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The Rich And The Power To Demand

Caption: A rich kid who gets it. If there were more like her, we wouldn’t need protests.

Image credit: Buzz Feed

Two weeks or so ago, Expat, someone who often leaves interesting comments at my blog, wrote this regarding an article I’d written on the Occupy Wall Street protests:

The lower photo probably is the best depiction of the greater part of the upper class elite that I have ever met; conscientious, caring, secure in their person and most often generous in some form or another. These qualities are not those of the MOTU corporate CEO type pathologically driven psychopaths endeavoring to accumulate dynastic levels of wealth from their privileged positions of management.

Unfortunately the word wealth doesn’t distinguish between these types, and neither do those who rage against the rich.

Quote Of The Day [Oct. 12, 2011]: Comment by Expat

He was referring to the photo that leads this article, which is of an apparently wealthy young woman speaking out against the injustices that the Occupy people are protesting. That’s the original caption, and I daresay I still think it’s an accurate one. Whatever they may feel about this, I don’t see a great many of her fellow “one percenters” joining in on this.


First, let me explain my attitude about class warfare, and about warfare generally. I worked in the defense industry for a long time. I was in that industry during the Gulf War, and the wars that followed. I worked with veterans of those wars, and of the Vietnam War as well. During the last two wars, I sometimes noted the remarkable circumstance of being in a mini-mall food court, surrounded by young soldiers, and yet it being so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. I’ve seen what effect real war, and real violence, has on people – both the physical damage and the emotional trauma. I don’t want to see it again.

My time in the defense industry also taught me the one lesson that I can pass on to any professional in any field. That lesson is this: unless you’re willing to go to work expecting that any day there could be your last, you cannot do your job properly. Sooner or later, someone you work for will tell you to do something unethical, and you either need to say no, or be owned by those people ever after. It’s that simple. Fortunately, I only had to do that once, and the people I worked for, who weren’t in my line of work, decided it wasn’t necessary.

In the end, you only have the rights you’re willing to stand up for. That’s a lesson modern day progressives seem to never learn.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to answer Expat’s comment ever since. Thankfully, Ian Welsh provided this quote by Frederick Douglass

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

It’s a simple quote, and yet it explains a fundamental truth. People in power will never do something they don’t have to, if their interests run counter to what is being asked of them. Ian goes on to explain that what Frederick Douglass meant by “demand” wasn’t the modern version, presenting a list of “demands” to people and then going home to see what happens. It meant that there was a fearsome “or else” associated with that demand. That’s what I was saying, for instance, when I wrote this two and a half years ago, about the English King John signing the Magna Carta, which guaranteed rights to the noblemen and citizens of his country:

The important point is that King John didn’t do this out of the goodness of his heart. Had the barons not banded together, he would have continued his policies until they’d either failed utterly, or he’d been removed from power. He didn’t do it out of some feeling that he should include others in the decision making process, nor was it due to a sudden realization that certain elements of his policy were mistaken. He did it because crowds of gruff looking gentlemen carrying battle axes and swords focused his attention on the opinions of others.

What History Can Teach Us

Politicians are powerful people. They will never do something they don’t want to do merely because you request it. When your reaction to their continual refusal to do what the country needs to be done is to continue to give them your support and your vote, then they will never listen to what you have to say. Politicians need power to do their jobs. That makes it necessary to court the power that will go elsewhere, and listen to the demands of those who can and will take some of that power away.

Conservatives understand this. They aren’t winning because they are more numerous than progressives. On the substantive issues of economics, equal rights, and whether or not to continue military adventures in places that have little or nothing to do with our national well-being, the majority of Americans agree with us. What gives the conservatives power is that they are willing to punish their politicians when they don’t do what they want.

We, in stark contrast, treat politics like it’s the Special Olympics. Even when Democrats knock over all the hurdles while they run the course backwards, we always give them a medal and a hug. After all, it would just be so much worse if we let those nasty Republicans screw us, instead.

I despair that progressives generally will ever heed this basic lesson of political history. We just don’t like confrontations. Hell, I don’t like confrontations. As I found out, though, and as Frederick Douglass certainly did, sometimes it’s necessary.

Which, sort of, gets us back to all those rich folks who supposedly want the rest of us to enjoy the benefits of our society, too. I don’t see much evidence of them. They must be out there, but all I seem to see are the folks like these:

Caption: Rich folks heckling Occupy protesters near Wall Street (upper photo) and the University of Pennsylvania.

Image credit: Montage by Joyce Arnold/TM.com

I guess it just comes down to how much they want it. There’s certainly truth in the idea that how much people want something counts far more than how many of them want it. Certainly, the people who Expat refers to as the Masters Of The Universe (MOTUs) are highly motivated to collect all the money that they possibly can for their own uses. That makes them powerful, because as anyone who has ever lived with a cat knows, how much someone wants something is nearly always expressed by how much effort they put into getting it. While a cat wants to sit on your lap, he wants nothing else, whereas you undoubtedly have other things to do besides shoo him off your lap. For that reason alone, the cat will often win this test of wills.

And so it may be between the MOTUs and the other rich.

Which is the other reason I brought up that story about my early days in the defense industry. It’s not really a story about me being heroic, or even particularly virtuous. What this story means is that I knew my long term best interests were in acting ethically. I didn’t have to go through the rest of my life regretting what I did, nor did I have some foolish or reckless action following me throughout my career. It was better for me that I stood up when I did.

Caption: Where did all the economic growth end up? Into the hands of the richest people in the country, mostly.

Image credit: Economic Policy Institute

So, too, must the rich take that attitude. In the long run, we need a more just society. There needs to be an understanding in America that an honest day’s work should mean an honest day’s reward. There is no benefit to them when so many of us are unable to get health care, or an education, or any of the other things that make living and participating in a modern society possible. You can build high walls to keep all the riff-raff out if you want, but as our society becomes more unequal, those walls will look more like a prison than a refuge.

Michael Moore tries to explain that in a conversation with Keith Olbermann.

[Note to FDL readers – this video is embedded at my site, but I’m not allowed to do it here. Hence, no transcript. Suffice to say Moore is saying that if you have money, you have power, and you should use it to make your world better.]

So here’s some free advice for all those rich folks who want to help: demand that your government do the right thing. Don’t ask. Don’t say, “Oh, you’re not as bad as The Other Guys ™, so here’s lots of money.” Explain to them that they will do what’s right, or you’ll find someone who will.

That’s good advice for progressives generally, of course, but politicians aren’t too interested in what we do as individuals. It takes a lot of us to matter. It takes relatively few rich donors to matter. So demand they do what’s right, or you’ll take your money, your bundling expertise, your mailing lists, or your organizing expertise elsewhere. Because when you get right down to it, what you’re getting is the government you’re willing to demand.

And if you’re not willing to demand a just society, I’m not going to be too awfully choked up if people start blaming you right along with the MOTUs. As Expat’s concern shows, it’s in your interest, too.

You have the time. More importantly, you have the money.

Article cross posted from Slobber And Spittle

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Cujo359

Cujo359

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