Billionaires and the Decline of American Politics

Sunday, October 17, 2010

scroogemcduck In all the coverage of the miracle rescue of the Chilean miners, one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned much is that President Piñera is a billionaire, one of the richest men in Chile.

Imagine if this was the U.S. and something really terrible happened. Let’s say there was a hurricane that hit New Orleans, or there was an oil spill in the gulf. If a U.S. President dashes to the site, and dedicates his attention every step of the way, he would be attacked from the moment of his arrival. No matter what happened, it would be spun into a negative by the opposition. In our current political/media culture, it would be exactly as if he was the one who caused the hurricane or the oil spill. To keep from committing political suicide he would need to keep a certain distance from something that nobody knew how to fix.

Fear drives all of current American politics. On the most obvious level, politicians use terrorism to manipulate voters, and fears about financial security make tax cuts and deficits into emotional buttons. But these uses of fear are just instruments of the actual fear, the terror politicians have of being out of office. So they pander to those who can give them the money to keep them there--the corporations, the unions, the churches, and the haters. They gerrymander. They think twice about taking actions that would look too good on an attack ad. As we have seen with John McCain, they will say and do practically anything, no matter how deplorable and against the principles they have fought for their whole lives, to hold onto power. Of course there are exceptions like my one-time Sunday School classmate Russ Feingold. Good luck to ya, Russ!

So who can afford to do and say what they really want to? Gazillionaires like Mayor Bloomberg, that’s who. He’s a Republican who stands up to the gun lobby, supports the right to abortion, has taken strong action on global warming, opposes the death penalty, thinks that illegal immigrants should be given permanent status, supports stem cell research and gay marriage, passionately supports the Muslim Community Center, and when asked if he smoked marijuana, said, “You bet I did. I enjoyed it!” Even if you think he went to far with his TransFat ban, smoking-in-restaurant ban, or muscling himself into a third term, you have to admit he knows how to get what he wants. Compare his political career to the dysfunction that permeates national American politics.

Bloomberg is relatively free from the predations of the corporations, the unions, and the special interest groups. If he’s gung ho Wall Street it’s because he’s gung ho Wall Street, not because he has his hand out for their money. What you see is what you get.

Even though I’m an admirer of Mayor Bloomberg, I find this absolutely terrifying.


To return to President Piñera for a moment, Wikipedia points out that “despite much goodwill in Chile following the mining rescue many Chileans are still waiting for him to rectify anti-terrorism laws in Chile which effectively mean the indigenous Mapuche people can be dealt with as "terrorists." This matter has led to hunger strikes which started before the mining disaster, and are set to continue afterwards.”