Columns 2008

The rich are so different

Here’s how it works in my world. If I want renovations done on my home, I call a contractor. I tell him exactly what I want. He provides an estimate. I gulp and realize once again that my wallet and dreams live in two different zip codes. I reassess my wants. He renegotiates his costs. I give him a down payment. He starts work. He bills me periodically throughout the job. I pay the bills. When it’s done, we shake hands…assuming we are still talking to each other at that point, which is usually six months later than estimated…and go our separate ways.

This is apparently how it’s done if you are a powerful politician. Your house gets renovated. No estimate is given. You don’t really have to pay at any specific time. In fact, you actually have to OFFER to pay your contractor because he’s just not all that sure that he shouldn’t be paying you for the privilege of working on your house. He’s so privileged to be doing this that a year later he goes back and adds a deck, much to your complete surprise.

Here’s another way it works in my world. If I need money, I get in my car, go to the ATM, pray to god I have enough cash to make a withdrawal, punch in my code and hold my breath until the money comes out. Despite being one darn important person in the lives of my birds and dogs, I am forced to do these menial tasks myself. In fact, I even have to walk my own dogs and pick up their leavings all by myself.

But apparently if you are the wife of a powerful senator, you get his aides as your personal errand people so that you never have to dirty your fingertips by punching in your PIN or picking up your dog’s poop. It’s not that I don’t think the wife of a powerful senator doesn’t deserve to have the services of all the aides she can afford. Heck, I don’t particularly care if she hires an aide willing to loofah her back in the shower. Her money, her choice. But I do find myself drawing the line at the idea that someone being paid for by my tax dollars to assist my senator in his responsibilities to my country and state is acting as a personal servant for his wife.

The trend nowadays seems to be to accept that when you elect someone, you get the spouse as a twofer deal whether you want it or not. And not only do you get the spouse, but you get to give that spouse office space and personal assistants based simply on their choice of marriage partner.  Something is seriously wrong with that.

Robert Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, was on the Daily Show last week being quizzed about the recent massive Wall Street bail out package that should bankrupt our children and their children and their children’s children for generations yet to come. When asked why we had to do this, he commented that the official explanation was about the need to keep banks fluid and the market healthy or we would all suffer. Then he offered the truest statement I have heard about the financial crisis to date. He said the truth was that in American we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.

It seems that in America today, the rich and powerful get to “offer” to pay their bills as though this were an optional issue. They get to use public servants for personal errands. They spend our national income like drunken sailors on shore leave knowing that us poor capitalists at the bottom of the food chain will bail them out. They get to do all this on the premise that we are docile sheep who will gratefully take whatever pittance trickles down to us.

There was another era in history like this once.  A famous woman of that era was heard to mutter, when told the poor could no longer afford bread, “Let them eat cake”. Well, here’s a fair warning to the rich and powerful. I’m down to my last Twinkie. And you really don’t want to see what happens when that’s gone.