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What an astounding moment this is in the era of Citizens United. The most famous multi-billionaire libertarian right-winger in the land, Charles Koch, who is nursing a $900 million stack and looking for a candidate on whom to bet it in the coming election, suggests that Hillary Clinton could be better than the various Republicans. How does Mrs. Clinton respond? She says she’s “not interested in endorsements from people who deny climate science and try to make it harder for people to vote.”
No doubt some will chalk this up to the famous Clinton penchant for principle and ethics. They can stuff their campaign coffers with lucre of Hollywood types. They can rake in millions for their presidential library from such Athenian democracies as Saudi Arabia. But heaven forfend that they should soil their reputations by taking an endorsement from those who, as the New York Times explains of the Kochs, “oppose government efforts to mitigate climate change through regulation.” Or favor voter ID laws.
What makes the moment so astounding is that we are in a moment in which both political parties are being sundered by insurgencies. The GOP is being challenged by, in Donald Trump, a billionaire who is running a campaign for protection on trade and immigration, while the neoconservative camp maneuvers to find a candidate to combine its pro-growth and internationalist instincts. The Democrats, meantime, are being challenged by, in Senator Sanders, a bitter enemy of the Clintons who favors socialism.
And who — mark this well — when asked by Ezra Klein of Vox.com about the concept of open immigration went into an incoherent and inaccurate tirade blaming the whole concept on Charles Koch and his brother David. At the time, we reacted to that outburst with an editorial called “Bernie Sanders’ Ignorance,” pointing out that he didn’t seem to realize that the most famous tribune of the idea that immigration is self-regulating was none other than Meyer London.
London was the second socialist ever elected to Congress, where, in 1921, he delivered a famous speech on this head. The ironies are so thick one could cut them with a chain saw. If there is a similarity on immigration, it is between Senator Sanders and Donald Trump. There is enormous room for fusion between the liberals and the libertarians on social issues and race and immigration. Yet so ideological is the Democratic front-runner that she won’t even hear of it.
All of which is full circle for Citizens United. That Supreme Court case, after all, was at bottom about whether a charitable organization could air in the middle of an election a film that was critical of one of its candidates, Mrs. Clinton. When the Court, after the election, gave a definitive yes, the left carried on like the whole country would be at the mercy of Charles Koch. Now the hapless multi-billionaire is so at sea he’s looking at backing Mrs. Clinton and she’s too snooty to take his money. Maybe we’ll end up with four or five parties running in the general election. Citizens united, indeed.