Stop Picking on the Poor Plutocrats

I stopped by a corporate chain bookstore this week and checked out the “Current Affairs” section. I was a little surprised to discover that according to a dozen or more books dominating the display we are all under a vicious life-and-death assault from a raving, drooling mob of communist devils led by that well-known pinko guerrilla Barack Obama.

Of course, further investigation tends to reveal that the crimes of this mythical nouveau-Soviet assault by Democrats in D.C. are a combination of tasks performed for their masters on Wall Street and tasks they would never perform even under enhanced interrogation technique. The Obama-gang of rabid leftists stands accused of bailing out banksters and mega corporations, as of course they have eagerly done, just as have their Republican partners in crime. And they stand accused of taxing the rich and cutting the military while providing healthcare, education, retirement security, renewable energy, and affordable housing to the least well-off among us, as of course they will do the day Newt Gingrich turns monogamous.

I’ve just read a forthcoming book whose publisher I doubt will pay to place it in prominent display among the breathless coverage of the coming commie apocalypse. It’s called “Pity the Billionaire” by Thomas Frank. On its surface, the book is a rather blatant argument for self-publishing, since the delay that traditional publishers create has rendered the book out-of-date before it’s publication. Frank’s book treats the Tea Party as the latest thing and has never heard of Occupy.

In the dated world of “Pity the Billionaire” an explanation is sought precisely for the absence of something like Occupy, as well as for the bizarre presence of the Tea Party:

“Now, There is nothing really novel about the idea that free markets are the very essence of freedom. What is new is the glorification of this idea at the precise moment when freemarket theory has proven itself to be a philosophy of ruination and fraud. The revival of the Right is as extraordinary as it would be if the public had demanded dozens of new nuclear power plants in the days after the Three Mile Island disaster; if we had reacted to Watergate by making Richard Nixon a national hero.”

Frank compares the response to the crash of 1929 with the response to our latest Great Recession and suggests that, “should you happen to hear an homage to the spirit of the Boston Tea Party nowadays, the demands that follow will be the opposite of those striking farmers of 1932. What makes the rebel’s blood boil today is not the plight of the debtor but the possibility that such ‘losers’ might escape their predicament — that the government might step in and do the things those Iowa farmers wanted it to do eighty years ago.”

Frank dissects the incredible inversions of fact and logic that constitute the victimology of the meritocratic victors of the Ayn Randian, Glenn Beckian Tea Party mythology. But he concludes the book with this sentiment:

“It is preposterous. It is contemptible. But you know what it’s better than? It’s better than nothing. . . . The real tragedy of the Great Recession is that moneyed interests no longer have anything to fear from us, and they know it.”

Arguably that has changed in the past few months, and there is potential for greater change to come in this regard. If the Occupy movement did not exist, we would have to invent it. Frank, writing when it did not yet exist, was pointing out the need for its invention. Talking to the media in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., some weeks back, the most interesting interviews for me were those with Northern European journalists who would ask me with sheer bewilderment to explain the phenomenon of people demonstrating to demand that they not be provided with healthcare. These reporters did not ask why our country lacked any popular movement for peace, justice, and the social good. It was too late to ask that long-standing and most vexing of questions.

But what the next several months will bring is anyone’s guess. The analysis Frank provides of the Fox News fantasy of noble entrepreneurs victimized by the Socialist State will remain valuable regardless. But it may continue to require contextualizing in a country with a healthy and active resistance movement from the left. Or, on the other hand, it may appear perfectly up-to-date and immediately applicable to everything around us. After all, this is an election year. After 10 months of election obsession and lesser-evilism, this place could look more or less the way it would have had Occupy never arisen.

That situation would leave us with no option but to confront this question, which we ought to come to an understanding of regardless, the question of why people would expend energy to urge each other to pity billionaires.

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