delusions of grandiosity: only the ultra-rich need apply

The rap sheet of wealthy wannabe politicians self-financing their own career ambitions reads like a bad stand-up routine for some struggling late night comic.

Heard about the California senatorial candidate who will “fight for every job”? As head of Hewlett-Packard, she laid-off 18,000 workers in 2003 alone. (Snare drum, cymbal hit.)

What about the senatorial candidate in Connecticut whose economic recovery plan “is backed by experience”? She made her money in professional wrestling. (Another drum, cymbal combo.)

And how about the candidate for governor of California who spent close to $25 million of his own money, but is still is losing in the polls? His opponent has spent close to $100 million of the cash she made as chief executive of eBay. (Drum. Cymbal. On and on and on.)

It would all be so ironically humorous if the circumstances weren’t so maddeningly dire. Can’t the wealthy just go off on their yachts, drinking martinis and making up words like “derivative” and leave everyone else in economically recessive peace? Are they collectively allergic to boredom? “Doing stuff is overrated,” noted slacker philosopher Dex in The Tao of Steve. “Like Hitler. He did a lot. But don’t we all wish he woulda just stayed home and gotten stoned?” 

As usual, the extremely affluent aren’t considering the needs of the majority of their fellow citizens, and instead are hatching (yet) a(nother) plot to take over the world, like The Brain of Animaniacs fame jacked up on the best cocaine money can buy.

What the world needs now … is not another billionaire political candidate.

But unfortunately, this election cycle, that’s exactly what we’re getting. “This year will certainly set a record for campaign cash spent by self-financed wealthy candidates,” predicts Sam Pizzigati in his recent Too Much post.

Not content to make their billions off of the recession, now the billionaire-politician-wannabes are coming home to roost, I mean, represent you.

Why make large, favor-inducing campaign contributions if you can just have a staff of full-time lobbyists? Why pay for lobbyists when you can just spend millions of dollars of your own money to become your own governor or senator, and personally oversee the policy-making (or lack thereof) that lined your pockets in the first place?

“Not everybody is hurting,” Socialist-Democrat/Independent Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in his recent column for The Nation. “While the middle class disappears and poverty increases, the wealthiest people in our country are not only doing extremely well, they are using their wealth and political power to protect and expand their very privileged status at the expense of everyone else.”

And in the recent New York Times piece, Michael Luo and Damien Cave note that, ironically, we should expect to see “More of the Rich Run as Populist Outsiders” this election cycle, as they report a laundry list of our nation’s wealthiest political aspirators.

The gubernatorial race in Florida features Columbia/HCA Healthcare’s top man Rick Scott, who has spent $20 million of his own money. Which is a decent sum of cash. But not nearly as much as the $1.7 billion in fines that his hospital chain paid “for fraudulently billing government programs like Medicare,” Cave and Luo report.

That’s the kind of leadership only money can buy.

Also in Florida, Jeff Greene is seriously challenging the senatorial race. Greene, aka the Meltdown Mogul, made “most of his fortune,” explain Luo and Cave, “from derivatives that let him profit from the collapse of subprime mortgages.” Greene contributed nearly $6 million of his own money to his own candidacy in the second quarter alone. But don’t feel too badly for him. He was granted “special status as an institutional investor, rather than an individual” by JPMorgan Chase & Company and Merrill Lynch. All while bragging on the campaign trail that he “went up against the big banks and won.”

Indeed he did.

But it’s not just Florida, of course. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, note Cave and Luo, “at least 42 House and Senate candidates … in 23 states [have] already donated $500,000 of their own money to their campaigns.”

Which is bad news for the entire country, because the financially privileged seem to suffer chronically from delusions of grandiosity. Wealthy folks, who habitually lead such privileged lives, are not innately qualified to make policy decisions that will greatly affect the lives of the majority of their (much more humble) citizens. While affluent politicians can be effective leaders, a larger bank account does not translate to increased understanding, nor does a bigger portfolio endow greater leadership skills. This is the American government, not the (bored) Board of Directors at the local country club.

Not that this stark political reality comes at any great surprise. “The 400 richest families in America,” Senator Sanders writes for The Nation, “have now accumulated $1.27 trillion in wealth. Four hundred families! … [And] while these enormously rich people became much richer, their effective tax rates were slashed almost in half.”

Which set the stage for today’s political-economic reality. A world where “last year, the top twenty-five hedge fund managers made a combined $25 billion,” continues Sanders, “but because of tax policy their lobbyists helped write, they pay a lower effective tax rate than many teachers, nurses and police officers.”

With so much undeserved extra cash lying around, how could you not run for office? Just to see what would happen? After all, what’s a few million, anyway?

Unbelievable, but true. This is the new economic reality of our dwindling “democratic” political system. Only the ultra-rich need apply.

And the more our political candidates fund their own campaigns in order to compete on a “level” playing field, the more out-of-touch our elected officials are sure to become.

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Lifestyle Economics

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