October 10, 2015
Pity the Quarter-Billionaire
Posted on Jan 8, 2012
By Thomas Frank, TomDispatch
Promethean Job Creators and Heroes of Venture Capital
You say Romney is an unprincipled faker. Fair enough—he is. He’s so plastic he’s almost animatronic. But have you looked in the mirror recently? Aren’t you the ones who fall for it every time Fox News wheels out some Washington hack to confuse this or that corporate issue with the sacred cause of freedom or states rights or man’s inalienable right to mine uranium in his backyard? Aren’t you the ones who thought that Glenn Beck’s tears were markers of emotional sincerity? And for Pete’s sake, your populist Tea Party movement was actually launched from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade!
I know, I know: for almost three years now you’ve dazzled the world with your proclamations that we’re being dragged into “tyranny,” that the country is being “destroyed,” that America needs to be “saved”—and now here comes Mitt, with his fondness for workaday compromise, ruining your carefully contrived atmosphere of panic.
That must be disappointing, but don’t lose the faith! Give the man credit: he has tried. He’s no stranger to the core Tea Party myth of the noble businessman persecuted by big government. Indeed, at the Conservative Political Action Congress in 2009, he opened his talk as a stand-up comic this way: “I gotta get through this speech before federal officials come here and arrest me for practicing capitalism.”
Square, Site wide
Meanwhile, he has the perfect Tea Party sense of social class. A centimillionaire who made his pile as a venture capitalist, Romney has both deplored class warfare—meaning, certain criticisms of Wall Street—and practiced it, taunting President Obama as a modern version of Marie (“let them eat cake”) Antoinette.
There’s no contradiction in any of this, either for him or you. When someone has made his way in life via academia, like the president, he is, of course, a snob, and part of the ruling elite. When, on the other hand, a person’s multi-millions were visited upon him by open-market actions directed from the C-suite, he is automatically a man of the people, a horny-handed son of toil. In fact, Romney takes this kind of market populism a step farther than you ordinarily dare: corporations, he has famously announced, are themselves people.
And keep in mind that, with Mitt Romney, venture capitalist, carrying your banner in 2012, you will finally get to submit your capsized vision of social class to the verdict of the people—the actual flesh-and-blood people, that is, not the corporate “people” who make up the S&P 500. You will get to defend exactly the sort of “person” your movement has longed to defend since it was birthed by a CNBC reporter almost three years ago to the cheers of a bunch of derivatives traders in Chicago.
You will get to explain your peculiar conviction that the way to react to a gigantic slump brought on by frenzied finance is to unshackle Wall Street. You will get to line up behind a heroic businessman, like those rugged, resourceful fellows in the Ayn Rand novels you love. You will get to go into battle for the job creators, which is what all capitalists are, right? (Well, okay, maybe not the guys at Bain Capital, the particular outfit where Romney made his pile, but the theory is all that really matters, isn’t it?)
Indeed, your leadership cadre is already playing up the inevitable criticisms of Romney as a job decimator as a way of launching a grand debate about capitalism—by which they mean, of course, freedom itself. When Newt Gingrich criticized Romney a few weeks ago for his career in private equity, the airwaves of your winger-tainment world exploded with outrage. “This is the kind of risk-taking, free-market capitalism that most people who call themselves conservatives applaud,” intoned Brit Hume on Fox News. If Newt had a problem with Bain’s operations, announced syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg, “then Gingrich really doesn’t believe in capitalism at all.”
Washington Post columnist George Will declared that what Romney did in his venture capitalist days was an “essential social function,” that his company was “indispensable for wealth creation.” (Just whose wealth was being created he left discreetly undefined.) Yaron Brook, head of the Ayn Rand Center and a familiar figure at Tea Party events, is no fan of Romney’s, but he had this to say about Romney’s career: “private equity serves an incredibly important productive function in our economy… Private equity is in my view a heroic activity.”
“Heroic”: that’s exactly the word! In Romney we have finally found a quarter-billionaire to cry for. And so Suzy Welch, author and wife of Jack, appeared on Fox Business to wonder why Romney wasn’t defending himself aggressively against criticism of his business career. Romney, she announced, is “an American hero to people who believe in free enterprise, or he should be.”
And that combination of tragedy and heroism, my friends, is why you will soon be signing up for the Romney juggernaut. In him you will see the saintly victimhood of Sarah Palin melded with the Promethean job-creator who was the cult object of your 2010 efforts. Social issues be damned! Romney will ensure that we get the one thing that this country can’t do without on its path to hell: further deregulation of Wall Street.
The nation’s all-powerful elitist socialists will, of course, disagree, and you’ll have a field day, raging and weeping at the way they are going to set out to persecute this noble, wealth-creating soul.
Pity the billionaire: it will be a powerful rallying cry for 2012.
Yours in petulant individualism,
Thomas Frank is the author of the just-published “Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right” (Metropolitan Books). He has also written “The Wrecking Crew,” “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” and several other abrasive volumes. He is the “Easy Chair” columnist for Harper’s Magazine and founding editor of The Baffler.
Copyright 2012 Tom Frank
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