It used to bother me to see immensely wealthy people use their money to bankroll their political ambition. But lately I have seen the light.
It’s true, of course: there are problems when the hyper-rich win elections by their own money. The very rich, as Fitzgerald and Hemingway agreed, are different from you and me – they have more money. Moreover, the very wealthy tend to pal around mostly with the very wealthy, which means they are less likely to understand or even give a damn about the problems of everyone else. And because they don’t have to struggle to win primaries, they have much less need to demonstrate the qualities that make for electoral success or accomplishment in office, like intelligence, imagination, or charisma. It’s not that they can’t possess those qualities (think of the Roosevelts), but rather that they do not need to demonstrate them to rise to the top of the heap, so the odds that a very wealthy candidate will also be an attractive candidate are less than they would be for someone who had to prove him- or herself.
And besides, if it comes to be the norm that wealth equates to electability, the claim that America is a country in which any child can become president will become even less plausible than it currently is.
And yes, there is something a little distasteful about the idea that the best and greatest gifts a democracy has to bestow are being lavished on plutocrats to use as baubles and toys – the equivalent of the Lear jet or the mega-mansion, or perhaps the $10,000 shower curtain.
So there are plenty of good reasons to bemoan the ascent of the Bloombergs, the Corzines, the Cecchis, and yes, the Whitmans of our times. But there is a bright side.
It is said that Meg Whitman has already spent about $70 million of her own fortune, with the primary still in the future, and has agreed to spend up to $150 million if she becomes the Republican candidate. Before she entered the race, that $150 million was all hers – in her possession, doing no one else any good. Now it is being spread around, trickling down to party operatives, TV network affiliates, advertising agencies, spin doctors, image sculptors, speechwriters, political consultants, and on and on – folks much more like you and me, at least in that none of them is likely to have $150 million to play with. So that $150 mil has become redistributed. Meg Whitman, ace Republican, has become a leading advocate – not only in words, but deeds – of wealth redistribution. That means – if I follow the arguments of our conservative friends – that she has become a Communist, and of course anyone who votes for her is thereby also a Communist. (And the same is true, needless to say, of anyone who votes for candidates of immense wealth who are using that wealth to bankroll their candidacies.)
While I am not now and never have been a Communist (my Socialist parents would have disowned me), I find this new form of wealth redistribution very attractive.