It’s no secret Democrats are nervous about November’s midterm elections. Obamacare, though out of the headlines this summer, remains unpopular with voters. Twice as many Americans are claiming the law has hurt them more than helped. In foreign affairs, the nation was aghast at the president’s decision in May to swap five captured Taliban commanders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a deserter from the Army. President Barack Obama’s speech last week on ISIL, or the Islamic State, was calculated to try to overcome his previous admission that, “We don’t have a strategy yet” to combat the biggest national security challenge the United States has faced since the 9/11 attacks on our soil.
Americans know the Democrat-held Senate has been one of the most unproductive in history. Even Democrats are admitting it. Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia recently remarked, “I’ve never been in a less productive time in my life than I am right now, in the United States Senate.”
In a panic over tight races, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has decided to deploy the class warfare strategy of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and blame the rich for America’s continued economic stagnation. Reid has developed a particular obsession with attacking David and Charles Koch, two private citizens and successful American entrepreneurs and employers.
Since January, Reid has attacked the Koch brothers by name more than 22 times on the floor of the Senate, derisively calling them, “power-drunk billionaires,” among other things. Reid also claimed the Kochs are “single-handedly funding an attack on this nation’s middle class.” For the Nevada senator, the Kochs are “un-American,” and a “cult.” Perhaps the most preposterous statement that Reid has made is his insistence the Koch brothers were to blame for delaying American aid to Ukraine. The malice behind the rhetoric is evident when we consider that 50 percent of all Americans have zero idea of who the Koch brothers are. Neither of us has ever met the Koch brothers or received a penny of their money, but we find Reid’s attempt to fill America’s knowledge gap with poisoned ideas about the Kochs despicable.
The Koch brothers are very wealthy and do contribute heavily to conservative political causes, but they also employ more than 60,000 Americans, and are two of the most generous philanthropists in the world. The Kochs have given hundreds of millions of dollars for non-political causes such as cancer research, museums and the arts. Recently, the Kochs donated $25 million to the United Negro College Fund for scholarships, loan assistance and support of historically black colleges and universities. The list goes on: $35 million for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to renovate the dinosaur hall, $100 million to renovate Lincoln Center in New York and millions to support cancer centers around the country. Ever enjoyed the science program “Nova” on PBS? The Kochs have supported that too.
But Reid’s decision to malign the Kochs may have already poisoned the minds of some Americans and jeopardized their charitable work. In June, Brooklyn College refused to accept a $10 million grant from the Kochs. Last March, liberal activists tried to stop David Koch from donating $100 million to build a new cancer treatment wing at New York-Presbyterian hospital. We wonder how triumphant Reid feels about that.
Furthermore, if Reid is so concerned with the wealthy influencing American politics, shouldn’t he also be making a target of someone like George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager who for decades has poured more millions into left-wing causes than anyone else? It is difficult to understand how Democrats could in good conscience accept millions in campaign contributions from a man who has written that “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States.” Could the Kochs be more “un-American” than this, Sen. Reid?
Reid’s rhetoric smacks of the politics of last resort. The GOP is by many estimates poised to pick up at least five seats in November. But there are consequences to his venom beyond the outcome of political campaigns. Attacking private citizens on the floor of the Senate is a rare and unusual practice that discourages individuals from participating in American democracy. Not a Democrat? Prepare to be made a scapegoat for the nation’s problems, especially if you have money. A ruinous presidential agenda and a majority leader unwilling to govern have lowered Americans’ approval of Congress to an all-time low. Desperate to avoid the electorate’s wrath, Reid has resorted to cynically attacking the Koch brothers. Such a tactic will only deepen the troubling trend of America’s growing disillusionment with our institutions of government.
William J. Bennett hosts the nationally syndicated radio show “Morning in America” and was secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan. David Wilezol is associate producer for “Morning in America” and co-author of “Is College Worth it?”