"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
-- Sinclair Lewis
Friday, October 12, 2012
Elites-- A Bunch Of Stuff... And Malarkey
When I woke up Thursday I hoped I might have slept through the VP debate. But not even close. When I got downstairs the first thing I saw was a tweet from Bernie Sanders about how the Waltons own so much of the country. That's because no one has adopted the DWT Billionaire Extermination Project-- new tax rates, back to the Eisenhower years. How about anything over, say $5 million-- I'd compromise at $10 if I had to-- gets taxed at 91%. No loopholes of any kind for anyone with over $5 million net worth. And then actual extermination for millionaire tax cheats-- after a fair trial. 'Til then, though, we have this:
Oh... and an obscene, puerile debate about the meaning of elites. I almost feel sorry for a Fox viewer who accidentally picks up Chris Hayes' marvelous new book, Twilight of the Elites. In trying to explain his terms-- and obviously, "elite" is a key one-- Hayes happens to mention that "references on Fox News to the 'media elite' outnumber references to the corporate or business elite by forty to one." That's a pretty big discrepancy. Hayes mentions that the right and the left have diametrically opposing views of how to define "elites," although both sides agree that elites are BAD. Except our side likes the elites they hate and their side likes the elites that we hate. (Did you notice the PPP poll yesterday that showed college professors have a 79% favorability rating with Democrats and a 33% favorability rating with Republicans? That kind of a discrepancy is a festering societal problem in America that goes right to the heart of Hayes' thesis about the crisis of authority we're experiencing.)
The right wing definition of an elite makes it possible-- mandatory-- to overlook Romney's attitude about the 47% and helps explain why Ayn Rand's adolescent novels are so popular with Republican Party hacks like Paul Ryan, who had his ass kicked by Joe Biden in the debate last night.
In the right's imagination it is not the owners of the means of production that compose the elite, but rather intellectuals, academics, members of the media and government. "Washington and the media elite," Sarah Palin thundered at a Republican fund-raiser in March 2010, "quit disrespecting the wisdom of the American people!"
Pressed by Brian Williams during the 2008 campaign to define just who the elite were, Palin alluded to a state of mind. "Anyone who thinks that they are-- I guess-- better than anyone else, that's-- that's my definition of elitism." As soon as she was finished with her answer, her ticket mate John McCain piped up. "I know where a lot of 'em live," McCain said with a snide laugh. "In our nation's capital and New York City. I've seen it. I've lived there. I know the town. Know what a lot of these elitists are. The ones that she never went to a cocktail party with in Georgetown." (Needless to say, McCain, son of naval royalty, owner of ten homes, and husband of a beer heiress worth millions, knew whereof he spoke.)
...What makes people part of the elite, according to the right, isn't their degree of power or political influence, but rather their condescension, their worldview, their tastes, preferences, and cultural diet: they watch Mad Men and listen to NPR while the simple masses listen to talk radio and watch American Idol. ...That's why Dick Armey, a multimillionaire former House majority leader and erstwhile lobbyist at DLA Piper, one of Washington's premier influence-peddling firms, can castigate "elites" and the "establishment" as if he were a scruffy newsie with his nose pressed up against the glass watching the plutocrats from outside.
...So long as the franchise is granted to a small enough group of people, or the layers of representation between the masses and political leaders are sufficiently attenuated and mediated by powerful interests, a democracy in name can still feature rule by the few over the many. During the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth, as democratic experiments spread throughout Europe, a group of theorists set themselves to the task of analyzing how it was that a small subset of citizens could retain de facto control over a society despite the downward pressures of democratization. One of those theorists was Robert Michels, whose Iron Law of Oligarchy offered a model for how to think about our own meritocracy.
Michels' fellow theorists of the elite-- Vilfredo Pareto [one of the theoreticians of fascism], Gaetano Mosca and José Ortega y Gasset-- shared a similar descriptive analysis, though because they were hostile to egalitarianism, they viewed this as a feature rather than a bug, To them the "elite" was made up of both those with the most power and also those who deserved the most power. Central to their theories was a kind of proto-meritocratic vision of cream rising to the top, a conception of rule by the best, brightest, and noblest that stretches all the way back to the vision of the Greeks. "As one advances in life," Ortega y Gasset wrote in his 1930 book, The Revolt of the Masses, "one realizes more and more that the majority of men-- and of women-- are incapable of any other effort than that strictly imposed on them as a reaction to external compulsion. And for that reason, the few individuals we have come across who are capable of a spontaneous and joyous effort to stand out isolated, monumentalized, so to speak, in our experience. These are select men, the nobles, the only ones who are active and not merely reactive, for whom life is a perpetual striving, an incessant course of training." Ortega y Gasset was horrified by the way in which democracy as it spread across Europe was empowering what he called the Mass Man, an industrial brute, prone to ideological extremism, over those special best and brightest nobles whose prudential guidance was necessary for proper social order
How hard is it for you to imagine Romney having given that speech at the $50,000/plate fundraiser at the mansion of vulture capitalist-- a noble of course, like Romney and Ryan-- Marc Leder, instead of that tepid one about the 47%? Or how about when Ryan talked about how pathetic 60% of Americans are-- "takers not makers?" That's different from Joe Biden.After last night's debate Rob Zerban's campaign pummeled the hapless and pathetic Ryan. It was certainly clear why he's been too scared to accept Zerban's repeated debate challenges. “Paul Ryan’s embarrassing performance tonight only continued his disturbing pattern of dishonesty. Whether misrepresenting the truth about our wars overseas, ignoring the real cause of unemployment in Janesville and Kenosha, or outright lying about his plan to privatize Medicare and cost seniors more than $6,000 more per year, it’s clear Ryan is more interested in seeking higher office than being honest with Wisconsinites and the American people. If Ryan doesn’t think his district deserves a Congressman who will protect the middle class, the least he can do is give them one who tells the truth.
“Ryan posits we need a new job creator in the White House. The President's numbers speak for themselves, but the facts show that where we really need a job creator is in the 1st District of Wisconsin.”
If you'd like to help Rob Zerban retire Ryan from public life and win back the southeast Wisconsin congressional seat for a defender of ordinary working families, here's the official Stop Paul Ryan page. As you can see, we're now over the halfway point.