Charles Koch gets my award for the single most audacious, ridiculous and unintentionally funny op-ed I have read this year — and maybe ever. In it, he alternately complains about Bernie attacking him, does his usual anti-government screed, rolls out his claims to be on the same side as Bernie on criminal justice reform and attempts to wrap his right-wing ideology into Sanders’ populist rhetoric. It is a mind-blowing alternate reality well worth taking a look at if you need a good laugh.
Here is Koch at the height of his populist passion:
The senator is upset with a political and economic system that is often rigged to help the privileged few at the expense of everyone else, particularly the least advantaged. He believes that we have a two-tiered society that increasingly dooms millions of our fellow citizens to lives of poverty and hopelessness. He thinks many corporations seek and benefit from corporate welfare while ordinary citizens are denied opportunities and a level playing field. I agree with him.
If there were any way I could take that seriously, I’d be thinking, “Hey, even I might have something in common with Charles Koch.” Here’s the thing, though: all you have to do to understand how full of s—t Koch is to read the transcripts of audio my colleague Lauren Windsor obtained from a source at Koch’s donor retreat in 2014, which laid out in gory detail the unvarnished truth about his philosophy.
In that meeting, the billionaires and multi-millionaires that make up the donor network listened as the top Koch lieutenant, Richard Fink, gave a speech that included some deeply populist, pro-working family thoughts. About the minimum wage, he said that it’s a slippery slope to Nazi fascism:
The big danger of minimum wage isn’t the fact that some people are being paid more than their valued-added — that’s not great. It’s not that it’s hard to stay in business — that’s not great either. But it’s the 500,000 people that will not have a job because of minimum wage... making dependence part of government programs, and destroying their opportunity for earned success. And so we see this is a very big part of recruitment in Germany in the ‘20s... If you look at the Third — the rise and fall of the Third Reich, you can see that... And what happens is a fascist comes in and offers them an opportunity, finds the victim — Jews or the West — and offers them meaning for their life, OK?
Talking about seeing a homeless person on the street, Fink described what he wanted to say to them: “Get off your ass, and work hard like we did.” And this without irony, even though Fink works for men who inherited their wealth from their Nazi-sympathizing oil industrialist father, Fred.
In talking to the gathered billionaires about how to sell their free market ideology, he made their profit motives clear:
Yeah, we want to decrease regulations. Why? It’s because we can make more profit, OK? Yeah, cut government spending so we don’t have to pay so much taxes... There’s truth in that, you all know, because we’re in the 30 percent of the freedom fighters. But the middle part of the country doesn’t see it that way.
So now you see why Mr. Koch dresses up his extremist anti-government views in the language of Bernie Sanders. Even on criminal justice reform, where Koch says he does agree with Sanders and other Democrats, the little known fact is that Koch lobbyists pressured Republicans drafting the bill in the House to put language in that would make prosecution for white-collar corporate crimes far tougher than it is today. So much for the getting rid of special favors thing.
Earlier that same day Dr. Will Ruger, the Charles Koch Institute’s Senior VP for Policy and Research, described the kind of government they were seeking as “limited to a small, but absolutely critical number of tasks, basically keeping our neighborhoods and cities safe from crime, defending our country from those who might violate our national territories, our commerce at sea and providing justice in a fair and apolitical — political court system.”
So when Charles Koch tells you he shares Bernie Sanders’ disgust with cronyism, with a political system rigged on behalf of the top tier of society, but that the way to get there is more freedom and less government, keep in mind the kind of society he wants our nation to be: no minimum wage, no programs to help the homeless and other poor people out of poverty, less regulation so that he can make more profit, less government spending so that he can pay fewer taxes and a government so limited that it does not have any Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education or responsibility for clean water, clean air or consumer protection.
Here’s something else to keep in mind — just a few weeks ago at a posh resort outside Palm Springs, Charles Koch convened his winter donor meeting, bringing together billionaires and politicians willing to do their bidding. If that’s not cronyism, I don’t know what is.