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.
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.