Let's just go ahead and say it: As far as politics is concerned, 2014 will be the Year of the Bogeyman. Or men. (Aren't they always?)
On the Republican side, as Democrats have moaned about for years, are the Koch brothers, the billionaire industrialists who have spent huge sums of money — granted, a drop in the bucket to them — in pursuit of what they say are free-market solutions and what Democrats say is their annihilation.
On the Democratic side, George Soros has been supplanted as the ultimate bete noire by Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who, aides said late Wednesday, plans to spend at least $50 million of his money to target Republicans running in 2014 who have been skeptical of global warming. (That number would be matched by other environmentalists for a $100-million anti-Republican hit spread across seven states.)
Or, as Steyer strategist Chris Lehane put it in his typically vivid fashion:
"We are not going to be talking about polar bears and butterflies. We are going to be talking about how this issue of climate impacts people in their backyards, in their states, in their communities."
It took only a few hours for Terri Lynn Land, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Michigan and one of those in Steyer's sights, to take umbrage in a Web ad that blamed her Democratic opponent Gary Peters for trying to kill 96,000 Michigan jobs.
"Why is Gary Peters waging a war on Michigan jobs and paychecks?" the ad asked, then answered: "Because Peters supports President Obama's job-killing agenda and is bankrolled by billionaire radical Tom Steyer. Peters also supports Steyer's call to kill the Keystone pipeline."
This is not virgin territory for Land. A previous campaign video showed an ominous picture of Steyer's San Francisco mansion and asserted that "a secret meeting was held in this San Francisco estate, owned by billionaire Tom Steyer. The subject: stopping the Keystone pipeline." Among the participants: the very same Gary Peters, who, the video said, would benefit handsomely from killing the pipeline, as would Steyer.
"Gary Peters: working for billionaires, not Michigan," the tagline stated.
Despite Land's characterization, Steyer is hardly a flaming "radical" but a former financier who has taken to spending his millions to propel action on what he considers an urgent issue, climate change.
He is no more radical, that is, than the Koch brothers, who have chosen to spend tens of millions on ads against Obamacare and other issues and on behalf of multiple candidates, including Terri Lynn Land. According to the Associated Press, the Kochs plan to spend $125 million during the midterm election.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has been on a tear against Charles and David Koch, the most politically active of the brothers, accusing them of financing ads that lied about the president's healthcare program. (Fact-checkers also have taken aim at the ads.)
"It's time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers, who are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine," Reid said earlier this year.
Accuracy of their ads aside, the Koch brothers and Steyer are doing something that these days is utterly American — spending a ton of money to advance their political aims, aided by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have dramatically loosened the nation's campaign finance rules.