This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unleashed his most cynical attack to date on private Americans who dare involve themselves in politics: Democrats brought to the floor a constitutional amendment to give the government the power to censor what it deems reasonable political speech.
The wide-reaching proposal would give government the “power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in kind equivalents with respect to … elections, including through setting limits on … contributions to candidates … and … expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.
The amendment, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, would give Congress broad power to shape campaign finance laws. It would effectively overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC and 2014 ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down laws restricting when corporations and unions can spend money on elections, and how much individuals can donate to candidates in a two-year period.
Sure, there were a few caveats. Such as, if you own a newspaper, you can still utter offenses. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s stake in The New York Times still lends him a voice in American politics. But for those two Kansas brothers, Charles and David Koch, mum is the word. (Shut Up Already! Senate Dems Want To Amend The Constitution To Stop Koch Brothers’ Ads)
It was the latest in Mr. Reid’s shrill campaign to change the elections from a conversation about a slumping economy, corporate flight, a disintegrating world order and a disinterested president. It’s a curious gambit, attacking American businessmen most people have never heard of, but when the national conversation is as dire for Mr. Reid as it appears to be, it may be that the only shot is changing the topic completely.
Which fit right into his actions on Tuesday, when Mr. Reid took to the floor of the Senate to accuse top Koch captain Rich Fink of calling Americans “lazy” and saying that “minimum wage leads to fascism.” He concluded, asking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell if he views “unemployed Kentuckians … as fascist stooges or lazy.” (RELATED: Teachers Union Wants To Amend Constitution To Limit Everyone Else’s Campaign Speech)
The old boxer’s accusations are based on a Huffington Post story on a presentation by Mr. Fink, recorded at a private meeting of conservative and libertarian businessmen. Fitting with the the theme of Mr. Reid’s entire Koch-centered strategy, the reporter manipulates and attacks, rather than debate the issues Mr. Fink put forward.
Mr. Fink is not a natural politician. Having seen him speak in small sessions a few times over the past four years, it’s no wonder the economist and former dock worker is more comfortable at a lectern among students than on the campaign trail before thousands. That isn’t to say his ideas and story aren’t worth listening to (they are), but it is to say that unlike with a guarded rhetorician, we can safely assume that if a liberal were to remove nearly 4,500 words of context and present just about 10 percent of his lecture, it would be easy to distort his message. So they did. (RELATED: Inside Harry Reid’s Senate ‘Plantation’)
How else to really believe that Mr. Fink said that “minimum wage leads directly to fascism,” as The Huffington Post titled the piece? An entire transcript is available here, but the crux of the argument Mr. Fink made is clear, if more nuanced: A hike in the minimum wage would force businesses to lay off or not hire 500,000 to one million Americans. In addition, unemployment and dependence hurt a human being deep down inside, and when coupled with feelings of victimhood, can make a person depressed and hostile, even aggressive, as well as leave them searching for meaning, and sometimes finding it in the wrong places.
“I never said that minimum wage leads to fascism,” Mr. Fink told The Daily Caller. “That’s erroneous, and saying a statement like that is dishonest. What I actually said is backed by many of the great thinkers, social scientists like Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist. … When you kill job opportunities and deprive people the opportunity to work, and make people feel like they’re victims, you decrease their feeling of earned success — of feeling good about themselves. What I was talking about is how important it is to have jobs and have a job-creating society for people, their families and their communities. Reasonable people can argue about this, but let’s have an honest discussion.”
Shock: Unemployment is bad for people and communities. This is an argument that largely has bipartisan support when trying to explain the phenomena of street gangs and drug abuse. This — the crushing effects of unemployment — are something most reasonable people can accept.
Left and right do, however, differ on whether raising the minimum wage will indeed cost 500,000 to one million jobs. There is real disagreement on that. But like on the floor of the Senate, Mr. Reid and his enablers in the press didn’t care to debate ideas, so Nazis it is. (FLASHBACK: Hillary Compared Congress To A Plantation On MLK Day)
It’s no secret that fascists found bountiful recruits in the millions of disillusioned, unemployed young men of Germany. It simply isn’t a secret that poverty and discontent are easier to radicalize. It’s also no secret that mentioning Nazis is a reliable way to get taken off topic, be forced off your true point, and lose a debate.
The matters Mr. Fink was discussing are vitally important to the future of the country, but yes, it’s often best to stick to the problems Americans face daily, like the crime, alcoholism and abuse that hit unemployed families hardest. Still, regardless of Mr. Fink granting the left a clear in, his point stands: Mr. Reid and his enablers will do anything but discuss the actual ideas Messrs. Koch and Fink advocate.
But what of Mr. Fink thinking the unemployed are lazy? A reading of the whole transcript shows his point is clear, even if his words are less careful than they could be. Speaking to a group of wealthy donors and statesmen, Mr. Fink warned against the by-the-bootstraps mentality a lot of successful people maintain, cautioning that the rhetoric of self-reliance has less of an impact on the voters they need than the rhetoric of providing opportunities for the disadvantaged — precisely the thing economic freedom accomplishes, by the way. Both self-reliance and economic freedom are essential to a healthy and vibrant society, but one of these messages, Mr. Fink points out, is more effective in reaching younger people.
Did Mr. Reid attack on whether Mr. Fink was right or wrong about free markets creating opportunities for the down-and-out? No, he said Mr. Fink thought the unemployed were lazy. The site that first leaked the presentation titled the post, “Top Koch Strategist: ‘Get Off Your Ass And Work Hard Like We Did.'”
True. Mr. Fink works hard. When just a kid earning minimum wage in a pet store that couldn’t afford to pay him overtime, he took payment in fish tanks and started a breeding business that sold fish to pet stores. He later sold the fish tanks to a dentist in exchange for removing his wisdom teeth when he didn’t have insurance. Impressive stuff. But not his point, and certainly not Mr. Reid’s.
“My talk was actually fairly controversial, and reasonable people could disagree with me,” Mr. Fink told The Daily Caller. “They [the Huffington Post and Mr. Reid] could disagree with me on a scientific level and argue my ideas, but they didn’t — they just distorted what I said and attacked me personally.”
And they won’t engage on the ideas. Nor stop the personal attacks. That’s the price of sticking your head up in Mr. Reid’s America.
Full Disclosure: Christopher Bedford was an associate at the Charles G. Koch Institute in 2010.