Politics & Policy

Jane Mayer Condemns the Koch Brothers for Not Being Progressive

Activists in Manhattan protest Koch Industries campaign contributions, June 5, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

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Jane Mayer of The New Yorker has a new book out: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. It’s mostly about those old devils, the Koch brothers.

Charles and David Koch are billionaires. They own a very big company. They also are very prominent philanthropists, giving hundreds of millions to cancer research, concert halls, and other worthy causes. But what makes them hated and feared by progressives such as Mayer is their political work. They help fund some organizations and foundations, some purely educational, some partisan.

To listen to the Left, they are the closest thing we have to real-world James Bond villains. So what is their agenda? Is it to retreat to their orbiting harems, populated with fertile females, as they wipe out humanity below so that they can return to repopulate the planet? Or is to dupe the Russians and Americans into a nuclear squabble so that the Kochs can rule the ashes?

Well, here’s Mayer’s explanation of their dark and sinister ambitions.

“What people need to understand is the Kochs have been playing a very long game,” she told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “And it’s not just about elections. It started four decades ago with a plan to change how America thinks and votes. So while some elections they win and some elections they lose, what they’re aiming at is changing the conversation in the country.”

Dear God, it’s worse than I thought! They want to change the conversation! They want to persuade Americans to vote differently! The horror, the horror.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this is pretty much exactly what democracy is about. But no. For you see, only Hollywood, college professors and administrators, the ACLU, People for the American Way, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, Emily’s List, the Ford Foundation, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, MoveOn.org, the NAACP, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, Steven Spielberg and, of course, publications such as the New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation and Mayer’s own The New Yorker are allowed to try to change conversations and argue for people to vote differently.

Ah, but those voices are open and honest — and progressive! — about it, while the Kochs are secretive, sinister denizens of the stygian underworld of “dark money” and the “radical right.”

Except for the fact that the Kochs have been out in the open for nearly a half-century. David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, which you might argue is a brilliant way to hide in plain sight, given how little attention the Libertarian Party gets.

The best working definition of ‘right wing’ today has almost nothing to do with the ideological content of what right-wingers say or do.

Which brings me to that term “the radical right.” When racist idiots do idiotically racist things, we’re told that’s the radical Right in action. When Christian conservatives say Christian things, we’re told that’s the radical Right in action. When Donald Trump says he wants to ban Muslims from entering the country or build a giant wall, that earns him the radical-right label. When Ted Cruz says he wants to carpet-bomb the Islamic State, he . . . well, you get the point.

I have myriad problems with those usages of “radical right,” but let’s just stipulate for the sake of argument that this is the correct term in such circumstances. How, then, are the Kochs members of the radical Right? They are pro-gay marriage. They favor liberal immigration policies. They are passionate non-interventionists when it comes to foreign policy. They are against the drug war and are spending a bundle on dismantling so-called “mass-incarceration” policies. They’ve never seized a national park at gunpoint.

They are members of the radical Right for the simple reason that they don’t like big government and spend money to make that case. Full disclosure: I’ve given paid speeches to some Koch-backed groups, despite the fact that I have my disagreements with the Kochs. They haven’t changed my mind, and I haven’t changed theirs. But the conversation continues.

And that’s their great sin. Liberals are constantly talking about how we need an “honest conversation” about race or guns or this or that. But what they invariably mean is, they want everyone who disagrees to shut up. (That’s why they hate Fox News, too.)

The best working definition of “right wing” today has almost nothing to do with the ideological content of what right-wingers say or do. A right-winger is someone who disagrees with the liberal narrative, has the temerity to say so, and dares to actually try to change the conversation.

— Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. He can be reached by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2016 Tribune Content Agency

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