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Shucks! No Battle of the Billionaires?
March 10, 2016
Well, it could have been fun. Bloomberg said he might run for President on his own, especially if the nominees were Trump and Sanders. But now he ways he won’t because if he did, Trump would be elected. Think of what a show it might have been! Two financial titans throwing money at each other in whatever quantities they wanted! Political TV commercials all day every day! Neither candidate would have anything to lose, because if he didn’t get to be President he could buy some small nation and appoint himself King.
Of course, some people think the election is a battle of billionaires anyway, especially since the Citizens United case allows the super rich to spend as much as they want backing a candidate through Super PACs. But I question that. I like to say that if you think money can buy an election, ask President Mitt Romney. And everybody’s favorite political villains, the Koch brothers, are conspicuously not backing anyone in the Republican primaries and are known to have a particular distaste for Trump. It remains to be seen whether they will ultimately put big money behind the nominee, but so far the big political fundraising story in the presidential campaigns this year is not about billionaire donors but about the big money raised from small contributors by the Sanders campaign.
The whole issue of personal wealth and politics reminds me of something else I have been pondering lately. Why do some rich people appeal to American voters even though others repel them? Nelson Rockefeller never got the presidential nomination because his last name meant “robber baron” to many people. And yet Franklin Roosevelt, also from a very wealthy American family, was elected President four times. John Kennedy was a popular hero in spite of allegations that a lot of his family’s money came from bootlegging during prohibition, but Romney’s wealth was widely resented even though legally acquired. And now the Koch brothers are probably the most unpopular billionaires while Donald Trump has broad support, largely from people who are anything but affluent. What makes the difference between evil wealth and loveable wealth, between the beautiful rich and the ugly rich?
I think it comes down to whether someone with money appears to care about the rest of us, or only about his or her well-heeled social circle. I say appears, because appearance is what counts and it does not necessarily reflect reality. FDR had that appearance fairly easily because his New Deal programs were perceived as benefitting the common man rather than the rich. JFK’s New Frontier was pretty much the same, plus his personal charisma made people trust him. And his gesture of giving his salary to charity had great symbolic appeal. Trump is different. He appears to care about people who feel disenfranchised by presenting himself as somehow an outsider too. As intelligent and educated as he is, his speech sounds more barroom than Ivy League. He has actually sold courses on how to get rich the same way he did, and his campaign seems to be promising that when he makes America great again we will all have a chance to do just that.
It occurs to me, right here at the end, that although this is my second post in a row about politics, it also pertains to my pet theme of transcending boundaries. In this case, boundaries of class. In America class mostly equates to money, and I have been writing about the political significance of having it or not having it. If someday we can really transcend class, perhaps differences in wealth, great or small, will not be a factor in elections. Time will tell. But I will sign off with something that I can absolutely guarantee: my next blog post will contain absolutely no reference to Donald Trump!