I published this post back in February months before the release of The Dark Knight Rises and knowing nothing about the content of the script. Having been a Batman fan since I was a kid, I was aware that the villain in this last installment of the Chris Nolan was going to be Bane, a character who has been around since 1993 (and who actually appeared briefly in a prior Batman movie). I also was pretty confident that once the new movie was in theaters, the public (and of course news pundits on both sides) would quickly start to make the ironic connection between the name of this villain and Romney's former company, Bain Capital (which thanks to Romney's continued reluctance to release his tax returns seems to be in the news more than ever). And, as expected, incendiary conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have quickly made completely inaccurate and inane conspiratorial accusations that the character was intentionally created by the liberal Hollywood elite for this exact purpose, saying things like:
"A lot of people are gonna see the movie, and it's a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop culture crowd, and they're gonna hear Bane in the movie and they're gonna associate Bain. The thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie, 'Oh, yeah, I know who that is.' There are some people who think it'll work. Others think you're really underestimating the American people to think that will work. The villain in The Dark Knight Rises is named Bane, B-a-n-e. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran and around which there's now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time. The release date's been known, summer 2012, for a long time."
I ended my February post predicting that the completely coincidental timing of the movie's release would perhaps make people start thinking about some of the important underlying issues involved in this election and the disturbing widening gap between the haves and have-nots. What I didn't expect was that an important underlying theme in Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's script would actually underscore the very point I was making in my post. So, with that in mind, I am reposting my February article hoping that my thesis may resonate more for those who have now seen The Dark Knight Rises.
OK let's look at the current state of affairs in the U.S. from the perspective of that portion of the 1% who only sees things from their own completely self-interested viewpoint. You're someone who has worked really hard -- the old fashioned way -- to earn what you have achieved (or you are part of the lucky inheritance club and your father or grandfather worked really hard to get what you now enjoy). You've hit it big and now have lots of money and a great lifestyle.
You have a very difficult time rationalizing or even comprehending why your dollars should go towards higher taxes to support a bunch of poor, know-nothing, lazy people, particularly those immigrants and undocumented aliens who come here and live off the fat of the land for free (when they're not otherwise taking away those menial manual labor jobs from real Americans). And you are dead set against that big wasteful government machine that only encourages people not to work, live off welfare and food stamps and now get expensive or subsidized medical care via "Obamacare" which you are paying for.
So with all of this money out of your pocket for taxes, what does it do for you personally? You are all set in your life and what happens to these people is not your concern because, hey, it's America, and everybody has a chance to attain the American Dream just like you did. If they don't, it's their problem, not yours; they are obviously just lazy or unlucky, some make it and some don't, that's unfortunately the way the world works. So keep taxes as low as possible (particularly for you as one of the "job creators"), pay for only the minimum basic government services which are necessary, and let these people fend for themselves or be cared for by the "private sector" which you are certain always steps in to fill the void.
Here's the problem with this ideology: it's actually in your self-interest to take care of these people. If history has taught us anything, it was that this same attitude eventually caused the fall of many civilizations throughout the millennia, (many of which were around a lot longer than the 236 years that the United States has existed). What happened in those situations was that too much money, power and control were in the hands of too few at the top who started to distance themselves from the masses and pull the ladder up behind them, leaving them in the dust. And they got mad as hell and couldn't take it anymore.
When you actually look at the facts about taxes today, you see that we are paying lower taxes than ever before and all that has been suggested is closing tax loopholes and raising the top tax bracket from 36% to 39% (that was the top rate when Clinton was in office and we had a surplus). But since that may still seem like a lot to ask, let's look at this in a completely different way.
Instead of looking at all of this merely as the government taking your money and giving it to unentitled poor people, how about looking at this slight increase in your taxes (which frankly won't make one iota of a dent in your lifestyle) as a strategic insurance policy or a hedge? You regularly take out life insurance policies, health insurance policies, liability policies, disability policies, car insurance and homeowners, renters insurance policies -- even policies to pay inheritance taxes. How about an insurance policy against people rising up and just taking what you own and possess because you've pushed them too far and they have no where else to go?
To understand what I mean by this, let's start by looking at something that is obvious and that many of us take for granted: that invisible line separating the rich suburbs from the poor neighborhoods and the inner city. In case you haven't noticed, there is no wall or physical barrier that keeps poorer people from invading the rich neighborhoods. Yeah, I know we have the police force, private security patrols, alarms, etc. and we know that "those people just wouldn't do that". But in reality all we really have in place is an implied social contract. The contract is that those poor needy people will more or less leave you alone as long as you take care of their basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, protection, education and the like).
However, with the direction we are going in lately, we seem to be getting dangerously close to imposing a condition of desperation with these people because we are threatening to take away (and in some cases already have) their opportunity to get these basic human necessities. And we will discover that there will come a point when these people will have been pushed too far and will feel they have nothing left to lose. They will then come to realize very quickly (much like the emperor's new clothes) that this "line" between their neighborhood and yours is, in reality, invisible and non-existent. In a nation where we've made the ability to get a firearm much easier than getting a driver's license and now have hundreds of millions of guns out there, is it really worth the risk of pushing poor people (and middle class people who are on the verge of falling into poverty) to the boiling point? People who feel oppressed also have new tools to connect and rise up behind a cause than ever before. Can anyone say Arab Spring? Occupy Wall Street?
Putting aside the rational Judeo/Christian moral arguments about helping those less fortunate and in need, creating a societal structure to help people pull themselves up and giving them the opportunity to advance in society, it is in the self-interest of you as a "one percenter" to help these people. If you don't, you run the very real risk of the "invisible barrier" evaporating and having real class warfare in this country. Despite the political assertions to the contrary, it is not ""class warfare" to tell the 1% that some of their money should go towards helping those less fortunate - it's actually good, smart, strategic business. It's an insurance policy to protect your assets and good fortune.
There's that old saying about how "the pigs get rich and the hogs get slaughtered". The completely self-interested members of the 1% need to decide soon whether they are going to be pigs or hogs. You might say I'm just being paranoid. I say look back at history for this lesson, don't take my word for it. And for a bit of underscored irony, be sure to catch the new Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises that millions will be watching this summer. Who is that new villain who is terrorizing the people of Gotham City?
His name is Bane. Sounds eerily like the name of Romney's former company.
Follow Fred Goldring on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LABlueDevil