Mary Pitt: The Princes Of Privilege
The Princes Of Privilege
by Mary Pitt
Over the past few decades, it appears that the American people are, more and more, turning to people of great wealth to fill positions of leadership and those electees are busily engaged in disconnecting the control of our lives from our individual rights to make our own decisions. Is it our own captivity in the world of make-believe that is brought upon us by our obsession with movies and television with the stories about the extremely rich and the building up of these celebrities to super-human status? Or are we so consumed by our own ambitions to join them in their peccadilloes that we aspire to become like them? The fact is that, too often, the people who are elected on this basis have absolutely no concept of the wants, needs, and desires of the common, middle-class, working American. These sons of high society are brought up in a lifestyle similar to that of the Princes of Saud, never needing, never wanting, and totally convinced that they are entitled to the instant fulfillment of their every whim. Their attitudes toward the "rabble" in the streets in similar to that of the late, un-lamented Marie Antoinette, whose memory lives through the ages for having said, "Let them eat cake!" They view the poor as less than human, literally beasts of burden, and despise the concept of labor unions as an effort by these non-humans to extort from them their God-given lucre.
These princes, (and princesses) are, for the most part, the scions of the wealthiest families in the history of mankind, having, in most cases, inherited great wealth and power from some ancestor who gained it by good fortune or by taking unfair advantage of their fellow man. They have had the advantage of the finest schools and family connections to help them at every turn. If they fail, it's no real problem. Their family and friends will come through, bail them out, and set them back on the path to success. Others may have clawed their way up the ladder of financial success by adroit use of their intelligence, their innate gift of gab, and the judicious use of the backs of others as stepping stones. In most cases, their smartest move has been to run for public office for, once there, they have tapped into the money machine. While the law proscribes the taking of gifts, ways are found of transgressing against those regulations and becoming very wealthy while in office as well as having a choice of very remunerative occupations waiting in the wings when their career "in public service" is completed. Anyone with knowledge of the people who are and have been in government will be able to add names to each of these lists.
This was brought home to the ordinary citizen when President George W. Bush announced the nomination of John Roberts, jr., to a seat on the Supreme Court. In this introduction he stated that Judge Roberts had "worked summers in a steel mill" while attending his Ivy League college. This conjured up, for most of us, an image of a poor teen-aged boy, stripped to the waist, rag tied around his head so as not to be blinded by his own perspiration, laboring in the heat of a blast furnace for the wages he needed in order to complete his education. Not so! His father was the CEO of the steel company and his summer job was quite likely in the air-conditioned office headquarters. He attended a posh boarding school until becoming eligible for Harvard and never had to work in order to continue his education or for any other reason except that he needed something to do. The real job that awaited him was a step that was already half-way up the ladder to power and even more wealth.
Of course, this was impressive to President Bush. After all, he claims to be a Texas oil man and a rancher. Now, as any Texan knows, there are two kinds of oil men, the ones who sit in an office and make deals, breaking a sweat only when it is necessary to go out in the summer heat to check on the progress of the workers or to play a round of golf, and the kind who are out in the fields, running the drilling rigs, doing the heavy lifting and risking life and limb in the operation of the heavy equipment. There are also two kinds of ranchers, the kind who work the soil to grow crops and cattle and the kind who sit on their front porch, overlooking a few thousand acres, while someone else does all the work. Since President Bush didn't own a ranch until after he became Governor, it is plain which kind he is, despite his annual photo-op "cuttin' brush". If he were a real rancher, that brush simply would no longer be there to cut, having been totally eradicated as a nuisance and an eyesore.
Of course, there are many more "Princes of Privilege" in the halls of government who were not born "filthy rich" but arrived there as the result of opportunism which allowed them to amass sufficient financial fortunes to claim a place at the hog trough. By a handsome appearance, a gift of gab, or outstanding performance in the field of sport, they were able to persuade party bosses of their fitness to occupy those hallowed halls. Once ensconced, the road to riches was wide open and there was no speed limit. It is needless to say that there will never, short of a revolutionary event, be any laws or regulations to stop this climb of the greedy into power, and rarely in the very good memory of a senior citizen has there been an exception to the basic rule of government: Money is power.
There have been some outstanding Presidents in modern times who were not hampered by their money or their lack of it. Chronologically, they began with Franklin Roosevelt, born of privilege and reared in the luxury of the time, with one exception. His long siege of illness and rehabilitation from the effects of polio served to demonstrate to his young mind the fact that illness, pain, and death do not discriminate between rich and poor. As wealthy as he had always been and despite the fact that he knew no other life, he had a feeling for the ills of the people and was determined to alleviate the poverty which was overwhelming them at the time he came to office. Many of the social programs that exist today were established for that purpose.
Harry Truman, on the other hand, had never been a rich man nor did he ever become one. He was a simple country boy who entered the army in World War I as a private and fought in the trenches in France. Upon returning home, he opened a haberdashery shop in Kansas City which catered to the wealthy politicians and businessmen until friends convinced him to run for public office. He went reluctantly and never lost his humble demeanor nor his understanding of the plight of the poor and downtrodden. Becoming President upon the death of Roosevelt, he did a workmanlike job and then happily went back to his original home where he dwelt happily with his beloved Bess, becoming the epitome of what a President should be. He must have been the example to which Tip O'Neal referred in his advice to young politicians, "Never forget who you are, where you came from, or who sent you here."
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a general in the mold of Washington. He served admirably in two wars and was looking forward to a well-deserved retirement when he left the service, accepting a postion as a college president which well suited his ambitions. After years of being pursued by both parties, he finally consented to run for President and was elected overwhelmingly by a grateful nation. We would do well to re-read his statements about the danger of the military-industrial complex and the havoc they could wreak upon our hapless nation. (Current events have totally borne out his opinion.) Upon his retirement from public service, he went back to the life he had before he yielded to the pleas of a healing nation. His life was, indeed, one that was dedicated to the service of God and Country.
John Kennedy, too was very rich, but he was brought up in a deeply religious family that stressed social responsibilty, a love for humanity and the out-of-doors, and a sense of obligation in gratitude for their good fortune. In addition, the loss of a brother in the war and the struggles of a handicapped sister served to convince him that wealth is no insulation from tragedy. Though his regime was short, his protection of the environment as well as his work for equal rights for all have yet to be undone by his opponents.
And, lastly, there was Jimmy Carter. From financially comfortable, yet not wealthy parents, he was actually a peanut farmer who really worked in the fields from childhood. He was not, by nature, a politician and so was not very good at it, In truth, he may not have been a very good President but none will deny that he is a good man and he was a true representative of the people. He left his home, went to Washington, did his best, and then returned to his home to continue doing what he had always done, helping people. His work with Habitat for Humanity is legend as is his work as a "diplomat at large" anywhere in the world where people are suffering or peace is threatened.
In the upcoming Congressional elections as well as the one for President in 2008, we should look well at the potential candidates for the qualities of these four men, for any lesser person cannot preside over the restoration of our democracy and the peace and freedom for which we have always hungered. We must not be swayed by dirty tricks or bowled over by a savvy media campaign. We must look at the qualities of the real person behind the media hype and the religious squabbles. We must ask ourselves not where but how they were brought up, what their personal goals in life may be, and insofar as possible, their motives in aspiring for higher office. Do they have a feel for the common people? Do they, in fact, even know any common people other than as servants or supplicants? Do they aspire to the job because of a devotion to serve the country or simply as a valuable career step?
If one recalls carefully their history books, one would be reminded that George Washington was reluctant to become President because he felt "unworthy" and he helped to shape the Constitution and the laws to carefully limit the powers of the office. Later Presidents were similarly humble in accepting the position, Eisenhower so much so that he initiated and shepherded to its passage the Constitutional amendment which prohibits a President from serving more than two terms. So now we have a President who said that his job would be "easier" if he were a dictator and has proceeded to act as if he were and the Republican Congress who have assisted in that ambition.
We are running out of time. We must not be impressed by hero worship for someone rich and handsome. We must look behind the custom-made suits and the beneficent aspect which they have so carefully cultivated to discover the snake-oil salesman behind their facade. We must also insist that every eligible voter must vote and that, having voted, their votes must be accurately and fairly counted. And every American citizen worthy of the title must study the candidates in light of their true characters and personal ambitions and put aside considerations of their appearance, their wealth, their promises, or their political affiliations. It will not be easy to put aside our old habits, our prejudices and and all the old biases, but it is necessary for the good of the nation and we must do it. It's the American way! \