Friday, September 24, 2010

Democracy or Plutarchy: Your Choice, People

Do you ever feel like we should have some form of appropriate punishment to shame the rich for destroying our country, destroying the middle class, shipping our jobs overseas, waging a war of money, influence, privilege, and misplaced entitlement on the people — because they can — then bitching that their taxes are too high and buying themselves a compliantly corrupt government with their deep pockets? Maybe we can’t bring back the guillotine, but an updated form of public humiliation in the town square, e.g., dunk-a-millionaire or a pie in the face, could at least give us some measure of satisfaction.

I realize they’re not all the same, but the filthy rich with a social conscience can be counted on one hand. Most of them are self-made entrepreneur types, and you know who they are. The most outrageous Paris Hilton types are the parasites who inherited their wealth. They’re so craven they even brag about it, buying political office, a Senate seat just so they can become government agents to steal even more from the people. Like John Raese from West Virginia, who isn’t the least embarrassed to openly advocate for the privileged few:
“I made my money the old-fashioned way, I inherited it. I think that’s a great thing to do. I hope more people in this country have that opportunity as soon as we abolish inheritance tax in this country, which is a key part of my program.
West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the union, with an average household income of $38,000 and an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. And this bastard is arrogantly boasting of a campaign plank to enrich himself. Then we learn today that 91 percent of the $52 million contributed to Karl Rove’s political operation to elect Republicans nationwide is being funded by three billionaires. Three.

Can anyone spell plutocracy; or is it an oligarchy we’re headed for? Plutocracy is rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth. Oligarchy is government by the few. The combination of both plutocracy and oligarchy is called plutarchy. Okay, that makes sense, don’t you think, teabaggers (tools)? After all, your leader, Glenn Beck, is himself a plutocrat.

This theme has been coursing through our political conversation lately, with two excellent columns by Paul Krugman of the New York Times, my favorite columnist, speaking of a new phenomenon, the angry rich. He nailed it, but I remember first noticing it with Mort Zuckerman, once considered a moderate billionaire, owner of the New York Daily News. His TV appearances on the McLaughlin Group and the business channels are usually sedate affairs. But when he went on the Ed Show on MSNBC, with progressive pro-labor host Ed Schultz, Zuckerman launched into an anti-Obama tirade that was completely out of character for him and totally out of the blue. He said his friends and associates in the business community were feeling put-upon by President Obama, that this was the most anti-business administration in history, a major rant. When Schultz noted that the President had been soft on Wall Street, setting few conditions on the bailouts and caving on extravagant bonuses, Zuckerman brushed it all aside without a counter-argument except a prolonged whine that business felt as if they were being singled out and scapegoated by the Obama Administration.

All of which was nonsense. At that moment, it seemed pretty clear that Zuckerman was putting on an act. The question was — why? Parallel events clarified the bigger picture: First, there was the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which now permits unlimited funding of political campaigns by corporations. Second, Wall Street contributions to Democrats ahead of the midterm elections completely dried up, while secretive meetings with GOP House and Senate leaders were taking place. Third, the banks and corporations colluded in sitting on vast amounts of cash, which could have been used to further spur the economy with job creation and investments in plant and equipment. Ed mentioned this, rightly calling it un-American for corporations to prolong the economic pain for short-term political gain. Zuckerman uttered the same line echoed by all Republican candidates in justifying tax cuts for the rich: There’s too much “uncertainty” out there for corporations to loosen the purse-strings and start investing in jobs and business expansion. Riiiight. Fourth, the super-rich, represented by their able spokesman, wanted at all costs to preserve their Bush tax cuts. It was pure greed and a twisted sense of entitlement; nothing else. They lost the argument with the people, because the President still had a bigger bully pulpit than Mort, but managed to make Democrats in the Senate flinch, such is their power of intimidation, backed by unlimited money.

Lasty, the corporations were gearing up for an unprecedented takeover of the House and Senate, and they needed political cover for their schemes in the form of a vigorous pushback. Who better than Mort Zuckerman to deliver the message to the enemy camp, which had always given him a good reception. Zuckerman’s theatrical whine, with much gesticulation and faux outrage, took Schultz by surprise. He didn’t quite know what to make of such a ridiculous argument against an administration whose economic top dogs, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, were Wall Street insiders of the Rubin school and architects of the deregulatory financial mess we were in. If anything, they acted as a backstop against the more reform-minded progressives who wanted to nail Wall Street and who saw the financial crisis as an opportunity to institute wide-ranging reforms. Summers and Geithner put the brakes on, which should have pleased Zuckerman, and probably did, although he acted as if they were Marxists. (Glenn Beck is a useful tool for his fellow multi-millionaires.)

Paul Krugman nailed the phony Republican “pledge” to the rich and corporate interests, by the numbers that just won’t add up. Arianna Huffington spoke of a third world America. Krugman calls it a banana republic, if the GOP comes to power and succeeds in blocking the President's agenda and the ability of Democrats to continue making steady progress on the economy and health care. They are both right. The rich don’t care; this globalized world without borders is their oyster.

The die was cast. Intense corporate lobbying served to dilute some of the strongest measures in the financial reform bill, including derivatives regulation, stronger oversight, and curbing CEO salaries and bonuses. The consumer protection agency survived by a whisker as the corporations committed millions and hundreds of lobbyists to the breach. Another reason for Zuckerman's rant was the clear and present danger of a revived SEC enforcement arm after eight years of neglect under George W. Bush, setting its sights on Wall Street malefactors of great wealth. The great irony in this, is that for all of the Democratic Party's faults, and they are legion, the American people are poised to vote the fox into the henhouse at a critical time in our history, when the country is most vulnerable to de facto rule by a plutarchy.

The choice in this election is not between the Democratic Party and a Republican Party invaded by Tea Party snatchers; it is between democracy and plutarchy. It is between government of, for, and by the people, or government by the wealthy few.

2 comments: said...

Yes, it is quite unfortunate isn't it. And it would seem that with the Democrats also on the take, they can only stand by, hapless, while the plutarchy does whatever it wants, rather than fighting it. We need a new People's Party in this country to fight for the interests of the rest of us. The Tea Party is definitely not it.

Carlos said...

I'm all for a new progressive party modeled after and inspired by Teddy Roosevelt's Blue Moose Progressive Party, under whose banner he ran for president in 1912. Their universal healthcare plank was more progressive than what we got out of this 21st century Congress.