At AFP: David Koch Comes Alive

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 27 2010 1:12 PM

At AFP: David Koch Comes Alive

David Koch rarely talks to the media about his politics. He's not talking the media today. But he is, as he always does, making the rounds at Americans for Prosperity's summit, giving short speeches to breakout sessions of the state groups who gather between sessions. I have seen what I will call a "Mayer effect" -- now that people are looking for Koch, cameras and photographers appear to capture what he's doing and saying.

They're not capturing much. Koch moves swiftly between sessions, sherpa'd by telegenic AFP President Tim Phillips and a few aides. When he reaches the stage he speaks quickly and somewhat nervously, as if public speaking is an unhappy duty that he doesn't want to master. (The evidence suggests that this is true.) His most striking physical feature is his height, which he carries quickly but holds awkwardly when he's asked to stand and talk. As he speaks -- I saw him at the Georgia session -- he confirms all of the fears liberals have about his project. Hey, why not?

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"When my brother and I provided the funds and the concept for the Americans for Prosperity foundation six and a half years ago," says Koch, "never in my wildest dreams could I have participated it would grow to the size it is today." He wavers a little over the podium." We have over one million activists who have participated in town hall meetings and demonstrations over the last year. Never would I have dreamed it would become as influential and effective as it has. It is getting stronger and stronger and becoming more and more successful. I feel that this organization could provide a key role in the November elections, and I feel there is an extraordinary groundswell of hostility in this country towards the socialization of so many aspects of our lives -- health care, financial regulations. Many, many different areas that I think that government has involved itself, uh, way too much -- excessively."

Koch, haltingly, broaches the subject of his media image. "I've been attacked nonstop, and my brother, as well as AFP, and our company, and our company, Koch Industries, by the liberal media," he says. "These attacks do not intimidate me. In fact, they inspire me!" The room of activists, who have been listening politely, break into applause. "In my opinion our whole way of life, our whole economic system is at risk from the radicals in the Congress who want to hurt the whole system we have, the, uh, free enterprise system, capitalistic system."

Koch finishes up and quickly leaves the room, sherpa'd again as cameras follow him. He finds a seat in the main ballroom of the Marriott, at the front of the stage, where Democrat-turned-Republican strategist greats him before giving his own speech. Later, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell sees him from the stage and, more or less, tells the New Yorker to stuff it.

"It's great to see friends like David Koch, the visionary leader of this organization," says McDonnell. "What a terrific job he has done over the last six years. From a vision in your mind in a New York apartment to 32 state chapters, over 1.2 million people! David, that is great work. Thanks so much for your leadership."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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