Consistency, Please

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Harry Reid is getting all sorts of flak for these comments:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday hailed wealthy environmentalist Tom Steyer’s emerging involvement in politics as a means to spotlight issues such as climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Reid made the comments after speaking at a screening of clips from a film critical of politically active conservative energy magnates Charles and David Koch, whom he has slammed repeatedly by name ahead of this fall’s elections — drawing Republican cries of hypocrisy given Democrats’ increasing ties to the Steyer campaign war chest.

Such GOP comparisons between the Kochs and Steyer, Reid told E&E Daily, bolster his push for a constitutional amendment limiting money in politics “so we don’t have to choose which billionaire we like the most.”

Nonetheless, the Nevadan added, “I’m very happy that there are people out there willing to spend some money to focus on things like” KXL and climate change. “We need people like Tom Steyer.”

To an extent, I understand where Reid is coming from. Certainly, I comprehend the Left’s argument for Steyer’s involvement, which goes something like this: “We’d prefer it if there were no billionaires investing in politics, and we hope to stop there from being any with our proposed laws and constitutional amendments. But, while money is flowing in, unilateral disarmament is silly.”

I suppose I can respect that. Personally, I am morally bothered neither by the Koch Brothers nor by Tom Steyer. I agree with the Citizens United decision on principle, and, as a practical matter, I agree with Glenn Greenwald when he compares campaign-finance reform to gun-control. Whatever the federal government does, the extremely rich are going to find a way around it. Still, the inconsistency of Reid’s position toward the various players in the game is distasteful. Sure, Reid likes Steyer’s politics and he doesn’t like Charles Koch’s. But if the Kochs are “buying American democracy,” and “overriding the will of the people,” then so is Steyer. If the Kochs are overly represented in the national conversation, then so is Steyer. If the Kochs are attempting to change the makeup of the Senate to reflect their desires and their interests, then so is Steyer. If it doesn’t matter whether one is “purchasing” the country to satisfy one’s self-interest or to indulge one’s political predilections, then it doesn’t matter for either man. Perhaps I’m just an old naïf, but it seems to me that these criticisms stand apart from ongoing attempts to change the rules. For better or for worse, Americans do not particularly care about the issue of climate change. Steyer is attempting to change that with his money. Reid, who can barely contain himself when he considers such a thing happening on the Right, should be wholly appalled by this — viscerally, obsessively, physically appalled.

Reid is a politician, and an extraordinarily canny one. It is probably too much to expect consistency. But where, at least, are the principled writers here? Where are the swingeing attacks on Steyer from those who admire his aims but regard him nevertheless as a pernicious and ugly influence? Where are the Salon pieces denouncing him in no uncertain terms as an enemy of democracy? Am I missing something?