When ABC News’ Jonathan Karl sat down with the 80-year-old billionaire Charles Koch, the elder half of the hated-by-the-left Koch brothers, he probably didn’t expect to generate the most important political interview of this campaign season. Indeed, he probably doesn’t even know that he did.
The “mainstream media” was immediately all a twitter, intentionally misconstruing the Karl-Koch back-and-forth about Hillary Clinton after Koch said that, at least in terms of growth of spending and regulation, Bill Clinton was a better president than George W. Bush:
Karl: So is it possible another Clinton could be better than another Republican?
Koch: It’s possible. It’s possible.
Karl: You couldn’t see yourself supporting Hillary Clinton, could you?
Koch: Well, we would have to believe her actions would be quite different from her rhetoric. Let me put it that way.
Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Not interested in endorsements from people who deny climate science and try to make it harder for people to vote.” What a strange and cultish reaction, but she along with other clueless liberals such as the New York Times reporter (or editor) who entitled a story “Charles Koch Says He Could Possibly Support Hillary Clinton,” are clearly in need of a political translator, a liberty-to-liberal Babel Fish to decode Koch’s subtlety into terms that even Democrats can understand.
Allow me to help. Herewith, Ross’s translated version of the above interview:
Karl: You couldn’t see yourself supporting Hillary Clinton, could you?
Koch: Not just no, but hell no!
Karl: And if Hillary would act differently than her words suggest?
Koch: And if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.
As the clueless left were making much of Koch’s non-endorsement of Hillary Clinton, they missed a far bigger story: One of the largest financial supporters of pro-liberty candidates and organizations, a man who expects to dole out about $450 million this year (some of which is the Koch’s own money and some of which is raised from others) toward a combination of campaign contributions, PACs, education, and community organizations, explained that he cannot yet support either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump and that he has not spent a penny supporting — or opposing — either of them.
Charles Koch said of the two leading GOP candidates that they are “terrible role models,” that Trump’s rhetoric regarding Muslims is “antithetical to our approach” and “reminiscent of Nazi Germany” and “monstrous,” and that Cruz’s promise to “make the sand glow” and carpet-bomb parts of the Middle East “has got to be hyperbole” but the fact that Cruz would think such an approach “appeals to the American people… this is frightening.”
You might not agree with Mr. Koch’s characterizations, but if I were either of these candidates, including the “self-funding” Donald Trump, I’d take Koch’s disdain as a cautionary sign. Not just because of fewer dollars flowing directly into their potential general election campaigns but because the Kochs provide substantial direct guidance and, more commonly, indirect influence over and inspiration for the operations of dozens or hundreds of state and local activist organizations whose members will spend less time and energy trying to elect a Republican president, focusing instead on races such as state legislative seats and very competitive House and Senate elections (Colorado has one of each in 2016).
It’s true that a presidential candidate without coattails makes winning down-ballot races that much more difficult. But the Kochs have been successful further down the ticket, as Charles pointed out: For the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve already spent on politics, “there have been some good things, particularly at the state and local level, but the national politics has been disappointing.”
While Hillary wants to talk about climate change and voter suppression, neither of which anybody outside of her existing base considers “a thing,” while she and Bernie Sanders want to bribe some Americans with other Americans’ money, Charles Koch is advocating for the elimination of a tax and regulation system that benefits him and his company.
Jon Karl told Mr. Koch that many people think our economic system “is rigged; it’s rigged by people at the top.” It’s an important issue, though not to be confused with the question of a “rigged” political system as charged so frequently in recent days by Donald Trump.
In a moment that few liberals would understand due to its extreme honesty, Mr. Koch responded, “It is,” adding that “our number one policy objective is to change that.”
When Karl redundantly asked, “So you agree that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthiest?” Koch reiterated in turn: “Absolutely. In favor of companies like ours, because we have this corporate welfare that benefits established companies and makes it very difficult for somebody to get started” (i.e. to start a new business to compete with established corporate interests).
One of Koch’s other key objections to both Trump and Cruz (although I think this is slightly ungenerous to Cruz whose tax plan, while imperfect, at least travels in the same direction that Koch supports) is that “I don’t hear any of the Republicans talking about this two-tier system and getting rid of it.”
But here’s the dirty little secret: Almost nobody on either side actually wants to get rid of the system because it benefits so many politicians and their cronies, and so few ordinary citizens are even aware of the tremendous harm being done to them, to the economy, to would-be entrepreneurs whose business plans suffer crib death under the smothering downy-soft pillow of the regulatory state.
So the left rails against the “rigged system” to rile up their motivated-by-jealousy voters but does nothing except redistribute ill-gotten gains — indeed, they try to ensure through regulation that their friends reap more ill-gotten gains as that represents more money to confiscate and buy votes with. That’s why companies such as Google actually enjoy regulation; it crushes their smaller competitors, so they more than make up in higher prices and lower competition what they lose in compliance costs, which might explain why Google representatives have had White House meetings more than once a week, on average, for the entire Obama presidency.
And the right whimpers gently about it the unfairness of it all and then goes on, as Koch put it, to enact some tax breaks to make some Americans feel better about other tax breaks that other Americans get, all the while further distorting the tax code and making it almost impossible for small business to compete against the Siamese-twin Leviathans of big government and big business.
Liberal billionaires are the toast of Manhattan and Hollywood when they champion income tax increases, but of course so many of them have already earned their money and are less impacted by tax hikes than you might think. But Charles and David Koch remain pariahs of the snooty elite because rather than have government steal more of what they earn — and they continue to earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year — they’d rather have a system that does not unfairly benefit them to begin with even if their bottom line declines.
Is it not remarkable how the gang of muggers known as the Democratic Party has seized the moral high ground in the minds of millions over those who truly want all Americans to have an equal shot at the American dream?
And that brings me to the most important political two seconds of recent years. Or rather what should be the most important but will instead be utterly overlooked by liberals and conservatives alike as they cynically troll for votes, proving James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock right that the operation of politics can best be predicted by not assuming that politicians actually function as public servants but instead as the self-serving creatures that almost all human beings are.
When explaining why he invests so much money in efforts to dismantle our “system of control and dependence,” Charles Koch explained his ultimate goal. He explained it in five words which I have never heard a politician who is not a libertarian utter, in language so plain and simple and stark that it is wholly foreign to many Americans, most Republicans, and all Democrats. That goal? “A system of mutual benefit.”
What could be more in keeping with the American Founding and the vision of the Declaration of Independence? With long-term national success and excellence? With liberty and basic human dignity?
And yet so few of our elected leaders ever imagine the concept, much less state the words. (Again, Ted Cruz gets close from time to time. John Kasich doesn’t quite get it, enthralled as he is by the oxymoron of “compassionate conservatism,” and Donald Trump is the ultimate example of everything that Koch is railing against.)
The distance that American politicians are from understanding, never mind implementing, a system of mutual benefit, as they careen from one win-lose piece of legislation to another, unable to imagine a true win-win (because what fun is it to pass a law without creating a villain to run against in the next election?), is the distance that Republican presidential campaigns are from receiving Charles Koch’s millions and the distance that I and many other liberty-minded citizens are from voting for Donald J. Trump.
Charles Koch’s sit-down on ABC News was the most important political interview of the year, but for reasons far different from what the chattering class understands.