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Demonizing the Kochs may backfire

WASHINGTON — Rush Limbaugh can relax. The popular “demon of the right” has been replaced at least through the midterms by the Koch brothers, Charles and David.
Who?
Exactly. Though cable and online news junkies know the names, the vast majority of Americans probably have no idea who the Kochs are. They’re about to find out.
For the uninitiated, the brothers are libertarian billionaires whose vast industries in petroleum, asphalt, natural gas liquids, coal and ethanol employ 60,000 people. More to the point, they are spending gobs of their own money to sway politics toward free-market principles and away from current government expansionist trends.

For this, they have been targeted by Democrats, who are not exactly penniless when it comes to advancing their own politicians and policies. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke down all barriers to protocol recently when he called the Kochs “un-American.”
Charles Koch, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, responded by calling Democrats “collectivists.”
“Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents,” wrote Koch. “They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society — and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers.”
Billionaires, ya gotta love ‘em.

But they’re so much easier to hate.
Thus, Democrats are trying to make the Koch brothers the new face of the Republican Party. Conveniently, the name Koch is pronounced the same as that other capitalist goliath, Coke.
Appointing a person — or a pair of brothers — as the human face of the “enemy” is not a novel idea. During a previous election cycle, the Obama administration identified Limbaugh as the true leader of the Republican Party. This was an easy sell as many Republicans genuflected to Limbaugh, even apologizing when they might have offended him.
And Limbaugh, whose grandiosity needs no buffing, was all too willing to accept service on the credential. The more the left hates Limbaugh, the richer he gets. Oh, please, Mr. Democrat, hate my guts some more.
Mr. Limbaugh, take your bow, it’s Koch time.

The doubling down on the Kochs has been in play for some months, advanced by frequent mentions among liberal commentators who, though perhaps not as influential as Limbaugh, have large followings.
But Reid’s McCarthyesque name-calling took hell to the devil. It was not only cringe-inducing but also profoundly sad. One would hope the leader of the Senate Democrats might have better rhetorical devices at his intellectual disposal.
Reid suffers no remorse and fired back that he was delighted if people now knew who those un-Americans are. The more who despise the Kochs, the better. The Kochs aren’t just leaders of the Republican Party, as Democrats are proposing; they are the face of the Haves. To dislike the Kochs is to dislike the wealthy in general.
This is really the heart of the Democratic proposition. As the midterm elections take shape around the debate about income inequality, the Kochs personify the uncaring-est of the 1 percenters. Before November comes and goes, the Kochs may as well have been tarred and feathered and made to ride backward on a mule down Pennsylvania Avenue.
One needn’t support the brothers’ preference for unfettered markets or their willingness to fund positions that might favor them. Plenty of conservatives disagree with their support for tea party insurgents and their climate-change skepticism.
Allowing the super-wealthy to disproportionately influence political outcomes may indeed be bad for the democratic process — and that’s of legitimate concern to all. But one’s eyes should be wide open when people are singled out as un-American. What’s next? A Senate committee investigating such un-American activities as advocating free-market principles or pursuing capitalist endeavors?

Of course, I’m kidding. That could never happen here, except it sort of already has. When Reid called the Kochs un-American, a powerful government official fired a shot across the bow of two private citizens who have acted within the law while contributing wealth to the economy through employment.
Yes, it was bad when right-wingers called Obama un-American, but Obama is the most powerful man in the world and the rabble is just that. Reid owes the Kochs — and the American people — an apology.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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