There’s a profile of billionaire Jeff Greene in New York magazine that’s worth reading. Greene thinks the folks who live in the Hamptons need to be a lot less oblivious about what’s going on in the middle class.
â€œThis is my fear, and itâ€™s a real, legitimate fear,â€ Greene says, revving up the engine. â€œYou have this huge, huge class of people who are impoverished. If we keep doing what weâ€™re doing, we will build a class of poor people that will take over this country, and the country will not look like what it does today. It will be a different economy, rights, all that stuff will be different.â€
So, yeah, he’s worried about his own skin, but you get a sense that he understands that upward mobility is getting more and more impossible, and people are sinking.
This past April, at the Milken Conference, the annual confab hosted by the felon turned philanthropist, Greene sat on a lunchtime panel with Charles Murray, the author of Coming Apart: The State of White America, and historian Niall Ferguson, whose recent book could have been called the same thing. â€œDo you see this?â€ Greene asked the audience, pointing to a slide that showed the widening income gap. The crowd, whose members had paid the $6,000 entry fee to get investing tips, not guilt trips, made restless noises. Then there was a smattering of impressed applause, followed by uneasy laughter. Greene blinked, surprised. â€œPeople look at Occupy Wall Street as, This is just a little kind of a disorganized joke,â€ he said, raising his voice. â€œIf we take another 10 percent of middle-class Americaâ€™s income, who knows what kind of other social unrest could happen in this country and the changes that could happen to our way of life?â€
You might remember that Charles Murray’s new book postulates that the reason so many white folks are falling into poverty is that they have abandoned American cultural values. The white middle class is sinking because they aren’t getting married and going to church and being “industrious.” Hold that thought.
More often than not, fears like these manifest as loathing for the current administration, as evidenced by the recent wave of Romney fund-raisers in the Hamptons. â€œObama wants to take my money and give it to do-nothing animals,â€ one matron blurted at a recent party at the Pierre for Dick Morrisâ€™s Screwed!, the latest entry into a growing pile of socioeconomic snuff porn geared toward this audience.
Greene, a registered Democrat, isnâ€™t buying this school of thought. â€œIt is kind of a problem in America that so many Americans believe if they elect a different president, everything is going to be fine. This whole idea of American exceptionalism, that weâ€™re the greatest, when people donâ€™t have health insurance, donâ€™t have housing,â€ he says, swinging past the guesthouse, which has 360-degree views of the bay, and the staff house, which does not. â€œThere are all these people in this country who are just not participating in the American Dream at all,â€ he says. This makes him uncomfortable, not least because they might try to take a piece of his. â€œRight now, for some bizarre reason, a lot of these people are supporting Republicans who want to cut taxes on the wealthy,â€ he says. â€œAt some point, if we keep doing this, their numbers are going to keep swelling, it wonâ€™t be an Obama or a Romney. It will be a ÂHollande. A ChÃ¡vez.â€
So, basically, at least part of the 1 percent appears to believe they are the 1 percent not because they got really, really lucky or enjoyed extraordinary opportunity, but because they are inherently better than everyone else — More virtuous, more deserving, more industrious, even if they are living on an inheritance.
This takes us to Mitt’s statements about Palestinian culture — yesterday he denied he had said anything about Palestinian culture, and then he published an op ed in National Review restating his remarks on culture.
I strongly suspect this is the real Romney. It explains why he doesn’t think he needs to explain anything. He doesn’t need to show his tax returns. He doesn’t need to cultivate good relations with the peons in the press corps. He’s just inherently superior, and everyone ought to be able to see that. And all America needs is more “freedom,” which means tax cuts for the rich and less regulation for the financial sector.
See also Paul Waldman, “Mitt Romney Thinks You’re a Sucker.”