Compared to most of my compatriots on the left I often find myself standing as the moderate, generally favoring pragmatism to radicalism, gradual change and reform to swift revolution. But every now and again something pops up in the news that jars my inner Jacobin, gripping my mind with Marxian anger and desires for radical revolt.
One recent reaction unfolded after reading New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s piece “The Ungrateful President.” This column examined a number of anonymous wealthy individuals who contributed heavily to President Obama’s 2008 campaign but now feel betrayed because…well…I’ll let Dowd explain it herself:
“Stories abound of big donors who stopped giving as much or working as hard because Obama never reached out, either with a Clinton-esque warm bath of attention or Romney-esque weekend love fests and Israeli-style jaunts; of celebrities who gave concerts for his campaigns and never received thank-you notes or even his full attention during the performance; of public servants upset because they knocked themselves out at the president’s request and never got a pat on the back; of V.I.P.’s disappointed to get pictures of themselves with the president with the customary signature withheld.”
In other words, lefty elites are upset that the President has not stroked their egos enough. And yet I’m left with mainly one John-McEnroe-like thought in my mind—Can these people be fucking serious?!
We on the left oftentimes like to think that our “elites”—that is, those wealthy and powerful individuals who, for the most part, share our ideological preferences—are somehow better than conservative elites. But it is at times like this when I begin to question that notion and am reminded of evidence that wealth and power often changes people’s views of themselves and others for the worst.
Sure these individuals probably believe in progressive taxation, liberal social policies, a more humble and humanitarian foreign policy, and so on. Some may even claim, with no shame or fear, to be socialists or communists. But there’s a key thing these whiney, entitled donors share with conservative elites that is a huge detriment not only to our society but to humanity’s future as a whole—they think they’re special.
The attitude that Dowd describes in her column is one that assumes that they, as powerbrokers, deserve special treatment from the president, moreso than us simple peasants. They contributed huge sums of their money and time and, dammit, they deserve some payback for it!
This is the same mentality behind Randian and libertarian views that the rich and powerful are somehow more important than the rest of society, harder workers who deserve to sit atop the rest of us common folk with adoration. It’s the same view that leads to trickle-down-economics, that makes the wealth of the rich sacrosanct and higher taxation on this wealth the work of Lucifer himself. It’s the same notion that enables greater income inequality, that leads to a view of the poor as lazy, undeserving societal parasites.
And frankly it is a belief that is utter and complete bullshit.
The conservative axiom that all those who are rich worked hard for their money or that hard work automatically leads to wealth and power is a fantasy. Wealth and power depend on a number of factors, often times including admirable hard work, immoral deeds and manipulation, the market one is working in, the position one is working at, and/or luck. Growing up in a working class neighbor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I’ve known a great number of individuals—nurses, teachers, public defenders, firefighters, policemen—who worked their asses off to support their families and improve our society. To claim that that the reason these individuals aren’t swimming in piles of money a la Scrooge McDuck is because they didn’t work hard enough is utterly ridiculous and a grave insult.
And concerning the 2008 Obama campaign, who made a greater sacrifice: a wealthy individual who contributed millions to it or a dedicated lower class volunteer who spent their precious time and money to help the president get elected? My answer falls in the camp of the latter every time.
As tragic as it may be that Richy Rich and Max-A-Million didn’t get their special, personalized thank-you notes, autographed pictures, and private weekend parties (I’m really balling my eyes out of this one), I’d much rather that the poorer among us who work just as hard, if not harder, to make our society work and improve all our lives as a whole, receive some benefits from the executive office—not the pampered elite who don’t need any more glad-handing and ass-kissing.