You can't read U.S. political news lately without seeing a story about a septuagenarian Republican one-percenter with a hate-on for the president pouring millions of his fortune into a new Super PAC. Thanks to Citizens United, right-wing sugar daddies are emptying their coffers to Karl Rove and ilk to flood the airwaves with ads blaming President Obama for everything from sunspots to the common cold. Figures like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess and most recently, Joe Ricketts, are positioning themselves as the new architects of what is left of American democracy. You'd think that achieving staggering levels of wealth would be enough, but apparently, multiple mansions and car elevators are not where it's at anymore. These oligarchs-in-waiting are determined that the government is destined to be a rich guys-only club, and who gives a damn how many poor people get steamrolled out of existence in the process. In fact, the more poor are simply obliterated, the better.
Stories about Republican Super PAC funders seem to have one thing in common -- the men in question are uniformly old, bloated and incredibly sour-faced, as if their soul has been eaten away by a lifetime of stress, drinking, smoking and rage. Paul McCartney told us that money can't buy me love; these characters are the embodiment of that axiom. These real-life Charles Foster Kanes have conquered the business world, crushed enemies in their wake and accumulated wealth to rival that of the pharaohs. But love remains elusive for them, no matter how many zeroes in their Cayman Islands offshore holding account. Nobody loves these guys. No young boy goes to sleep at night dreaming of being a hedge fund manager and forcing people out of their homes.
Instead, Republican billionaires squirm and twist in a constant state of paranoia, terrified that colleagues, friends, family members and even the postal carrier who slips on the ice in their two-mile long driveway in Aspen are scheming to take everything away. It's no surprise, given the path a man has to take to claw his way into mega-millions. You simply don't get there by being adored. How frustrating, then, that others of far more limited means can still manage to find love. Joe Ricketts' recently announced plan to dredge up Reverend Wright again centers on trying to make voters hate the president. Not disagree with his policies; hate him. So, presumably, the president can then feel as down-trodden and hopeless about life as Joe Ricketts must. You get the feeling that we could have been spared the phenomenon of the Super PAC had their mothers just hugged these people more.
What Ricketts and the rest of these billionaires despise most about President Obama is that he is everything they are not, and will never become. Truly self-made: someone who came from nothing and got where he is by working hard and applying himself, instead of being parachuted into accidental greatness by a generous trust fund. A man with a beautiful wife he clearly adores beyond words and a happy, loving family. President Obama is a greater embodiment of the American Dream than any of these grumpy old guys. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he has the ability to inspire people across all walks of life, and around the globe. Hope and change remains a potent campaign slogan because it appeals to our better angels.
For crusty old billionaires, this does not compute. They believe everyone is as greedy and money-grubbing as they are; that altruism is a fool's game, that no one ever does anything out of a simple wish to be good. And it positively bakes their collective noodles that not everyone wants to be rich. The majority of us just want to earn enough to look after our families, so they don't have to worry about getting sick or feeding themselves or having a roof over their heads. Amazingly, you can still do that without millions in a diversified asset portfolio, and working hard at that goal despite difficult odds is far more likely to earn you genuine love than the extra fifty million you'll earn if Obamacare is tossed by the Supreme Court.
Simply put, a heart that is rotting cannot lift others. The Koch brothers may have helped the Tea Party become a ground-shifting political force, but no one would ever accuse David and Charles Koch of being inspiring men. They and those like them don't inspire with words and ideas; they push with threats and cattle prods, because they don't know any other way. And they come to envy and hate the ones who do. Whenever you see Karl Rove's picture, this pudgy, balding sinister figure without a kind word to say about anything left of Genghis Khan, you can't help thinking that he must have been the fat kid who was always picked last for the team, and is continuing to take his revenge on the popular kids forty years on to satisfy some long-simmering Freudian dysfunction. And it is all so futile. Mitt Romney could sweep all 50 states and half of Australia and these people will still be stewing in their self-loathing and cursing their inability to feel any better. No one will love them any more. They'll feel even worse if they blow all this cash and President Obama still wins.
So here is my modest suggestion.
Take the money you had intended for your Super PAC and found a charity instead. Build a school. Refurbish a hospital. Fund cancer or AIDS research. Erect a nature preserve. Start a new business and hire some people, for god's sake. Then go visit one of these places anonymously and look for the genuine joy in the eyes of the people you've been able to help. Just stand there and soak it in -- the sense of gratitude, of warm feelings. Let your heart quicken for a few beats. Feel the love. Then think about how you can do even more. How good it will feel when a child whose life has been saved because of an initiative you backed mentions you in their prayers before going to sleep at night? Wouldn't that be amazing? Don't you like the idea of being remembered, like Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story, as "as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world"? Or would you rather spend your money on TV ads demonizing the President of the United States, ads that will be as forgotten as swiftly as you will be the day your rotten heart finally croaks its last beat?
Ball's in your court, Super PACs. I know I'm sleeping fine tonight.
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