The Better Homes and Gardens of Populist Democrats, Part Three

by Jim Geraghty

Alaska’s Democratic senator Mark Begich’s first attack ad of the cycle targeted “the billionaire Koch brothers.” His fundraising focuses on the pair relentlessly: “It’s really hard to get an email from Begich without mentioning the Kochs.”

Begich summarizes his race simply: “We’re up against billionaires.”

It’s another instance of endangered incumbent Democrats embracing populist attacks on “the richest 1 percent” hoping no one will notice that they themselves are among America’s richest 1 percent, or 2 or 3 percent at the very least.

Begich is pretty darn wealthy. Because of the wide range of categories in Senate financial-disclosure forms, Begich’s 2012 net worth was estimated to be anywhere from $385,000 in debt to $3.2 million. He listed $1.7 million to $4.2 million in assets.

The District of Columbia assessed Begich’s three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom home on Capitol Hill at $965,000 in 2014, and projects it will be assessed at just over $1 million in 2015. The real-estate site Zillow estimates it could sell for $1.1 million.

(The location of the senator’s home is available through public records, but don’t be a jerk and go onto his property or bother him or his family. The above photo is from Google Street View.)

Some contend there’s no inherent contradiction between being fabulously wealthy and touting populist rhetoric. But that’s precisely the point; if you don’t espouse populist rhetoric that matches the priorities of the Democratic party, they’ll declare you’re part of the problem. Your wealth is deemed a symbol of inequality and rapaciousness if you don’t play along with the progressives and, along the way, pay up when they come knocking.

Begich and other progressives don’t complain about billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer pledging to spend $100 million on political advertising this year, or call it “buying democracy.” Steyer just recently insisted that his spending on political causes is different because . . . well, he’s one of the good guys, obviously: “They’re in a very, very different position than me and from the people that I work with.”

A millionaire or billionaire who donates to the Democrats has bought the equivalent of an indulgence, a get-out-of-demonization-free card that ensures they’ll never be called out as a scapegoat in a sputtering economy.

Think about how often Charles and David Koch are characterized as “greedy” or “selfish,” even though they’ve donated more than $1 billion to “cancer research, medical centers, educational institutions, arts and cultural institutions, and to assist public policy organizations.”

Senate majority leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate to call them “un-American,” which reflects the protection racket that progressives are running. If you donate to us, you’re cool. If you donate to the other guys, we’ll demonize you night and day.

The casual dismissal of the Kochs’ literally giving a billion dollars to charity is particularly ironic since several wealthy and prominent Democrats have given a pittance to good causes, at least according to their tax returns.

In 1997, Vice President Al Gore, earning $197,729, donated $353 to charity, about two-tenths of 1 percent of his income. Since 2000, Vice President Joe Biden’s never given more than 2 percent of his income to charity; in 2005, earning $265,908, Biden donated $380 to charity. And of course, then-governor Bill Clinton was mocked for claiming a $6 deduction on his tax return for donating three pair of used underwear to the Salvation Army. (Lucky them.)

Has any self-identified progressive ever accused those men of being greedy or selfish?