Charles Koch Fancies Himself to Be a Modern-Day Martin Luther King Jr.

The Koches, with MLK's words.

The Koches, with MLK’s words.

Matea Gold at the Washington Post says “Charles Koch on Sunday compared the efforts of his political network to the fight for civil rights and other ‘freedom movements,’ urging his fellow conservative donors to follow the lead of figures such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr.”

This doesn’t mean that Koch suddenly started caring about racism, sexism, or income inequality. Instead, the billionaire who helped fund some of the most reactionary Republican candidates of the last decade thinks that conservatives should steal from the playbooks of Douglass, Anthony, and King. “History demonstrates that when the American people get motivated by an issue of justice that they believe is just, extraordinary things can be accomplished,” Koch explains.

“Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement,” he said. “All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”

Some of this is true! As America’s extraordinary push for same-sex marriage demonstrates, the American people do care deeply about justice. But I’m not convinced the American people are concerned about tipping the scales even more in the favor of wealthy people. I haven’t run a poll or anything, but I don’t think the majority of American households consider fewer regulations and lower corporate taxes to be the definition of “justice.”

However, Koch is 100 percent right about one thing: “If we cannot unite the majority of Americans behind the vision, then we’re done for […] So that, to me, has to be our number one objective.” He correctly understands that he needs the American people on his side to win, and that he can’t just buy his way to victory.

But holy cow is Koch tone deaf about all this. Does he have any understanding of what Martin Luther King actually said? Does he know King was a passionate advocate for income equality? Does he understand that King would very likely be standing against Koch’s drive to disenfranchise the poor through absurd economic policies and shifty attempts to keep people from voting? Does Koch, who has proposed eliminating the minimum wage, know that Martin Luther King Jr. marched in support of a minimum wage increase that would have amounted to $15.27 per hour in today’s money?

In an attempt to educate Koch about the awkwardness of his examples, I’ve illustrated photos of the Koch brothers with actual MLK quotes about income inequality. Good luck finding “justice,” Charles. A great man—maybe you’ve heard of him—once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Frankly, I’d be curious to see whether Koch could recognize justice if it bit him on his pasty white posterior.

koch - king - part-time income

koch - king - lunch counter

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.