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“Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King … Charles Koch?”: Why the Koch Brothers Are Heroes In Their Own Minds

When Charles E. Wilson appeared before a Senate committee in January 1953 as President Eisenhower’s nominee to become Secretary of Defense, he was asked whether his large holdings of stock in General Motors, where he had been president and chief executive, might cause some conflict of interest. “I cannot conceive of one,” he replied, “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country.” While Wilson is often misquoted as saying that what’s good for GM is good for America, a quote often used as a symbol of corporate arrogance, his intent seemed at least somewhat more benign. But however you interpret it, Wilson was almost certainly sincere in believing that when you get right down to it, the country and its largest corporation, as GM was then, rise and fall together.

Koch Industries is not quite as big as General Motors was then, at least not relative to the rest of the economy. But the two men who control it, Charles and David Koch, seem just as sure that what’s good for them is good for America. They probably wouldn’t put it that way, and maybe they don’t even think about it that way. All they know is that the things they believe are right and true, which in at least one way makes them no different from you or me.

This weekend, the Kochs, who plan to spend nearly a billion dollars of their money and their friends’ money to elect a Republican president in 2016, held a confab where they could gather to discuss their plans to move America in a direction they find more amenable. When Charles addressed the plutocrats, he told them to give themselves a hearty pat on the back:

Charles Koch on Sunday compared the efforts of his political network to the fight for civil rights and other ‘freedom movements,’ urging his fellow conservative donors to follow the lead of figures such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr.

‘History demonstrates that when the American people get motivated by an issue of justice that they believe is just, extraordinary things can be accomplished,’ Koch told 450 wealthy conservatives assembled in the ballroom of a lavish oceanfront resort [in Dana Point, California].

‘Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement,’ he said. “All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”

Other reports note that Charles talked a good bit about the disadvantaged and downtrodden, and how they will be the true beneficiaries of the expansion of liberty that is the Kochs’ fondest dream.

You can call that ridiculous, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But while Democrats see the Kochs as cartoon villains, twirling their moustaches as they contemplate a future with low top-end marginal tax rates, I assure you that they believe themselves to have only the purest motives for their political action.

Ask any liberal activist why it’s a threat to democracy when the Kochs spend millions to elect their favored candidates, but less so when liberal billionaires do the same thing, and you’ll get two answers. The first is that “We can’t unilaterally disarm,” which is also what you hear from candidates who support campaign finance reforms but would like to get money from super PACs. It’s reasonable enough, if not particularly high-minded. The second answer, and perhaps the more common one, is that when the Kochs advocate for things like low taxes for the wealthy and loose regulation on corporations, they’re being self-interested, while a liberal billionaire who takes the opposite position is acting altruistically.

It’s an answer that is simultaneously true, at least to a degree, and unsatisfying. First of all, there are times when the Kochs advocate on issues that don’t have anything to do with their bottom line. And if they succeed in helping a Republican get elected president, only a portion of what that president does will affect them directly, even if they wind up being pleased with almost all of it.

Secondly, it runs the risk of devolving into a caricature that doesn’t help us understand the Kochs. Right now, Charles is probably asking himself why anyone would make a fuss about his speech. After all, he believes that the liberty embodied in unfettered capitalism is a source of prosperity and human flourishing. How could anyone think otherwise?

Of course, there’s a difference between telling yourself, “We’re advocating for the right things,” and telling yourself, “This thing we’re doing is as noble as anything anyone in our nation’s history has done.” But perhaps grandiosity isn’t surprising in a man whose fortune is estimated to be over $40 billion.

We all justify our actions and rationalize our decisions, and no one thinks they’re the villain of their own story. We all believe we’re good people, that we have a strong moral sense, and that the world would be a better place if it were ordered in the way we’d like. If would be shocking if the Kochs thought differently about themselves.

My point isn’t that we should automatically forgive people for their outrageous claims of moral rightness, any more than we ought to excuse outlandish claims of suffering and oppression (see War on Christmas, The). But it’s useful to appreciate that when someone like Charles Koch looks in the mirror and says, “You know, I really am a lot like Martin Luther King,” he may be utterly wrong in a hundred ways, but it isn’t a surprise that he feels that way. It’s human nature.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, August 2, 2015

August 4, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Koch Brothers, Women's Suffrage Movement | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Wasted Life Of Fred Phelps”: It’s Hard To Mourn A Monster

And what shall we say now that the monster has died?

His estranged sons Mark and Nate told the world just a few days ago that their 84-year-old father, Fred Phelps, was in the care of a hospice and “on the edge of death.” Thursday morning, he went over the edge.

The senior Phelps, of course, was the founder of Westboro Baptist “Church” in Topeka, KS. He was the “God hates” guy. As in “God Hates China” (its divorce rates are too high), “God Hates Islam” (for being a false religion), “God Hates Qatar” (for being rich) “God Hates The Media” (for saying mean things about Westboro), “God Hates Tuvalu” (for having too many holidays), “God Hates America” (for tolerating homosexuality) and, of course, most notoriously, “God Hates Fags” — Phelps’ odious word for gay men and lesbians.

He was also the man who applauded the deaths of American soldiers and picketed their funerals, under the dubious formulation that their dying represented God’s judgment upon this country.

Westboro is a tiny “church” — hate group, actually — said to draw its membership almost exclusively from Phelps’ extended family. His sons say Phelps was excommunicated from it last year for some reason, which the “church” refused to confirm or deny, saying its “membership issues are private.” For what it’s worth, last week Phelps was conspicuous by his near absence from Westboro’s website, which once displayed his words and image prominently.

Now the monster is gone. What shall we say?

The people hurt and maligned by Phelps didn’t wait for his actual expiration to begin answering that question. They started days ago when his sons announced that his end was near. One woman tweeted about Death needing rubber gloves to touch the body. Another woman set up a “Fred Phelps Death Watch” on Facebook, the tone of which can be inferred from one posting depicting feces in a toilet as a photo of Phelps in hospice care.

After his death, one person tweeted the hope that “his final hours were filled with immense physical pain and horrifying hallucinations.”

You can hardly blame people for not being prostrate with grief. This man cheered the lynching of a young gay man in Wyoming. He turned the funerals of American military personnel into circuses. It is hard to imagine anyone more loathsome, despicable and justifiably reviled than he.

And yet it is also hard not to feel saddened by this reaction, diminished by it.

If one is a Christian as Phelps claimed to be, one may hear the voice of Jesus arising from conscience: “A new command I give you: Love one another.” And you may demand an exemption from that command, because being asked to love the spectacularly unlovable Phelps is just too much. But, if you love only the lovable, what’s the point? What does that say or prove? Indeed, loving the unlovable pretty much constitutes God’s job description.

Even beyond the obligations imposed by faith, though, there is something troubling in the idea that some of us willingly become what we profess to abhor, adopt extremist hatred in protest of extremist hatred. As Martin Luther King famously put it, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It is hard to imagine that anyone beyond, perhaps, his immediate family, is sorry Fred Phelps is dead. And that is probably the truest barometer of his life and its value. But as most of us are not sorry, some of us are not glad, either. What we feel is probably best described as a certain dull pity.

Phelps was given the gift, the incandescent miracle, of being alive in this world for over 80 years — and he wasted it, utterly.

If God hates anything, surely God hates that.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Opinion Writer, Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Christianity, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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