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In Memoriam: David Koch

David Koch AFP
David Koch, the industrialist, philanthropist and conservative – libertarian political activist passed away on August 23, 2019.

I didn’t have the pleasure of really knowing David Koch, though I did have the honor of sitting next to him years ago at an Americans for Prosperity dinner.

However, I do know that I and all conservatives are deeply in his debt. I know very little about the depth and reach of his ideological activities, but what very little I do know caused me to realize it’s unprecedented in the conservative movement, and not really appreciated by most conservatives.

He gave millions of dollars to the arts, to the Smithsonian Museums and to cancer research. But it was for his support of conservative and libertarian causes, candidates and think tanks, including Americans for Prosperity and the Cato Institute that David Koch is best known to most conservatives.

David was a libertarian, many conservatives might not have realized how much he did for the conservative cause, but it was massive, including Americans for Prosperity, a tea party type organization with several millions of supporters.  In 2004, along with his brother Charles, David Koch founded the anti-tax, small-government group, which remains one of the most influential conservative grassroots organizations in U.S. politics.

Mostly below the radar, the Koch brothers’ political activism became more public in fighting the Democrats’ Obamacare disaster. They pressed to bring conservative voices to college campuses. And they developed a nationwide grassroots network backing conservative causes and candidates at the state and national levels.

Thanks to the generosity and leadership of David and Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity has spent more than $1 billion over the past several elections to support candidates who adhere to free-market, small-government, libertarian ideals and in the process has help launch the careers of candidates for public offices from school board to the United States Senate.

And, through their emphasis on grassroots training and activism, David and Charles Koch are often credited with helping to fuel the rise of the Tea Party movement in 2009, and a decade later the Tea Party remains one of the most powerful forces in American politics, even as it has moved away from Mr. Koch’s libertarian ideals.

Hundreds of law schools have also received large gifts from David and Charles Koch to fund the teaching of free market economics. A few years ago, David and Charles gave 10 million dollars to George Mason Law School, an outstanding conservative law school.  George Mason Law School has now been renamed Antonin Scalia Law School.  There are hundreds more examples, but hopefully you get the picture.

Of David Koch’s many admirable qualities, beyond his generosity, two in particular stand out to me.

The first is his willingness to fight for principle – even when the chances of success were slim. In pursuit of a freer, more prosperous America in 1980 David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party's candidate for Vice President. He and the party's presidential nominee, Ed Clark, won a little more than 1 percent of the vote, but they made classical libertarian ideas part of the national political conversation and eventually those ideas became a powerful force in Republican politics, even as the Libertarian Party itself has languished.

Second was Mr. Koch’s refusal to return in kind the vitriol often directed at him.

“I was taught from a young age that involvement in the public discourse is a civic duty,” David Koch wrote in a 2012 op-ed in the New York Post. “Each of us has a right — indeed, a responsibility, at times — to make his or her views known to the larger community in order to better form it as a whole. While we may not always get what we want, the exchange of ideas betters the nation in the process.”

Of course, liberals (especially those in the mainstream media) loved to demonize David and Charles Koch, but consider the source, and thank God for David and his brother Charles.

While David Koch will be remembered for his generosity to many causes, to me his most important contribution was empowering tens of thousands of grassroots conservative activists who became involved in politics through Americans for Prosperity and the other organizations he supported. Those activists gave a voice to millions of Americans in flyover country who believe, as Mr. Koch did, that government has gotten too big, too intrusive and taxes too much.

You may remember that Paul Harvey was fond of saying “now for the rest of the story.” I and most conservatives will never know the real story of the Koch brothers’ generosity and leadership to the cause of liberty, and that’s the way they wanted it.

RIP David Koch.

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