Charles Koch’s public message represents rhetorical spin at its flimsiest

Why are the Koch brothers so misunderstood?

This seemed to be the impetus for an op-ed piece the other day that billionaire businessman Charles G. Koch, who helped build his family fortune in Wichita, wrote for The Wall Street Journal. You could almost hear him weep.

The defenders of liberty, prosperity and the American way, Koch and his brother, David, are subject to “almost daily” barrages of “character assassination.” What kind of treatment is that, Koch wonders, for people who are devoted to improving the lives of citizens? We are environmentalists, too, he contended. “Our refineries have consistently ranked among the best in the nation for low per-barrel emissions,” he wrote of the Koch oil and gas empire’s record.

And, as for politics and government regulation: “Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs — even when we benefit from them.” (And benefit they do, despite his protestations.)

Koch’s public message is rhetorical spin at its flimsiest.

His main argument hinges on these two points, contained in the same paragraph of his creed (rhymes with screed): “A truly free society is based on a vision of respect for people and what they value…. The central belief and fatal conceit of the current administration is that you are incapable of running your own life, but those in power are capable of running it for you.”

Koch dismisses those who disagree with him politically as “collectivists.” This is the same kind of name-calling he complains that the other side does. It has little to do with respecting “people and what they value.”

The subtext of Koch’s analysis is that he and his brother ought to be free to run their vast pipeline, fossil-fuels and other businesses without restraint.

What he declines to recognize is the idea that government can serve to protect citizens from the wanton, unregulated forces of corporate actions that spew toxic materials into our air and water, limit the economic power of American people and otherwise endanger our daily lives.

In Koch’s libertarian world, we should not care about the fate of the 2.8 million Americans whose longterm unemployment benefits have been cut off and who will get no help from his liberty-saving friends in Congress. They apparently are the hapless, incapable economic victims of a “truly free society.”

How is manipulating state and local governments across the land — plus national political campaigns — not an attempt “to rig the system”? The Roberts court just gave the Kochs a green light to pour even more of their money into that rigged process of campaign financing.

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, like its big-business, social-conservative ally, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is spreading a web of backward-looking legislation that has little to do with liberty and much to do with inciting a social and cultural assault on those who may or may not hold different views than they do.