By Joel Kotkin, April 11, 2014
In many uncomfortable ways, American politics now resemble those that arose late in the Roman Republic. As wealth and land ownership concentrated in few hands, a state built on the discipline of soldiers who tended their own farms became ever more dominated by fractious oligarchs. As property consolidated into huge slave-owning estates, more citizens became landless and ever more dependent on the patronage of the rich generals and landowners who increasingly seized control of politics.
In much the same way, as the wealth has concentrated in America, so, too, has the power exercised by those with money. The wealthy have always played an outsized role in our politics, but today, emboldened by Supreme Court rulings easing controls on contributions, oligarchs are dominating the electoral map in ways that have not been seen at least since the abuses of the Nixon years.
Perhaps the most notable, or infamous, example is the Koch brothers, David and Charles, billionaire industrialists whose role in conservative politics has made them the ultimate “bogeymen” for crusading liberal journalists concerned with the growing power of the ultrarich on our political system. Campaigning against the Kochs has become standard issue for Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.