The madness of the elite
There’s a wonderful letter in today’s Independent in support of Rupert Murdoch. Amongst other things, it says
He feeds over 54,000 families every day worldwide.
I don’t think the writer (someone who “had the pleasure to work with Rupert Murdoch during my career in Australia and London”) means that Rupe’s the Father Christmas of soup runs, zooming from one time zone to another to reach the needy. Plainly he’s referring to the News International workforce – and my first thought was that it would be more accurate to say that every day 54,000 families worldwide feed him.
But it did strike me as giving an insight into a conservative problem that people are finding hard to explain. Over at the New York Review of Books Blog there’s a really interesting article by Elizabeth Drew about the Presidential election. One of the puzzles she highlights is why the Republicans have chosen such an unattractive candidate, and “what it is that causes him to stumble and say oafish things.”
She lists some of the things he’s said that can’t be doing him any electoral good, such as his throw-away line that his wife has “a couple of Cadillacs” or that the way to cope with a tough jobs market is to borrow some money from your parents. And the things he’s done are even worse:
… going for the presidency he didn’t bother to pull out funds he’d stashed away in the Cayman Islands or Switzerland or hold off in expanding their home in La Jolla in a $12 million renovation, including an elevator for the four-car garage. The symbolism of such things goes well beyond the “tin ear,” and suggests a paralyzing inability to understand the circumstances of most others: What else can explain Romney’s look of disgust as he disdained the cookies the hostess had placed before him when he met with a middle class group around a picnic table in Bethel, Pennsylvania?
But the tin ear isn’t a good explanation. Ms Drew herself points out that FDR and JFK were wealthy too and didn’t suffer from this alienating distance from ordinary people. In the end, she offers an intelligent connection to modern politics: Romney had to win the nomination from a party that has moved so far to the right “that any suggestion that he cares for the plight of others could have endangered his prospects”.
That rings truer, but Ronald Reagan was able to advocate right-wing positions without suggesting that he came from a different planet.
There’s a hint about what has changed since the 198os in the quotation I began with. There is a notion – common in the USA and becoming more common in Britain – that rich people are the source of all progress and the rest of us are in their debt. In this narrative, less fortunate people – especially if they expect social benefits – are “parasites” (to use Ayn Rand‘s terminology.)
I might have found it more difficult to argue with a claim that 54,000 people’s jobs were partly created by Murdoch’s entrepreneurship. The notion that he feeds them and their families is ludicrous – but not if you move in circles where the Randian worship of Business Man is taken for granted.
Romney says these things because nothing in his life so far has made him stop to wonder if they might not be true. America is creating a nobility with no sense of nobless oblige; but how far behind are we?