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What Plutocracy Looks Like

category_bug_politics.gif Yes, as I mentioned yesterday I'm taking today off too – and maybe tomorrow – but I want to leave you with something to chew on while I'm ignoring the computer screen for awhile.

Among the crop of young pundits MSNBC has hired over the past couple of years and given programs titled with their names, one stands out for his insight (way beyond his years), knowledge (astonishingly wide and deep) and his enthusiasm for politics and policy (unbounded).

Chris Hayes has his shortcomings too. He talks too fast, he talks too much and crams too many compelling guests into each show so that as a listener, one is always left wanting more from this one or that whom Hayes too often cuts short just when they are getting interesting.

(That last item is good weekly TV drama technique and terrible news/commentary technique.)

The too-many-guests issue is probably not Hayes's fault since all MSNBC programs except for Rachel Maddow (who could use a few more guests to temper her endless periods of word salad) suffer from it. So it is undoubtedly a management edict.

Well, I got carried away. I didn't mean to say all that.

On Saturday morning, Hayes held forth for about seven minutes on the subject of What Plutocracy Looks Like and what it shows is that he gave the “secret” Romney tape from the $50K dinner a lot more serious, useful thought than most of the other left-leaning pundits I saw who were generally on autopilot.

Give it a listen. It's worth your time. The transcript is below the video.

The video of Mitt Romney talking to donors that Mother Jones posted last week is an incredible artifact from an entire culture and civilization that exists in our midst, but which we hardly ever get to see: the world of the high-end donor. And, whoo boy it is not pretty. The first thing that jumps out is that a lot of the questions are really inane.

In fact, I almost feel sorry for Mitt Romney having to sit there and politely smile and nod as donors pick through their salad and tell him that what he really needs to do to win is "take the gloves off" or "show your face more on tv"—something he's been doing more or less non-stop.

The folks in the room all but advise Romney to simply tour around the country reading passages of Ayn Rand novels out loud at his campaign rallies and hectoring the idiotic masses to bow before their obvious superior. Romney, who is many things, but not a total fool, gently explains that that probably is not the best way to go about attempting to win over the Obama voters he needs to be elected. Almost none of the advice Romney gets during the tape is very good, some of it's terrible.

That's not novel, of course, everyone who watches politics closely thinks they have the secret insight that will win the election. Unlike the millions of other political junkies and backseat drivers, this small coterie of folks, by sole virtue of their wealth, gets to impose their invaluable insights on the actual candidate. It would be like the head coach of the Giants, Tom Coughlin, having to spend most of the week between games meeting with the opinionated fans who call into sports talk radio with their theories about how the Giants should be blitzing on every down, or lining up two quarterbacks under center.

This is the power of money not just in politics, but in society more broadly: the power to make people listen to your ideas no matter how dumb or uninformed. The other thing that stood out to me was just how under siege, persecuted, and victimized these extremely wealthy people appear to feel.

Keep in mind we're talking about a fundraiser that cost $50,000 a plate. Fifty thousand dollars also happens to be the median household income in the U.S. So the kind of wealth you need to have to be in the room with Romney is the kind of wealth that means you can just pony up as much money as many Americans make in a year to listen to Mitt Romney trash talk the very people who make in a year the same amount you just ponied up for dinner.

And what you hear from them is the same kind of whining that was the central theme of the Republican Convention: we're away from our families five days a week. I'm away from my four girls five days a week and my wife. Which made me think of this from Reservoir Dogs:

Steve Buscemi: You know what this is? It's the world's smallest violin playing just for the waitresses.

Except, you know, instead of waitresses insert busy plutocrats. Because these same plutocrats are enjoying possibly their best run ever since the financial crisis, nay since, perhaps, the roaring twenties! The Dow is way up, corporate profits are near record highs, taxes are near record lows, wages are stagnating, unions are fighting for survival and 8% unemployment means that employers have a constant ready supply of excess labor, which keeps wages and demands down. More or less a capitalist paradise.

The Koch brothers, to choose just one example, have seen their own net worth nearly DOUBLE, from $32 billion to $62 billion under the tyrannical, socialist, re-distributive regime of Barack Hussein Obama.

And yet despite the fact that Obama has managed a recovery that has been exceptionally good to them, Wall Street is incensed that anyone would call them fat cats or sign new financial regulation. In almost every way conceivable they inhabit an alternate universe. And everyone's pretty frank about that.

For instance, they ask him several questions about foreign policy, and Romney complains that voters in general don't care about foreign policy, so he doesn't get to talk about it that much on the campaign trail. This is probably because middle class voters are so concerned about economic security it crowds out nearly everything else.

But that's the point. Extremely wealthy people are not a very good representation of the voting population at large. They have very different politics, positions and priorities than the mass of voters. This cashes out in a very concrete way that profoundly affects our politics.

Political Scientists Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawright have been studying the divergence between public opinion in general and the opinions of the wealthiest 1% and found that—surprise—they diverge on most issues. For instance, on this statement: "The federal government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that all children have really good public schools they can go to" 87% of the general public agrees, while only 35% of the wealthy do. "Our government should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich." 52% of the general public agrees, only 17% of the wealthy do. "Favor cuts in spending on domestic programs like Medicare, education, and highways in order to cut federal budget deficits." 27% of the general public does, while 58% of the wealthy do.

And this gets us to what I've become convinced is the most pernicious effect of big money on our politics. It's not that lots of money can buy elections, though sometimes that's true. It's not that campaign contributions function as a quid pro quo, chits to be cashed in when legislation is being considered, though that's also often true. It's that every single person running for high office in America is forced to spend the vast majority of their time around one group of people and one group only: wealthy people. That's who they talk to, and listen to all day long, day in and day out, every day for months and years and decades. It's an incredibly warping effect.

Imagine a world in which every minimum wage worker in America is given a golden ticket, like the ones in Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. And imagine a law that required TV stations to only take those golden tickets as payment for campaign advertising time. A world in which candidates would have to spend all the time they now spend with the folks on that video with the people who work at drive-throughs and clean bathrooms. And imagine the kinds of questions they would get, the stories and jokes they would hear. Many hours a day, day in and day out. The world that the candidate would be forced to inhabit. Imagine what our politics would look like as a result. Maybe things would be radically different, maybe they'd be more similar to the status quo than I'd like to admit. But one thing is for sure.

Mitt Romney sure as hell wouldn't get up in front of a room of home healthcare workers, people who are, in many states, making minimum wage or just a little more to change bed pans and clean up blood and vomit—and tell the people in front of him that they're a bunch of indolent, shiftless moochers who won't take responsibility for their lives becuase they don't pay income taxes. I don't think even Mitt Romney is that politically inept. END TRANSCRIPT

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Saturday Night on Main Street


Hayes is right on the money (yes, I said that on purpose).

In one of my last career incarnations, I worked for a group in New York, and dealt exclusively with members of the one percent.
The cognitive dissonance Hayes highlights is simply a fact of their daily lives; and why not?
If your vision of reality is marked by being picked up at the airport in a stretch limo, after deplaning from the corporate jet, and being whisked to the Ritz Carlton, where every servitor is trained to say "My pleasure, sir," when fulfilling your every demand, why would you think any other way?

As a paid flunky, I enjoyed all of those privileges, and I would be lying if I said I did't love every minute, but I knew that for me, it was a charade.My base reality was very different.

Unfortunately, the system has always worked this way; in the US, and every country throughout history.

In a documentary about the very rich, filmed some years back, one of the speakers said to a young graduate of an Ivy League school, trying to decide whether to buy into the system in pursuit of his career: "The United States, from its inception, has always been run by a commercial oligarchy."

Nothing has changed in the last two hundred years.


Ronni, I really appreciate your posting this.

Chris Hayes did an exceptional job of analyzing the video. He got to the very heart of the matter.

I loved his brilliant conclusion which began, "Imagine a world in which every minimum wage worker in America is given a golden ticket, like the ones in Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory."

It's impossible to imagine a more devastating indictment of those present at the event.

He's amazing, bright and insightful. Thanks!

I think Chris Hayes is the rising star in Journalism. His shows always stand out and are well worth watching. None was better than this one.

Thanks for posting this!

Chris also has a great book out--the title is: Twilight of the Elites, America After Meritocracy.

By coincidence, I just finished it, and it ties together brilliantly so many things we've been seeing over the past few years.

*HIGHLY* recommended!

For someone taking some time off, you certainly expended a lot of effort to post this for us. Thanks.

Linda P.
This is easy - just a few notes of introduction; it doesn't involve research or thinking.

A very few of my relatives are clearly in the 1% and it's so, so true: they DON'T give a damn about the rest of the world that serves them. Being poor is YOUR fault. Reminds me of the pioneers who had to dehumanize the Indians in order to massacre them...great article, Ronni--will send it far and wide!

ps guess who's coming to Portland again next week!

Hayes is indeed stimulating to listen to on issues he has focused in on.

Your response to Linda P. reminds me: have you/would you consider posts on blogging after the first couple of years-- Elderblogging 3.0?

You're going to have to be more specific, naomi. What kind of things would you like to know?

Hi Ronni..... I am a lurker...most every day. I have commented a few times over the years. Decided I needed to today.... Every night as my husband and I watch MSNBC he makes lots of observations and comments....just always find it interesting they are almost ALWAYS exactly what you have said! I keep wondering if you two are related somehow! Anyway It always makes me smile! Hope you are enjoying some time off. September in Oregon is usually the best month! We head to Sunriver and then Newport at the end of October.

As for your last paragraph, Romney did get up in front of some minimum wage workers and say what he said in his 47% speech. He did it because the” help” are invisible to him. Technology can be wonderful and that it was Jimmy Carter’s grandson who brought this to light is priceless.
Thanks Ronni for keeping us informed and entertained.

Another eye-opener is the documentary "Lifting the Veil."

Appreciated your commentary on network programming and describing where the real decision-making lies. Your perspective and thoughts in that arena continue to be of interest to me, but have been since first finding TGB and eventually learning of your background.

I think what you describe has been true at all broadcasting levels whether national, or a corporation of major market fewer affiliates multi-state stations -- has been for sixty years, maybe more. I do think there came a time some years ago when corporate eviscerated news programming plus other aspects of the operations. Then, the Internet soon developed, adding even more change to the ground rules.

I would enjoy reading any and all observations you would want to share about the evolution of the business -- the state of broadcasting, programming, news, the media, etc.

Chris Hayes does seem to have a good assessment so maybe there's hope for TV -- but does only "the choir" watch him, or is he able to pull in those with differing and/or unclear views -- or do the viewer numbers even reveal that data? Or, don't we care about that any more with groups seeming to be so alienated from one another?

Nice to see so many non-bloggers (or at least there are no links to any blogs they may have) come out of the woodwork on this post to leave comments. Probably would have been wiser if I had lurked awhile longer, but.....

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