â€œLet me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.â€ — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Rich Boy
Early last year, a mostly multi millionaires soiree purred with contentment about the policies of George W. Bush.
I asked a few people about â€œthe Iraq threat.â€
â€œYes, well, heâ€™s quite good on taxes, you know,â€ one smug young man replied, referring, I assumed, to Wâ€™s design to allow the ultra rich to become ultra richer.
I inquired of a mink-clad matron at the door about the charges that Bushâ€™s policies amounted to an assault on the environment. Her dress looked even more expensive than those from Nicole Kidmanâ€™s wardrobe in â€œCold Mountain.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure heâ€™ll do the right thing,â€ she said dismissively as her limo pulled up.
Recently, however, the formerly contented monied set has begun to hand-wring over â€œthat neâ€™er do wellâ€ in the White House. â€œHe has mis-directed the ship of state toward chimerical escapades and away from reality,â€ an allusion my eloquent, rich acquaintance used to refer to concerns about his familyâ€™s vast fortune.
Typically, the affluent havenâ€™t needed formal agencies to protect and expand their interests. They have simply counted on the U.S. government, no matter who served as President. My conspiratorially minded friends still think of rich people gathering at places like the Bohemian Grove, a vacation setting for the truly posh, or in loosely knit associations, like the Rockefeller-backed Tri-Lateral Commission in the 1970s, to plot how to expand capitalismâ€™s hold on the worldâ€™s wealth.
A friend of mine who regularly attended â€œThe Grove,â€ as he called it, extolled the place. â€œI make a hundred thousand in a weekend there,â€ he boasted.
Whatâ€™s your secret? I asked.
â€œI concentrate on playing poker while the others drink and whine about their servant problems.â€
Donâ€™t you talk politics? I inquired.
â€œDonâ€™t be silly,â€ he responded. â€œThose people donâ€™t know anything. They pay others to think about their interests. They worry only when their accountants and lawyers advise them to worry.â€
Since the invasion of Iraq did not proceed as advertised, the advisers to the well-born have offered pessimistic counsel. Thus, the dinner-party set has begun to drop remarks and raise the traditional eyebrow, not just over Juniorâ€™s Middle East bellicosities, but about the strange clique â€“ â€œquite a few Jews and zealots, you knowâ€ â€“ with whom he has surrounded himself in policy matters (The trusted Paul Oâ€™Neill has revealed the worst, Christy Todd Whitman has yet to blab and the loyal Powell retains his politeness to power, so to speak).
High fee accountants have counseled the privileged that 43â€™s mismanagement has led to more than half a trillion dollars of deficits, which destabilize their holdings. True, Junior didnâ€™t have to spend all that much to undo that nasty Saddam fellow (the poor always lose a few of their own in such wars, sigh!) and it seemed like a good idea at the time â€“ it was related to 9/11 in some way, wasnâ€™t it? â€“ to warn those awful fiends over there not to try such antics again.
But, on reflection, those who spun and sold the Iraq affair appear to have miscalculated. What they call security appears to have transformed itself into anxiety. Even the filthy rich must submit to those undignified procedures at airports (â€œCan you imagine, she wanded me!â€).
Cocktail party walla that didnâ€™t used to contain references to that vulgar political world now ring with disturbing notions like: â€œthe Bush lad hasnâ€™t even retained enough troops to send to some other spot should one of the other WOGS, (a British pejorative that referred to natives in Egypt â€˜working on government serviceâ€™ during World War II were allowed to enter British bases), threaten our fortunes in other remote places.â€
And the fabulously fortunate crowd did not take kindly to insulting the Germans and French sacre bleu. Damaging those old and trusted ententes (national and family) did not ring loudly for the old credibility image. While at dinner parties, clubs and salons the pillars of assets exchanged disparaging one-liners about the lesser Bushâ€™s performance, former Reagan Navy Secretary James Webb let fly a more public alert.
In a USA Today opinion piece Web accused Bush of having â€œcommitted the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.â€
Webb then resorted to the older notion of conservatism so as to distinguish himself and his grouping from the neophytes in the White House.
â€œThere is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.”
Indeed, at one DC fete, an influential dowager opined that the Bush boyâ€™s invasion of Iraq and his failure to encounter those awful WMDs did not inspire the truly important people with confidence. And why didnâ€™t our CIA lads know something after employing all that hi-tech seeing and listening technology that one sees in the movies? Can the affable young man in the White House find the proverbial pimple on his you know what? What will happen if one of the truly dangerous WOGS actually threatens us?
This kind of chatter among the idle rich bodes well for the Democrats, who could accuse Bush 43 of having committed the strategic bungle of the decade. He seems to have wanted to go to war and allowed those boorish neo-cons to, whatâ€™s the term, yank his chain.
Not only has billionaire George Soros coughed up large bucks to defeat Bush, but other former staunch Republican mainstays have also begun to flirt with anti-Bush efforts. John Kerry, after all, has earned his credentials in the super loaded club.
The anti-Bush sentiment that derives from that shared feeling of the government being in the hands of people who have lost their focus protecting the assets of the old establishment occurred during the Nixon years as well. In 1969, Nixon brought to the White House a staff of Californians from the advertising industry. Along with them came zealots like Chuck Colson, who organized the â€œplumbersâ€ to stop the leaks to the media and carry out black bag jobs on Nixonâ€™s enemies (breaking into the Watergate and Daniel Ellsbergâ€™s psychiatristâ€™s office) not traditional gentlemanâ€™s ways of handling the job.
The eastern Establishment has begun to worry. They adored hundreds of billions in their bank accounts tax plan, (finally, after almost a year of waiting, a new yacht and private jet) but since then the Iraq and Afghanistan situations appear out of control, high ranking military officials seem upset over the behavior of old Rummy, once one of the elite set, and the nation seems upset over trivial issues like gay unions (would he rather they behaved promiscuously rather than marry?) and stem cell research.
The Members of this informal club have dropped the hints: those who service them in the media have picked up the cues. The way they attacked in piranha like formation around the National Guard scandal, well, it was almost as if Bush had had illicit sex. I conclude that the ruling class love fest for W. Bush is fading. Let the electoral games begin and donâ€™t forget to count the votes this time!
Landau teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His new film SYRIA: BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE is available through Cinema Guild (800-723-5522). His new book is THE PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH’S KINGDOM. He is Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences