Why it doesn't matter that the Kochs are social liberals

The Kochs say they're socially tolerant, but they bankroll odious social conservatives to serve their larger agenda

Published February 10, 2015 9:36PM (EST)

David Koch                                      (AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
David Koch (AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

In an effort to dispel perceptions that he's a radical right-winger, David Koch told Barbara Walters in December that he's "basically a libertarian," explaining that he's "a conservative on economic matters, and I’m a social liberal.” Koch's comments hardly came as a surprise. Before he and his brother Charles calculated that they could best implement their anti-government agenda as Republican megadonors, David was the Libertarian Party's vice presidential nominee in 1980. Moreover, "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" politics are pretty much the norm among the corporate elite. They don't get exercised over abortion and gay marriage; in fact, they're often downright embarrassed by the troglodytic views of rank-and-file social conservatives. What really matters is that they're allowed to profit (and plunder) as they please, free from the overweening hand of the nefarious state.

So it will come as no surprise that the Koch political network doesn't exactly advance socially liberal values. According to a new analysis from Think Progress, the Kochs' political machine -- encompassing such organizations as Freedom Partners Action Fund and Americans for Prosperity -- has contributed $86 million to candidates and groups who oppose abortion rights and marriage equality since 2010 -- a total 1,000 times that contributed to candidates and organizations that voice traditionally liberal views on those issues. Of 265 elected officials who benefited from Koch-linked money, the report finds, all but nine opposed abortion rights, while a scant 12 supported marriage equality.

It's enough for Think Progress to assert that the Kochs aren't really socially liberal at all. But there are two more salient takeaways from the data. First, it's a reminder of how Americans and their politicians have become increasingly ideologically consistent in their views. Tell me a politician's opinion on the Affordable Care Act, and I'll have a pretty good idea of what she thinks about abortion. So for the Kochs, supporting anti-regulation, anti-safety net, anti-tax, anti-climate science candidates and causes inevitably means supporting candidates and groups that don't adhere to their views on social issues.

Which leads to the second crucial point: As much as we like to think of politics in terms of social jousting, it's fundamentally about a society's distribution of resources -- "who gets what, when, and how," in the words of Harold Lasswell. For the plutocratic class, a sudden armistice in the culture wars would pose a particularly vexing problem: How now to distract the unwashed from gaping social inequalities, egregious corporate misconduct, and the steady erosion of workers' bargaining power?

Let us then grant David Koch that he is a social liberal. The real question is, why should we care?

By Luke Brinker

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