Mr. 1 Percent versus Mr. 1 Percent

By David Callahan
January 20, 2012

Listening to a newly populist President Obama or to Mitt Romney, who touts his CEO past at every turn, it is tempting to imagine a 2012 election that unfolds as textbooks imagine, with Republicans speaking for business and Democrats standing up for the little guy. Don’t be fooled. A more accurate reading of the contest features two elite candidates who represent different wings of the 1 Percent – a group increasingly divided over economics and the role of government.

Look closely at Obama’s rhetoric and you see that he’s not channeling Occupy Wall Street as much as a pragmatic tax-and-invest liberalism. Obama speaks for highly educated, affluent Americans who want government to do more, not less, on a number of fronts – like education, infrastructure, scientific research and clean energy. These folks don’t envy Europe; they envy China, which is deploying a muscular statism to compete economically and dominate the future.

Yes, Obama has made some strong statements lately about inequality and raising taxes on rich people. But most of this goes over just fine in Malibu or Manhattan. Many of the rich are ready to pay higher taxes – with polls showing, for instance, that a majority of millionaires support the Buffett Tax. And many agree that inequality has gone too far, seeing the growing wealth divide as a threat to America’s economic dynamism and social cohesion. The things that liberal rich people don’t like – unions, protectionism, and regulation, etc. – Obama doesn’t like much either.

Romney, meanwhile, speaks for a more familiar kind of 1 Percenter who thinks that business has all the answers and government should claim as little private wealth as possible. These elites embrace what New York Times columnist Ross Douthat last week called the “competitiveness revolution” – a drive for greater efficiencies and higher profits in which private equity firms like Bain Capital are heroes, not villains. Most of these people aren’t concerned about inequality, believing that all boats will rise faster in a laissez-faire economy and the fantastic heights of the yachts will only serve to inspire people. The best thing government can do for the little guy, the logic here goes, is get out of the way of private enterprise.

This clash of elites is hardly new. It has been taking shape for years now as the economy has diversified, with vast new wealth created by highly educated knowledge workers who live and work in blue states and, by and large, believe in government and elite experts. Barack Obama, so obviously smart and logical, with two Ivy League degrees, is a near-perfect fit for this crowd.

Romney is a less ideal candidate for his pro-business constituency, at least according to his mixed record on taxes and government as Massachusetts governor. But he’s close enough, with his CEO credentials and a set of policy positions that blogger Ezra Klein noted recently put him well to the right of George W. Bush.

While the media often imply that Obama has been abandoned by his affluent supporters and is now banking on populist appeals, campaign finance data supports the notion of a divided 1 Percent. Obama has been raking in big bucks from wealthy supporters – nearly as much as all the Republican candidates combined – and Democrats overall have raised more money in the current election cycle than Republicans (not including outside groups) – despite the attention-grabbing GOP primaries under way.  As in the previous few elections, Democrats are doing great with lawyers, tech leaders, entertainment professionals and other educated elites.

Even many Wall Street donors have stuck by Democrats – with data showing that the party that enacted the Dodd-Frank financial reform law has received 43 percent of all contributions made by the securities and investment sector for the 2012 election cycle. Democrats have even outraised Republicans among venture capitalists, arguably the brainiest of the money types (although this time around the GOP has a big edge among hedge fund managers).

One telling piece of data is that employees of Bain Capital have given more money to Democrats than Republicans in this election cycle, just as they have in every election over the past decade.

Even if Obama really were a fire-breathing populist, which he’s not, the realities of funding his re-election campaign would stop him from going down this path. The dominance of money in our election system means that Democrats can only veer so far to the left – no further, say, than what your typical moderate liberal at Google or Dreamworks thinks is all right.

To be sure, the 99 Percent will get a choice in this year’s presidential race, and that choice will be clearer than in many past elections, with the candidates offering distinct visions of economics and government.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Both of these visions have backing from a significant slice of the 1 Percent – otherwise they wouldn’t be on the table.

8 comments

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Remember, one important thing, you don’t get to run for President unless “The Good Old Boys” let you. When will a real American step up and run for President. One like Harry Truman?

Posted by topcat128 | Report as abusive

It seems difficult to make the call. Those supporting Obama really want him to stay and if truth be told, would have him for another 2 -3 election cycles. While the right seem convinced they can pull it all back together by a mere cutting the rope to agency control and removing the regulations to big business. Both sides seem convinced they are in control, but nothing is yet obvious. The circus of so-called GOP debates are a mere distraction to reason and enlightenment, while the 99′s see through all the smoke, mirrors, fog and haze delivered as in a traveling carnival show. The victor in this zoo of characters will not be revealed till near the very end, just days prior to the vote. And by then it should be obvious who will guide us for the next 4 years, amid the world’s turmoil and hopefully it will not be a hawk engulfing another war or series of wars.

Posted by ReasonRules | Report as abusive

Great op-ed. I like Obama, but he’s not the answer. However, if any of these Republicans win, the Middle Class, what is left of it, can kiss its a_s goodbye. I believe Obama when he says he wants change, but he’s unable to deliver it. The US Presidency is no longer powerful enough to institute such change.

The problem is in how our election system works: it’s totally dependent on money and, therefore, whomever can contribute enough money to make a difference–like billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his recent $5 million contribution to Newt Gingrich, which has allowed Newt to win the South Carolina primary–controls who gets elected to office and what they do once elected. The people have very little influence on government anymore. It’s ugly.

And our media is complicit in the makeup of the problem. Most of the media from which we get our information is owned by corporations. And thanks to the corporate-influenced Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, corporations can donate as much as they wish to political campaigns, not to mention lobbying activities. Our current campaign process is manna from heaven to our broadcast networks. Did anyone else find it strange that in the last Republican debate CNN’s John King opened with a question that had to have made Mitt Romney quiver with delight (even though it probably backfired on Mitt), a question attacking Newt’s character based on unproven claims by an ex-wife. Now contrast that with the fact that the subject of government corruption never came up even once. Now, which of those 2 topics are more important to the American people and our country, Newt’s sexual appetite or the death of our democracy? In fact, though I couldn’t sit through all of the Republican debates, in what I did see and read about the subject of government corruption never did come up. I’m not a professional journalist, but certainly common sense would tell you that government corruption is a topic more important than Newt’s past desire for an open marriage. In short, the news media does its part to protect the status quo because it makes them considerable amounts of money, amounts that increase with each passing election. Who wouldn’t want to keep a status quo like that?

But how can we trust the news media for information on the prostitution of our government when they are reaping billions from the arrangement? The answer is, we can’t. And like the corporations that run our broadcast networks, our politicians can’t be depended upon to fix our system because if they try they’ll be destroyed, and this is why Barack Obama cannot usher in much in the way of change. He wouldn’t be able to raise the kinds of cash he’s been raising. If he had come to Washington and tried to implement wholesale change, he would have been successfully labeled a radical by Republicans, the news media, and even some Democrats who would be worrying about their own sources of cash. He wouldn’t have had a chance at being reelected. The Republicans are trying that tact anyway, trying to convince Americans that mild mannered moderate Obama is trying to destroy our great American traditions. Both Mitt and Newt have been using this line of attack. The problem is, Obama hasn’t given them much ammunition. And the truth is, our great American traditions have already been destroyed and you can’t place the blame on Obama, though he’d done nothing to restore those traditions.

The system is rigged and they’ve got it tied up tight. The only way I see this changing is if significant numbers of people take to the streets and demand change. But they’ll have to mentally wade through an endless amount of propaganda coming at them from all directions. We already got a taste of it during the Occupy Wall Street protests. Much of the media under-reported their numbers and were labeling them as young, lazy, confused, and just wanting a free ride. The bigger the movement gets, the more anti-movement propaganda we’ll see.

Posted by doggydaddy | Report as abusive

for my personal comfort..the decision would come off the way it was intended for 2012 the mandate of the people will prevailed and will be decided by independent. On republican side it will be solid of course, on the democrats side is one big question..with the problem now and the result of failed promises of obama uncertainty will arise together on independent voters. Never underestimate the power of people who are in financial distress. When the time comes they will put behind their political beliefs and will choose the person who can bring hope at all cost. At this point in time there are lots who are in uncluttered messy emotion.

the tribulation we are suffering now cannot be easily solve by promises as what Obama promised. For sure all politician is back up with back door deal from rich donor for their own vested interest. No matter how much they will spend..it will be base on how far they can be trusted to replace Obama with sincerity to turn this country around. Personal issue will not play that much..it will be economy, tax and Health Case.

independent who voted for Obama was completely off balanced. Across America people are deeply aware of our sinking economy. How we wish we could have been demanded the truth from Obama his motives in making this country like socialist European. He is out of control in spending and the idea of big government , and been unable to extinguish and rendered the real meaning of leadership.

2012 will be the end of the road for Obama very frustratingly and unforgettable president not because he is good but because he is one lousy president.

Posted by cynthiarogacio1 | Report as abusive

USA thinks the majority of its people are poor now. If the Republicans get in, the middle class is dead, the middle class will become the new poor. And will only be the beginning of the horror. What do you think Santorum would do as President? Or the pillar of moral virtue Gingrich?

Posted by mbrmark | Report as abusive

Romney is far from being assured the GOP nomination. This sort of talk (elitist in itself) is music to the ears of Gingrich.

Posted by Dafydd | Report as abusive

I like the fact taht the top 1% have dupped the bottom 25% for the most part to supporting them.

Posted by denvermtn | Report as abusive

Humankind is presented with an incredible and unprecedented situation. We are spectacularly successful at doing something potentially ruinous of all we claim to be protecting and preserving by ever increasing natural resources exploitation and continually increasing food production. Stupidly we hold fast to a wicked delusion that, if we do NOT do these things, a catastrophe will follow. This upside down, delusional thinking is leading us to precipitate a disaster of some unimaginable sort because the continuous exploitation of limited resources, including continually increasing food production to feed a growing population, is precisely what is actually causing humanity to careen toward a colossal global ecological wreckage.

Posted by stevensalmony | Report as abusive