The real plutocrats

J. Peder Zane Author, Design in Nature
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On Facebook Wednesday morning one of my liberal friends wrote that Scott Walker had won his recall election because he had outspent his opponent by a whopping margin.

Dozens of his fellow sufferers shouted “amen,” while one added this description of Wisconsin voters: “sheep to the slaughter.”

Turns out the Democrats are better at distributing talking points than getting voters to the booth. Everywhere I turned I heard the exact same explanation.

“How did he do that?” asked The New York Times editorial page. “With the aid of more than $45.6 million, most of it from out of state, that paid for ads praising him for his ‘courage’ in taking on unions and attacking labor for its ‘selfish’ intransigence.”

“It’s pretty clear that the voices of ordinary citizens are at permanent risk of being drowned out by uninhibited corporate spending,” said Michelle Ringuette, an official with the American Federation of Teachers.

“The failure of the campaign against Walker,” John Nichols wrote on The Nation’s blog, “suggest[s] the ‘money power’ populists and progressives of another era identified as the greatest threat to democracy has now organized itself as a force that cannot be easily thwarted even by determined ‘people power.’”

The thrust of this analysis is that powerful plutocrats — a tiny fraction of the population — used their money to convince Wisconsinites to cast a vote for self-destruction. Let’s pause for a moment and consider the worldview this represents: It suggests that most people are stupid and clueless, unable to identify much less act in their self-interest. They do not make decisions but are manipulated by powerful forces beyond their ken (sheep to the slaughter).

It is not surprising that Democrats would have such a view. After all it describes how their party — the world’s most powerful plutocracy — works.

At the top, is a relatively small number of wealthy, well-educated people with very liberal views articulated by publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker and MSNBC.

Below them is a much larger group of relatively poor folk with much less education who know a lot more about Paula Abdul than Paul Krugman.

The first group is loud and influential. They are the voice of the party and, they believe, that’s how it should be. After all, they’re the best and the brightest. They’re enlightened shepherds, who know far better than Mr. and Mrs. Sixpack about what’s best for them. Like political herding dogs, they must cajole and manipulate “the people” to pour the right thoughts into their heads. But it’s all good, because their efforts are only meant to help these witless folks who are prone to stray toward bad ideas. And, to their everlasting credit, their hardscrabble supporters are smart enough to know they must follow.

Convinced of their own brilliant virtue, these Democratic plutocrats cannot fathom why anyone of good will might disagree with them. After all, they hold something far more profound than opinions or views — the truth. In theory, then, everyone should agree with them. But they do not. When they face setbacks, as in Wisconsin, they attribute it to ignorance and corruption (and, when necessary, racism).

It was not a healthy concern about the state’s immense budget problems or unease with recalling an elected official who had broken no laws that explains Walker’s victory. Instead, it is corporate money, which did a better job of telling the dimwitted masses what to think than the Democrats. (Sure, President Obama outspent John McCain by more than 3 to 1 in 2008, but that money was used to spread the truth to help “the people,” so it’s different.)

For Democratic plutocrats, politics is about telling people what to think. The mean contempt they show their opponents is the mirror image of the pitying contempt they have for “the people” they claim to represent.

J. Peder Zane is the author, with Adrian Bejan, of “Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization.”