Monday, April 21, 2008

Plutonian Plutocracy 

Through that Orwellian semantic alchemy in which the modern GOP seems to specialize, the term "class war," which until recently referred to the routine screwing of the poor by the rich, has evolved. It now refers to the act of pointing out that the poor are routinely screwed by the rich, a rhetorical strategem that is widely considered déclassé at best and terroristic at worst, and one that our wiser statesmen are understandably loath to deploy. Why rouse the beleaguered, the benighted, the (dare we say) embittered masses to challenge a perfectly functional social order, or worse yet, to question the altruism of their socioeconomic betters? Why mess with a good thing? As the noted sage W. Claude Dukenfield famously advised, never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump -- especially when the chump can be taught, through that Orwellian cognitive alchemy in which the modern GOP seems to specialize, to reject his own interests and embrace those of the carny who is picking his pocket on the midway in broad daylight.

Our distinguished homie Thos. Frank has written at length on this phenomenon in his popular book What's the Matter with Kansas? You have certainly read his essays in The Baffler, and although we have not seen a new issue of that fine periodical in some time, we are pleased to learn from Zemblan patriot M.F. that Mr. Frank is now writing a weekly column for an obscure investors' tip sheet based in lower Manhattan, the Wall St. Journal, from which the following meditation on elitism is taken:
"Elitism" is thus a crime not of society's actual elite, but of its intellectuals. Mr. Obama has "a dash of Harvard disease," proclaims the Weekly Standard. Mr. Obama reminds columnist George Will of Adlai Stevenson, rolled together with the sinister historian Richard Hofstadter and the diabolical economist J.K. Galbraith, contemptuous eggheads all. Mr. Obama strikes Bill Kristol as some kind of "supercilious" Marxist. Mr. Obama reminds Maureen Dowd of an . . . anthropologist.

Ah, but Hillary Clinton: Here's a woman who drinks shots of Crown Royal, a luxury brand that at least one confused pundit believes to be another name for Old Prole Rotgut Rye. And when the former first lady talks about her marksmanship as a youth, who cares about the cool hundred million she and her husband have mysteriously piled up since he left office? Or her years of loyal service to Sam Walton, that crusher of small towns and enemy of workers' organizations? And who really cares about Sam Walton's own sins, when these are our standards? Didn't he have a funky Southern accent of some kind? Surely such a mellifluous drawl cancels any possibility of elitism.

It is by this familiar maneuver that the people who have designed and supported the policies that have brought the class divide back to America – the people who have actually, really transformed our society from an egalitarian into an elitist one – perfume themselves with the essence of honest toil, like a cologne distilled from the sweat of laid-off workers. Likewise do their retainers in the wider world – the conservative politicians and the pundits who lovingly curate all this phony authenticity – become jes' folks, the most populist fellows of them all.

But suppose we read on, and we find the news item about the hedge fund managers who made $2 billion and $3 billion last year, or the story about the vaporizing of our home equity. Suppose we become a little . . . bitter about this. What do our pundits and politicians tell us then?

That there is no place for such sentiment in the Party of the People. That "bitterness" is an ugly and inadmissible emotion. That "divisiveness" is a thing to be shunned at all costs.

Conservatism, on the other hand, has no problem with bitterness; as the champion strategist Howard Phillips said almost three decades ago, the movement's job is to "organize discontent." And organize they have. They have welcomed it, they have flattered it, they have invited it in with millions of treason-screaming direct-mail letters, they have given it a nice warm home on angry radio shows situated up and down the AM dial. There is not only bitterness out there; there is a bitterness industry . . . .

If Barack Obama or anyone else really cares to know what I think, I will simplify it all down to this. The landmark political fact of our time is the replacement of our middle-class republic by a plutocracy. If some candidate has a scheme to reverse this trend, they've got my vote, whether they prefer Courvoisier or beer bongs spiked with cough syrup. I don't care whether they enjoy my books, or would rather have every scrap of paper bearing my writing loaded into a C-47 and dumped into Lake Michigan. If it will help restore the land of relative equality I was born in, I'll fly the plane myself.

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