The disdain of the upper classes

Better it is to die, better to starve,
Than crave the hire which first we do deserve.
Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here,
To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear,
Their needless vouches? Custom calls me to't:
What custom wills, in all things should we do't,
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
And mountainous error be too highly heapt
For truth to o'er-peer. Rather than fool it so,
Let the high office and the honour go
To one that would do thus. I am half through;
The one part suffer'd, the other will I do.

                                                Coriolanus, Act 2, Scene 3
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's lesser known works. It's a story of a Roman war hero who finds it debasing to canvass for votes among the plebs to advance his political career. The "rabble" is roused against him, he defects to the enemy, and hence springs the tragedy.

Now, in Elizabethan times, democracy wasn't a word used with reverence. One of the points of politics was to keep the ruling class in power, and the vast majority of people firmly subjected to it. And the play makes it clear that Coriolanus is to be commended for his disdain of the commoners. His tragic flaw was to allow his pride to push him to turn traitor, not that he held the Roman voter in low regard.

Fortunately, we've advanced a bit since them; but, at present, we have a candidate running for President who shares Coriolanus' disregard for the bulk of voters.

In Mitt Romney we have a man who has never risked anything of value to him. Far from a self-made man, his wealth has supported him in all his endeavors. When he started Bain Capital, his contract explicitly shielded him from any risk of failure. He has a sense of entitlement which the US political scene hasn't witnessed since Richard Nixon—and at least Nixon came from humble beginnings. Romney comes from wealth, and used that inherited wealth to create more wealth for himself, while in many instances beggaring the companies that his firm invested in.

The ease with which Romney has lived his life filters to every aspect of his endeavors. And now it's part and parcel of his second run for the Presidency.

He finds it almost impossible to connect with ordinary Americans. He has no knowledge of the broader American culture. And he refuses to be questioned by anything but a friendly audience. Whether it's an awkward attempt to connect with Pennsylvanian culture, or ignoring reporters' questions from a rope line, or the infamous "pranks" of his formative years, Romney shows a cluelessness and meanness not common in Presidential politics, where even the most power-driven candidates can at least ape the normal platitudes.

He goes on no interview shows unless they're on Fox News. (Yes, he did appear on "Face the Nation" just recently, but somehow I think he won't repeat that feat.) He holds no press conferences where there would at least be the possibility of being subjected to questions that weren't softballs. He refuses to disclose his tax returns for any time beyond the past two years, flying in the face of American political custom, and something that his own father did in his run for the Presidency.

One is hard-pressed not to think that he is running for office simply because he feels it is due to him. It's his turn by right; the interloper currently occupying the Oval Office has to be expunged from memory.

But, he does have a purpose for running. It might not be his own purpose, but it is the one of those who back him. He isn't the only one who disdains the broad American electorate. Those who support him, like the Koch brothers, have a vision of America that is diametrically opposed to the one that has ruled the nation since the New Deal. They want to do away with that reality and create a new one. Or, rather, re-create the one that existed before—with almost no regulations, no social safety net, no expanded rights for citizens. Those who fund the majority of his campaign are of that class of people who see their prerogatives impinged upon by a society that insists on a basic level of fairness. They hide behind Jesus, but would probably have him murdered should he return and recommence preaching the Gospel of Love. Theirs is the gospel of selfishness, of scapegoating, of bigotry. They may be very pleasant to meet and talk with, but at heart there is a coldness there, a smug self-satisfaction that allows for no empathy towards those whom they see as beneath them. And it's with this sense of superiority that they beguile too many of our fellow citizens, people who will suffer just as much under a Romney presidency as would Obama supporters. People will vote against their interests if they feel they're part of an "in" group, superior to those they oppose.

It's this disdain we're fighting against. It's this disdain for the commonwealth that makes this year's election the most important since possibly that of 1932. There are two Americas competing to be born, one looking towards the future, and one desperately grasping for a long-gone past. I'm optimistic that the America we want will win out; but, like all births, it will be a struggle.


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