How would you feel if aides to the president of the United States singled you out by name for attack, and if you were featured prominently in the president's re-election campaign as an enemy of the people?
What would you do if the White House engaged in derogatory speculative innuendo about the integrity of your tax returns? Suppose also that the president's surrogates and allies in the media regularly attacked you, sullied your reputation and questioned your integrity. On top of all of that, what if a leading member of the president's party in Congress demanded your appearance before a congressional committee this week so that you could be interrogated about the Keystone XL oil pipeline project in which you have repeatedly—and accurately—stated that you have no involvement?
Consider that all this is happening because you have been selected as an attractive political punching bag by the president's re-election team. This is precisely what has happened to Charles and David Koch, even though they are private citizens, and neither is a candidate for the president's or anyone else's office.
What Messrs. Koch do, in fact, is manage businesses that provide employment to more than 50,000 people in North America in legitimate, productive industries. They also give millions of dollars to medical researchers, hospitals and cultural institutions. Their biggest offense, apparently, is that they also contribute generously to nonprofit organizations that promote personal liberty and free enterprise, and some of those organizations oppose policies advocated by the president.
Richard Nixon maintained an"enemies list" that singled out private citizens for investigation and abuse by agencies of government, including the Internal Revenue Service. When that was revealed, the press and public were outraged. That conduct will forever remain one of the indelible stains on Nixon's presidency and legacy.
When Joseph McCarthy engaged in comparable bullying, oppression and slander from his powerful position in the Senate, he was censured by his colleagues and died in disgrace."McCarthyism," defined by Webster's as the "use of unfair investigative and accusatory methods to suppress opposition," will forever be synonymous with un-Americanism. Army counsel Joseph Welch's "Have you no sense of decency?" are words that evoke the McCarthy era and diminish the reputations of his colleagues who did nothing to stand up to him.
In this country, we regard the use of official power to oppress or intimidate private citizens as a despicable abuse of authority and entirely alien to our system of a government of laws. The architects of our Constitution meticulously erected a system of separated powers, and checks and balances, precisely in order to inhibit the exercise of tyrannical power by governmental officials.
Our Constitution even explicitly prohibits bills of attainder so that Congress may not single out individual citizens or groups for disfavored treatment or unequal application of the force of government. Prosecutorial power is rigidly constrained and judicially supervised so that government may not accuse private citizens of crimes or investigate them without good cause.
Whoever may be the victim of such abuse of governmental authority, the press and public almost invariably unify with indignation against it. If a journalist, labor-union leader or community organizer on the left can be targeted today, an academic or business person on the right can be the target tomorrow. If we fail to stand up against oppression from one direction, we abdicate the moral authority to challenge it when it comes from another.
This is why it is exceedingly important for all Americans to respond with outrage to what the president and his allies are doing to demonize and stigmatize David and Charles Koch. They have been the targets of the multiyear, carefully orchestrated campaign of vituperation and assault described above—and much more. It has been choreographed from the very top. When the president personally takes leadership, his political surrogates and army of allies in the press and Congress quickly and surely follow the direction and tone he sets.
The misuse of government power to damage or demean one's political enemies is abhorrent and the very antithesis of a free society and a government of laws, not men. It is time for the public to ask those engaged in these practices, "Have you no sense of decency?"