From their wildcatting father, the Koch (pronounced Coke) brothers, David, 70, and Charles, 75, inherited an oil-refining company based in Wichita, Kans., and a ferocious belief in the beneficence of capitalism. It's a beneficence demonstrated, according to the Kochs, by the balance sheet of Koch Industries, a multitasking conglomerate that has grown 2,600-fold under their management and now employs more than 50,000 people in the U.S. Their personal fortunes have kept pace, into the low 11 figures.
For decades, the brothers have been investing in free-market think tanks, magazines and activist groups to evangelize the economic system that has rewarded them so lavishly. There's been nothing furtive or underhanded about their efforts. David even ran for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 before becoming one of New York City's most conspicuous benefactors of the arts. But when liberal activists discovered in 2009 that Koch foundation money had helped finance a group organizing Tea Party rallies, the world suddenly made sense. Whatever the brothers may have done to advance their vast economic interests in Washington and state capitols, they energized liberals who saw them as the new puppeteers of a resurgent right wing. The Kochs, for their part, say they were astonished at their new role as "the billionaires behind the hate."
But to some tender-minded activists, the Kochs and their millions are alarming and reassuring, all at once. The brothers provide a unified field theory to explain the otherwise inexplicable: Where did all these Tea Partyers come from denouncing President Obama, lacerating policies that were designed for their benefit? With the Kochs "uncovered," the answer was clear. The Tea Partyers were being used. They weren't heartless, just dumb.
Ferguson is an editor at the Weekly Standard