It’s not about the Koch Brothers

by | Mar 18, 2014 | 2014 Elections, Editor's Blog, NC Politics, US Senate | 11 comments

There’s a long way to go until November but Democrats seem to be preparing to fight the wrong battle. Over the past few weeks, much of their rhetoric has focused on the Koch Brothers and their financing of misleading ads. Instead, Democrats should be focusing on Republicans and everything that they’ve got wrong.

The emphasis on the Kochs is a reactionary posture based on the premise of trying to discredit their massively funded disinformation campaign. If they can kill the credibility of the messenger, then they can cast doubt upon the message, or so the theory goes. But it’s flawed for numerous reasons.

First, the voters who determine elections don’t really know who the Koch Brothers are. And even if they do, they don’t know why they are bad. So before Democrats can effectively discredit the Kochs, they need to spend massively to educate the electorate about who they are and why they are bad.

Which leads to the second point. If Democrats are getting massively outspent, they need to carefully target their resources. The money would be much better spent educating voters about why a particular candidate is bad or why a particular Democrat is good. Voters are going to vote for candidates, not interest groups.

In the minds of swing voters, all these groups are the same. They aren’t going to buy the argument that the Kochs are buying elections because they already believe that most candidates are indebted to special interests. It’s an “Everybody does it” mentality.

Finally, it’s an inherently defensive posture when Democrats need to be playing offense. It’s like they learned nothing from 2010. It’s difficult to get re-elected, regardless of party, when the general electorate is dissatisfied with the direction of the country. It’s impossible if the candidates don’t make a case for themselves.

I’m not a huge Bob Shrum fan, but he’s got it right this time. Democrats need to run on the attributes of Obamacare and slam the Republicans for trying to return to the days of  pre-existing conditions and the caps on medical coverage that left families bankrupt. But they need to go further. These are the same Republicans who led us to an unnecessary war in Iraq and sound like they would now put us into Syria or Crimea. They would turn Medicare into a voucher system and make cuts to Social Security. They threw a toddler-like temper tantrum and shut down government, costing jobs and money. Are these the people you want running our government?

Democrats need to quit running against the Kochs and running away from their accomplishments. They’ve got a record. It’s a good one. Run on it.


  1. Steve Harrison

    While I don’t believe we should dedicate a large percent of campaign spending to “fight against” the Koch Brothers, as long as television ad viewers are misled by the origins of the $8 million-plus NC ad campaign (the ambiguous identifier Americans For Prosperity), those ads will continue to be effective. The only way to undermine that particular spending is to make sure everybody watching those ads knows where the money is coming from.

    Ideally, we shouldn’t have to spend money to get that message across. The local/regional news (tv and print) should be all over the story (outside big money). But I fear there is a huge conflict of interest in that area, since those millions are going directly into the pockets of said news outlets.

    Of course, the answer is doing both: exposing the Koch Brothers and promoting candidates and issues. But that requires strategic planning, something Democrats (in NC anyway) haven’t shown a lot of skill at lately.

    • Thomas Ricks

      It would be one thing if the Kochs and their Koch Sucker followers were merely exercising their first amendment right, but they’re claiming tax free status to do so anonymously with no accountability and unlimited funds.

      Any American should have big problems with people who have allowed foreign governments to potentially influence US politics.

      The Dems should attack the Kochs as the danger to America that they are.

  2. Leake Little

    The problem starts when you can’t define the “base” in terms of votes. Perspective is not everything.

    • Thomas Ricks

      Here’s an easy definition. “Do you think Bush should have been impeached?” “Were we justified in going to war in Iraq?” “Do you like Sarah Palin?”

      If the answer is Yes, No, and No then I think that’s a great target demographic for the Dems.

  3. larry

    No its not the Koch brothers but I am not at all sure the Democrats are preparing to run against them either. I suppose I am not sure the Democrats are preparing to run at all. But I do agree that if a progressive PAC wants to take on the Koch it will benefit everyone. Including the conservatives who seem to follow this blog daily and faithfully whether they have any notion of truth.

    • Thomas Ricks

      If you make your ideology more important than truth, you cannot have a notion of truth…which is why there are no conservative values.

  4. Chris Telesca

    Of course we shouldn’t focus on the Koch Brothers and their attempt to control the government by buying off ALEC, the Republican Party, and Republican candidates at the national level. Nor should we focus on Art Pope trying to do the same thing across NC.

    That’s because we have Democrats who have or are trying to do the same thing here in NC – but through various think tanks, PACs, 501(c)3/4 groups, and many Democratic candidates. They are also trying to take over and privatize the Democratic Party at the state and county levels. God Forbid we should be in the awkward place where we have to explain why the GOP Koch and Pope takeovers are bad for democracy, and why it’s good to do that for Democratic candidates.

    Democrats shouldn’t focus just on what Republicans are doing wrong – we should also focus on what Democrats would do right. Problem is, so many of our electeds don’t want to turn the very positive Democratic Party platform into public policy. Why not? Because their big donors don’t want that to happen. Why do you think real progressive groups were having to go begging the Democratic leadership and the Governor for scraps when we had majority control?

    Now that we are in the minority, we need to fight to get back that majority control of government again. But who will be in the driver’s seat for the Democrats: the Establishment or the grassroots/Progressive/Populists? Surveys show that Millennials are liberal/progressive both socially and economically. Meaning they don’t want to focus just on gay marriage/rights issues – they want to fix economic inequality also. Millennials don’t see the establishment wing of the Democratic Party trying to fix economic inequality for themselves or even their parent’s generation. They can google Bill Clinton’s support for NAFTA and killing Glass-Stegal. They see President Obama focusing on the ACA (enriching the insurance companies) and the TPP (enriching the Koch Brothers), not doing a damned thing about the banksters who wrecked the economy (he says they are financial innovators), etc.

    Unfortunately, they tar ALL Democrats with the same brush. It’s not enough to go to an Occupy event – it’s little different than going to a Moral Monday march and thinking you have done enough.

    I don’t see many political consultants calling for building the Democratic Party from the grassroots precinct level up, so that we don’t need all those big donors to get the work done. Even President Obama credited Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy as contributing to his 2008 victory. So then why kill it? I think the answer is that party building would not allow for the explosive growth of top-down control of the political process by the campaigns of the top-ticket candidates – and all the money that they want to flow through their fingers.

    We won’t impress UNA and middle of the road voters by telling them how bad the Republicans are unless we can say how Democrats are DIFFERENT! We must not be just a little less worse – we must be BETTER – and we need to be able to show voters how much better we are or can be. That’s what our party platform is for!

    • Thomas Ricks

      Attacking the Kochs motivates the base.

      The base matters. Offense is more effective than defense. Playing only defense means losing.

  5. Paleo Tek

    Medical Bankruptcy! You wouldn’t understand, it’s a Republican Thing!

  6. geek49203

    Wow, 2 days in a row that we agree! Have I become a Dem diehard? I need to go to my shrink and find out if this is linked to my getting in touch with my inner self or something…

    Both sides have their billionaires who pump in ads that are often misleading. Shall I post here that “throw grandma off of the cliff” ad? How about any number of Kay Hagan ads where she dances around issues? But we expect that from ads — financed by people who have more money than us, and not always telling the entire truth.

    Now, if I could get one of you ACA diehards to tell me how in the hell ACA gets me health care, I’d appreciate it. From where I’m sitting, ACA made health insurance for the unemployed / newly employed damned near impossible to get.

    And yes, if you contact me, I’ll talk via real phone call and you can tell me how I’m just too stupid to get covered or something, and I’ll tell you how I used to sell the stuff, used to buy the stuff, worked for a medical billing software company, etc etc, and then we’ll get real and say, “Yeah, this doesn’t work.”

    ACA / Dems think this is a matter of “getting the message out” and “slam the Republicans” for the bad old days in order to get those “middle votes”. They are DEAD WRONG.

    In reality, if you want to change minds and win those middle voters, you need to get the damned thing working. As in, call up your dude in the White House, and tell him to fix it. As in, get Kay and her buddies to vote for a bunch of fixit bills. As in, admit the obvious ’cause the first step to fixing a problem is to acknowledge there is a problem (followed by backing away from the Koolaid).

    For the Dems — and this goes for all politicians — there are times when the winning strategy is to FIX THE DAMNED THING BEFORE THE ELECTION and not to do spin, poll-tested talking points, demonetization, and YouTube ads by D-list people (ie, UNC basketball coaches?).

    • Thomas Ricks

      If a conservative is talking, a conservative is lying.

      Fixing it is difficult when Republicans are only interested in trashing anything and everything involving government.

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