A Koch and bull story?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 29, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, America’s 15th-wealthiest man pledged to henceforth work to heal and unify. It was a big deal that this was said a couple of weeks after the US general election and that it came from Charles Koch.

Mr Koch, 85, is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, America’s second largest private company by revenue for more than half-a-century.

It was a particularly big deal since Mr Koch and his late brother David have spent the past decade as well as millions of dollars creating a unique system of lobbying. They have also built a network of activist think tanks, academic structures and political networks that influence policy from health care to environmental regulation, foreign policy and labour unions.

The results are becoming woefully apparent.

American public debate is deeply split on the role and intentions of the state and common sense bottom-up public programmes to help the poorest and most vulnerable. Political partisanship rules. Mr Koch has been criticised for altering the terms of public debate to cast corporate self-interest as a form of populism that is somehow allied to the cause of the little guy.

Accordingly, Mr Koch’s new book, co-written with Brian Hooks, ‘Believe in People: Bottom-Up Solutions for a Top-Down World’, is worth a good long look. Reviews have generally focussed on the mea culpa elements within its pages.

And it is true that Mr Koch seems to regret his aggressive promotion of partisanship and the way it has deepened divisions. “Boy, did we screw up!” he writes in the book. “What a mess!”

He goes on to say: “[P]artisan politics prevented us from achieving the thing that motivated us to get involved in politics in the first place — helping people by removing barriers.”

In interview after interview for the book’s November 17 release, Mr Koch has focussed on the new role he wants to play on the national stage. He suggests that he would, if he could be a cross between a wise elder statesman and sage philosopher, breathing revivifying ideas into a movement that unites Americans.

Wonderful, if that were wholly true.

Between the November 3 US general election and the January 5 run-off for two senate races in Georgia, Mr Koch’s millions continue to fund diehard Trump politicians. One of these is David Perdue, a Georgia senator whose extreme partisanship has left him unable to accept Joe Biden’s victory. Instead, Mr Perdue has been so politically blinkered (and uncaring about the health of American democracy) that he has called for the resignation of Georgia’s top election official (a fellow Republican once publicly backed by Donald Trump and in the firing line solely for doing his job).

Mr Perdue, like his fellow Republican Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler, is also linked to the 2020 Congressional insider trading scandal, in which he allegedly violated federal law to conveniently sell stocks before the 2020 market crash.

In funding Mr Perdue, Mr Koch seems to be thumbing his nose at both the new book and the healing manifesto he claims to want to pursue.