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November 28, 2010

Rich on the Rich

Although I know that Frank Rich and I don't share the same הַשׁקַפָה (hashkafa: worldview, or perspective), I read his Sunday opinion piece because I like seeing how he weaves together the variety of events that take place over the course of the week. No other columnist tries to perform a similar feat. Often, this effort leads to some interesting insights by the sheer virtue of juxtaposing issues that may not apparently have much to do with one another.

Seeing Frank Rich's opinion piece in the Sunday NYT reminded me of the 2000 presidential election, during which the left declared that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. That view was based in the argument that both parties answer primarily to corporate money, and it became the foundation of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. After the election, some liberals were distraught that "Bush stole the election." Others, however, were angry at the left for supporting Nader, an act which led to a loss of votes for Al Gore.

Although I know that Frank Rich and I don't share the same הַשׁקַפָה (hashkafa: worldview, or perspective), I read his Sunday opinion piece because I like seeing how he weaves together the variety of events that take place over the course of the week. No other columnist tries to perform a similar feat. Often, this effort leads to some interesting insights by the sheer virtue of juxtaposing issues that may not apparently have much to do with one another.

Seeing Frank Rich's opinion piece in the Sunday NYT reminded me of the 2000 presidential election, during which the left declared that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. That view was based in the argument that both parties answer primarily to corporate money, and it became the foundation of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. After the election, some liberals were distraught that "Bush stole the election." Others, however, were angry at the left for supporting Nader, an act which led to a loss of votes for Al Gore.

Here again, today, we see a similar argument. Much of the political discourse in the mainstream media over the last month and a half - in anticipation of the midterm elections and then in the aftermath - lamented that the left is less inclined to support their man in the White House - O - than the right was when their man - W - was there. Rich's piece is an excellent example of just this.

He writes, "The story of recent corporate political donations — which we may never learn in its entirety — is just beginning to be told. Bloomberg News reported after Election Day that the United States Chamber of Commerce’s anti-Democratic war chest included a mind-boggling $86 million contribution from the insurance lobby to fight the health care bill...In a reportorial coup before Election Day, the investigative news organization ProPublica wrote of the similarly behind-closed-doors activities of the New Democrat Coalition — 'a group of 69 lawmakers whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists' makes them 'one of the most successful political money machines” since DeLay’s K Street Project collapsed in 2007. During the Congressional battle over financial-services reform last May, coalition members repaired to a retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to frolic with lobbyists dedicated to weakening the legislation."

On the one hand, one could commend Rich for not just being a party man: He gives it to the Republicans, and he gives it to the Democrats. But somehow, I get the sense not that he is independent and non-partisan but that he is above-it-all. I wonder why he and other liberal pundits haven't learned the danger of suggesting that Democrats and Republicans are both in the hands of corporate interests. All this argument does is alienate left-liberals from the Democratic party, weakening the party's overall chances of winning elections. The only benefit I can see is that it feeds one's sense of self-righteousness.

As if to ensure that left-liberals feel alienated from O, Rich reports, "Since the election, the Obama White House has sent signals that it will make nice to these [corporate] interests. While the president returns to photo ops at factories, Timothy Geithner has already met with the chamber’s board out of camera range."

I am sympathetic toward Rich's indignation regarding Wall Street. He writes, "Last week, as the Fed’s new growth projections downsized hope for significant decline in the unemployment rate, the Commerce Department reported that corporate profits hit a record high. Those profits aren’t trickling down into new jobs or into higher salaries for those not in the executive suites...Wall Street is already celebrating the approach of bonus season by partying like it’s 2007."

Furthermore, he quotes John Cassidy of The New Yorker: “During a period in which American companies have created iPhones, Home Depot and Lipitor, [the industry reaping the highest profits and compensation is one that] doesn’t design, build or sell a tangible thing.” This statement sounds a great deal like the philosophies of my father and grandfather and therefore strikes a chord with me.

To conclude, I would like to suggest a possible reason that I haven't heard discussed much elsewhere for why Wall Street is so dominant in our economy and society and why it is so unabashedly unchastined. This reason is offered tentatively, so I am eager to hear feedback. When I was an undergraduate at an ivy league school, it seemed that everybody was lining up to go into investment banking and consulting. Meanwhile, the campus was filled with a lack of serious academic scholarship or discourse, a development that I connect to both the dominance of political correctness and the hegemony of left-liberals in the faculty. I would suggest that most students are turned off by this culture. Still, they are not interested in challenging it since doing so risks social ostracism. As a result, they turn their attention to indulgence - partying and money-making. Notions of civic responsibility and the enterprise of serious thought hold virtually no one's active esteem. As a result of this culture, students pile upon each other for lucrative jobs on Wall Street, which are low on social responsibility and high on self-indulgence. This, to me, is one of the sources of the phenomenon that Rich discusses and is repulsed by, but I think he is pursuing the wrong tact. The outcome is that liberalism in America suffers.

MNA | 11/28/10 at 03:06 PM | Categories: Domestic Politics

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