core economic agenda, which, in the waning days of Obama’s influence, consists of defending Obamacare, instituting a carbon tax, and refusing steadfastly to do anything about the federal government’s spending problem. But the Kochs are not as simple as the hysteria would have them be. Indeed, even the lightest of research reveals them to be in favor of gay marriage, of drug legalization, of reforming and expanding the immigration system, of withdrawing troops from the Middle East, of cutting defense spending, of curbing the NSA’s overreach, and of helping to balance the budget by raising (some) taxes — all of which, it presumably doesn’t need spelling out, are positions that the Democratic party purports to support. Among the “shadowy” groups to which the Kochs have contributed are the ACLU (which received $20 million from the duo to support its work against the PATRIOT Act), a variety of cancer-research foundations, and a wide range of museums, musical venues, and art galleries.
Strangely enough, Senator Reid has never complained that the voices of those who would defend the PATRIOT Act are being “drowned out” by a flood of corporate money, nor has he questioned the public spirit of those Americans who have joined the fight to legalize pot, redefine marriage, declare an amnesty, or alter the nation’s foreign policy. (Michael Bloomberg’s $19 million gun-control push, for example, appears to have escaped his notice, as has Tom Steyer’s recently announced plan to spend $100 millon dollars helping candidates who agree with him on climate change.) All told, one cannot help but wonder whether this has less to do with Reid’s taking a principled stance against “money in politics” and more do with the Kochs’ decision to give nine out of ten of their contributed dollars to party in which Senator Reid does not serve and whose electoral success could see him imminently relegated to the minority.
One wonders, too, why Reid and his friends remain so quiet about campaign financing that doesn’t originate in Wichita, Kansas. The brothers’ “reach,” Alternet’s Adele M. Stan screamed in 2011, “is probably greater than you thought possible,” extending “into virtually every aspect of political, economic and physical life on the planet.” And yet, omnipresent as they are, the duo has not yet managed to corrupt Open Secrets, the non-partisan contribution tracker that rather inconveniently revealed last month that the Koch Brothers barely scrape into the list of the top sixty all-time political donors and, too, that of the 58 organizations that are ahead of them, 48 were described as being politically between “solidly Democrat” and “sitting on the fence”; that six of the top ten were unions; and that Democrats benefited disproportionately from all but two of the most prolific 20 contributors.
“What was strange,” George Orwell concluded in 1984, “was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody,” and “although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were — in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less.”
Enemies of the people will do that, if you let them. Right, Harry?
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.