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The new oligarchs


This morning, I happened across some vile right-wing Web site called It was full of the usual senseless invectives that pass for reasoned analyses in today's GOPster-land.

Since John Kerry's leading the Democratic pack, they were after him with a vengeance. Some self-described Vietnam vet characterized Kerry as a commie-lovin' traitor, right up there with Jane Fonda -- an America-hating elitist who betrayed our great cause. Meanwhile, Ann Coulter, the liquid-metal terminatrix of the loony right went after Kerry for his choice of wives. Look! He married his friend and colleague's rich widow! Why, he probably put out a contract on said friend to get his money!

It's all nasty bullshit, of course; Kerry's a genuine war hero (Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart), dull, decent, reflective and virtuous. It's not surprising that Coulter & Co. are trying to take him down a notch -- it simply won't do for voters to compare him with our present chief executive, who took advantage of family connections to keep his ass out of harm's way during the war. What's interesting is the method of attack, and the seamless ideology that underlies it.

On Jan. 21, the Tampa Weekly Planet published an article by Kevin Griffis,

"Dead in Dixie: Why the Southern Man Don't Need Democrats Around." And just a week ago, Robert Reich had a long op-ed in the New York Times, "The Dead Center," which covered much the same ground.

It's all pretty familiar. The GOPsters have captured America's essential symbols (the pledge of allegiance, the flag, the self-reliant individual, the military, the right to bear arms, marriage, the family and Christianity). So the Dems, so angrily anti-Republican, are clearly against God, guns, marriage and the pledge -- not to mention being for gays, flag-burning, high taxes and lots of other bad stuff. As Griffis points out, when right-wing talk show hosts rant about government spending, their listeners understand the message. Listen to Blairsville, Ga., resident Carlton Sparks, 47: "They's always someone on the side that's going to get their pockets lined. They's always a minority group or whatever that deserves this other chance." It doesn't occur to Sparks, or to millions of Southern and Western white men and women, that the Republican Party, and by extension America itself, has been hijacked by a corporatist oligarchy that manipulates the symbols of nationhood for its own ends.

And who are the new oligarchs? Are we talking about a few dozen moguls who give Dick Cheney orders at an "undisclosed location"? Nope -- nowadays, there are millions of 'em.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington, the top 1 percent of taxpayers reported an average income of $1.1 million a year. That's about a million people. To that million, add another million folks with multimillion-dollar net worths who reported less than a million in income.

These are the folks who, overwhelmingly, fund Republican campaigns. Their money funds the whole sleek structure of today's GOP -- the "independent" think tanks like the Heritage Institute, the cleverly distorted mailings that attack Democratic candidates, the president's $200 million war chest. They run major corporations and control most media outlets.

Like members of the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union, they both run the country and benefit disproportionately from the country's productive capacity. They live longer, pay lower taxes, get better healthcare, and make the rules that the rest of us live by.

As Fitzgerald remarked in The Great Gatsby, "The very rich are different from you and me." He was right -- their interests may be different from ours. The investor wants his/her stocks to go up, the businessperson wants lower costs and better margins, and the real-estate developer wants less regulation and lower fees.

To please investors, companies export jobs overseas and relocate factories in low-wage countries. To please business, the national government soft-pedals workplace safety regulations, and keeps wages low by allowing millions of undocumented workers to enter the country. And to please developers, local governments (our City Council!) extend de facto subsidies in the form of higher taxes and utility rates.

No fools, our homegrown oligarchs! Like Soviet communists, they want an undemanding, hard-working, credulous, deeply patriotic and politically naive population that acknowledges and legitimizes the superiority of the ruling class. And like the Soviets, they've tried to harness nationalism and idealism to serve their own ends.

And you know what? It looks like they've succeeded.

As Lincoln didn't say: You can fool most of the people most of the time, and get rich doin' it.

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