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Understanding America's Class System

By       Message Joe Bageant     Permalink
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How about them political elites, huh? Five million bucks for Chelsea Clinton's wedding, 15K just to rent the air-conditioned sh*tters -- huge chrome and glass babies with hot water and everything. No gas masks and waxy little squares of toilet paper for those guys.

Yes, it looks big time from the cheap seats. But the truth is that when we are looking at the political elite, we are looking at the dancing monkey, not the organ grinder who calls the tune. Washington's political class is about as upwardly removed from ordinary citizens as the ruling class is from the political class. For instance, they do not work for a living in the normal sense of a job, but rather obtain their income from abstractions such as investment and law, neither of which ever gave anybody a hernia or carpal tunnel. By comparison, the ruling class does not work at all.

Moneywise, Washington's political class is richer than the working class by the same orders of magnitude as the ruling class is richer than the political class. This gives the political class something to aim for. To that end, they have adopted the ruling elite's behaviors, tastes and lifestyles, with an eye on becoming members. Moreover, it is a molting process that begins with the right university and connections, and culminates in flying off to Washington with the rest of your generation's most privileged and ambitious young moths.

They make enough dough to at least fake it until they make it. Fifty-one of the 100 members of the US Senate are at the very least millionaires -- probably more than that, since multi-million million dollar residences and estates are exempt from the official tally. For instance in the House, Nancy Pelosi's net worth is either $13 million, or $92 million, depending upon who is counting. Why they bother to shave such large numbers is a mystery. Thirteen million, ninety two million, the difference is not gonna change our opinion of Nancy. Our opinion being that the broad is loaded. More than loaded. The comparatively poor members of Congress, like Barney Frank, are near millionaires. His publicly declared net worth is $976,000. For the life of me, I cannot see how they get by.

Along with the habits, the political class adopts the ruling class's social canon and presumptions, especially the one most necessary for acceptance: That the public has the collective intelligence of a chicken. OK, so it may be very hard to disprove that at the moment, but we must maintain at least some egalitarian semblance here. Anyway, as a group, the political elites think, look and act alike, and act toward their own interests. That makes them a class.

Screw the proles, just count the money

This political class stands between all of us down here and the tiny minority in the ruling class waaaaaay up there, wherever the hell up there is. No use to squint. You can't see it from where we are. That comes in mighty handy in denying the existence of a ruling class.

On the other hand, you do not need to see an egg-sucking dog in action to know what to expect -- or not to expect. The track record of the political class is an open book. As the layer of millionaires buffering the elites who pay for their campaigns, they've done their jobs. They approved the Bush administration's massive tax cut for the rich. They dropped the per-child tax credit for families with incomes less than $20,000. They "reformed" prescription drugs right out of Medicare. They reformed health care into hundreds of billions of increased profits for the insurance industry.

However, the American political class' finest moment came in September 2008 when the financial greed machinery of American investment houses went t*ts up. The Republican and Democratic parties, major corporations, and manufacturers of US opinion came together in one of the greater bipartisan efforts in modern US history. There was nothing to do, they all agreed, but buy up $700 billion in "toxic asset" investments. "Otherwise," they prophesied, the world would end. Meaning that the ongoing national Ponzi scheme they have always sold to the American people as the US economy, would finally crash.

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And in case there were any skeptics out there among the unwashed, the public was reminded just how much they stood to lose -- which was everything. Deep in the boiler room, the Goldman Sachs black bag crew had wired up the "economy" with enough explosive "financial instruments" to take out every working mook's home, or retirement savings, which the medical industry was already sucking up at an alarming rate. Something had to be done before the health care industry got it all, and repo the family ride.

Yessiree, it was gonna be a "systemic collapse," by god, and if you needed proof, just look at the way both George Bush and Barack Obama agreed that some American corporations were too big to let sink, therefore it was time for the public to start bailing out the boat. Meanwhile, the royal economists were unanimous in that this "rescue" was going to require another 10 trillion bucks somewhere down the pike -- a very short pike. So it must all be damned serious and we gotta do this thing. Right folks?

In an unusual display of common sense, the American public said "Bullshit," by margins of three or four to one, depending upon region. That did not bother political and economic elites much. What the f*ck do the proles know anyway?

Then, in midstream, the political and economic owning classes switched horses, after realizing there was more gravy for the kingpins in buying up banks and big industries. It was unconstitutional, but what the hell, that's what Supreme Courts are for. The proles mumbled and peered into their TV sets for explanations that never came.

Of course, partisan opposition being what it is these days -- a blood-soaked ditch of snarling hyenas -- Obama's election meant the GOP needed to denounce the new Democratic president for display purposes. Or at least sh*t in the Oval Office, and then blame him. So most Republicans holding office in 2008 were forced to argue publicly against "troubled asset relief," "stimulus packages," and the huge bailouts. Besides, somebody had to unfurl the motley banner of a "self balancing free market," at least widely enough for the GOP to hide behind in the back room where the real deals are always cut. The place where the weapons companies propose systems, using congressional representatives and generals as sales reps. Where it is understood that, as John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out near the end of his life, when it was safe to tell the truth, "stockholders are just appendages, someone to hold the bag for the corporations, and stocks are just gambling chips for hedge funds and Wall Street," and for the suckers who think they can actually outwit High Frequency Trading -- a.k.a. High Speed Fraud. (Thanks to reader Brent B. for sending me that one).

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Ah, but I have digressed. What else is new? The main thing is that the smoke has now cleared, the money is in ruling class coffers, and a spin the bottle game for a few prosecutions is underway to entertain the crowd for the next few years. Public burnings in the national town square of media always draw a crowd.

Bwaaaaaa! Obama won't let us play

Fortunately, for both parties, there is no such thing as an American political memory. That Lindsay Lohan dated fellow rehab client, snowboarder Riley Giles, yes, that can be remembered. That the Republicans signed off on similar, if smaller giveaways under Pappy Bush and Clinton -- well, that may as well be ancient Egyptian history. So is the fact that the both parties forced banks to make high rate home loans to people who people who did not qualify, because the inflated home values during the expanding bubble would make billions for big investors who knew when to get out. Should they stay too long at the fair and go bust, they would set up the howl of "too big to fail." The administration, which has no more a clue to what makes the economy tick, would then rush them pallets of money. That's what a banker calls a win-win situation: when the banker holds both ends of a winning deal.

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Joe Bageant is the author of a forthcoming book from Random House Crown about working class America, scheduled for Spring 2007 release. A complete archive of his online work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class (more...)

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