Jeff Greene, the billionaire and failed Florida Democratic Senate candidate, says if the rich don’t shape up and ditch their greedy ways, the proletariat’s going to make sure they have another thing coming:
“Now I appeal to them selfishly,” he says. “ ‘Don’t you realize that if you don’t take care of this kid when they are 10 years old, you’ll take care of them when they are 20 and 100 instead? We just have to pay a little more taxes. It’s not going to kill us. You buy car insurance. Why not buy some democracy insurance?’ People think that Obama is this leftist, socialist guy,” he says. “But I don’t think they understand what people can go for when they are at the end of their line.”
He takes a sharp right and points out a mossy dock surrounded by toys. “Speedboat, Jet-Skis, little inflatable boat,” he recites. “Ducks!” We chug up the driveway to the main house. It’s surprisingly modest, given the property, but then people used to live differently. He and Mei-Sze plan on rebuilding as soon as they are done with their renovation in Palm Beach. He’s not sure what he wants it to look like, but one thing is likely: The new property will have gates. “You’re in Palm Beach, you’re in the Hamptons, you think you’re so secure,” Greene says. “Do you really think if you had 50,000 angry people coming across the river, you think you’re safe?” (New York)
There are few things more repugnant than watching a billionaire argue for higher taxes — the most political ones tend to hail from the class of businessperson for whom Barack Obama’s observation that “you didn’t get there on your own” is largely true. The classic bootlegger-baptist Warren Buffett, who bought a $3 billion stake in GE just before the TARP vote, is heavily invested in the heavily-subsidized and monopolistic energy sector, and his renewable energy companies made millions off DoE loan guarantees. In total, as reported by Peter Schweitzer in Throw Them All Out, Berkshire Hathaway firms received $95 billion in bailout money from TARP. When Buffett speaks, one is never sure whose interests he has in mind.
Though it’s easy to dismiss Greene as an apocalyptic buffoon, the wealthy audience he’s pitching to might find his new rhetorical tack a bit more convincing, or at least more honest. Gilded-Age appeals to common humanity are ditched in favor of raw historical inevitability; at a certain point the world becomes too unequal and God help you if you’re caught holding the bag when the hungry masses come to collect. It’s as if he’s internalized the new Batman film. Perhaps some critical theorist could explain to me how a billionaire adopting a Marxist historical dialectic is some kind of peculiar attribute of late capitalism, but until then let’s just call it a guilty conscience, or noblesse oblige with violent undertones.
Appropriating guilt as a political tool is as old as the agora, and surely bipartisan. This new RNC ad in particular is hip to the politics of remorse:
Last week Jonathan Capehart warned that the Democratic Party should be very worried about the ad’s line of argument:
Throughout Obama’s presidency, folks have complained that they are branded racist if they disagree with anything he says or does. And it doesn’t help matters that some of President Obama’s most ardent supporters have done exactly that. That’s why the “it’s okay to make a change” ad is so dangerous for Obama’s reelection efforts. It gives those few yet undecided voters the pass they might be looking for to vote against Obama. So squawk all you want about the unfairness of that “you didn’t build it” ad that has been knocking the president around the last few weeks. It’s the “it’s okay to make a change” message that the campaign needs to counter as aggressively as the RNC is pushing it.
Notice how Greene nor the RNC actually indict the perfidy of the upper class or the poor judgment of Obama voters. That would be too off-putting.