Calhoun's Cannons for January 27, 2014
We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.
Justice Louis Brandeis
Is it time to bring back Pat's "Respectable Republican Cloth Coat?" Remember Richard Nixon and the "Checkers" speech? If you're too young to remember, Senator Nixon, the 1952 vice presidential candidate, was in political trouble, accused of being a crook by taking "gifts" from "rich friends." In desperation, he went on TV to declare that, unlike some of his sleazier opponents in high office, he had no need of "rich friends" to gift him with fancy fur coats since his wife, Pat, was perfectly content wearing her "respectable Republican cloth coat." And as for the gift of the little dog, Checkers, well, he wasn't going to give that back because his daughters loved the dog.
The speech was that bizarre Nixonian mix of hostility and Uriah Heepishness, but it saved his bacon, and the rest was history. But, looking at our latest gaggle of Politicians Going Bad, I have to ask: Is it time to bring back respectable cloth coats?
I mean, look at poor Mrs. Virginia Governor. Her hubby gets elected and there she is, surrounded by the ultra-rich, their wives dripping with jewels and swanning around in couture while she's got to go to the balls in some off-the-rack gown from Bloomingdale's because that's all she can afford on her husband's crappy little Governor's salary. And, unlike Pat Nixon, she's not contented, so what's a girl to do?
Well, Mrs. Virginia Governor hit the credit cards for herself and her hubby and both of them started raking in the boodle from a good "friend" who was more than happy to oblige. And did we mention said "friend" at the time was also promoting his dubious herbal supplement business -- not, of course, that that would ever, ever be part of the "friendship" equation, mind you. No, no, he was just helping out his very-dear-very-good "friend, the Gov. And anyway, "friends" and "access" is how you do politics, Baby.
So, there we are. Mr. & Mrs. Virginia Governor indicted on various corruption charges and the press is now blaming the greedy wife, because, if she had been like Pat Nixon, that "respectable Republican cloth coat" would have been good enough for her and we wouldn't be in this mess, Thank you very much.
Meanwhile, over in Davos, Switzerland, at the annual meeting of the mega-mega rich, the attendees, who rig the game and set the agendas that ensure that, like cream, the loot rises to the top and off into secret Swiss and Caribbean bank accounts, were sipping champagne and slurping up caviar while pulling fake long faces for the Press (who were also scarfing down quail eggs and celery foam) at a potentially troubling number that was making the rounds: 85 people hold more wealth in their hands than 3.5 billion people.
85 versus 3.5 billion. That's an easy number for the general public to get their minds around. That's why the Davosians surely felt a shudder and a chill. Had they finally begun to hear the sound of sabots clumping up the stairs, and the ominous clicking of Madame DeFarge's knitting needles?
In our insane addiction to greed, and wealth, fame and the rigged game, we have beggared ourselves and the country and here we sit, part of the 3.5 -- a second-rate nation, all crumbling infrastructure, and unemployed poor shuffling our meager food-stamps, while Mrs. Virginia Governor gifts her husband with a Rolex because we've forgotten that public servants are supposed to serve the public, not the other way around.
And so I ask, is it time for us to make respectable cloth coats -- Republican or Democratic -- the new ideal? There are hard times coming, the seas are rising and The 3.5 are on the move. Wretched excess and a Rolex won't save us from what's ahead. Perhaps a sober brain, a national safety net, sturdy shoes and a serviceable jacket will.