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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS

There has been a good deal of speculation about the hour-long video that has surfaced of the now truly infamous supposedly private Mitt Romney speech to $50,000 a plate donors.  [I use the adjective "infamous" in its proper meaning, "detestable or shamefully malign," not in its current misusage as simply "widely known."]  Present in  the room were Romney, the fat cats, and servants scurrying about bringing the food and clearing the dirty plates.  The angle of the video makes it clear that it was not recorded by one of the guests, so we can only conclude that one of the wait staff managed to set up a camera and film the proceedings.

Upper classes always ignore the presence of their servants, a fact that gave rise to an entire genre of eighteenth century French comedy.  [Think "The Marriage of Figaro" without the immortal music.]  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they seem constitutionally incapable of remembering that the working class is populated by actual human beings with eyes and ears and fully functional intelligence.  This failure is ideological, not personal, in nature.  Were the rich and powerful of the world to acknowledge the full humanity of those they exploit, they would find it difficult to sustain the easy air of superiority that they consider their birthright.

I had a personal experience of this ancient truth more than twenty-five years ago in Johannesburg.  I had gone to South Africa for six weeks to lecture to the second year Philosophy majors at the University of the Witwatersrand on the thought of Karl Marx, a subject that had never until then been included in the undergraduate Philosophy curriculum.  The Chair of the Philosophy Department in those days was Jonathan Susman, nephew of the famous anti-apartheid activist and member of Parliament Helen Susman.  Jonathan invited me to join him for dinner at an old and very exclusive Johannesburg men's club.  I rented a tux [one of only four times in my life that I have worn a monkey suit] and joined him for a private dinner with, among others, the editor of one of the leading newspapers, an executive of a major bank, and the CEO of a mining company.

I was, to put it as gently as I can, a bit out of my element.  [The chap sitting next to me, in an effort to be friendly, turned to me at one point and asked, "Well, Bob, are you a club man?" meaning, I suppose, did I belong to an American counterpart of this men's club.  I allowed as how I was not.]  A good deal of the conversation concerned a bombing raid that the South African air force had launched against suspected anti-apartheid rebel forces in Zimbabwe.  [This was well before Nelson Mandela and his colleagues were released from Robben Island], about which the newspaper editor had some inside information.

As the men chatted, silent waiters moved about the room, serving us.  I sat there and wondered which of them was taking note of everything that was said and reporting it back to associates of the armed struggle inside South Africa.  My dinner hosts seemed blithely unaware that this could even be a possibility.

At Romney's rich donor dinner, it is a virtual certainty that the wait staff consisted of men [and perhaps women -- one cannot tell from the video] who make too little money to pay federal income taxes, and hence are among the 47% whom Romney says are dependent moochers who cannot take personal responsibility for their lives.  These people were obviously in full view of Romney as he stood at the podium and spoke for more than an hour.  The fact that it obviously never occurred to him that he was talking about people present in the room says more about Romney than any formal biography or hatchet job expose possibly can.

6 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

Brilliant. I hadn't thought of that. Apparently the source is a woman (David Corn). I had thought it was a dissident fat cat with a great iphone; but now i think it had to be somewhat more covert and distant, perhaps a hidden camcorder on a tripod. Anyway, this reminds me of the stories told by maids in the Sandinista revolution where they smuggled weapons and hid them under floor boards in the kitchens, all the while serving the elite. "They thought we were too stupid to pull off such organizational feats."

Don Schneier said...

At least the public is getting a glimpse at the sociopathic core of contemporary trickle-down economics. Maybe one of the 'debates' will even include an examination of the Categorical Imperative 'Let the market decide!'

Kent Schenkel said...

Great point here. And I hope those "moochers" know that they are almost certainly paying a far larger percentage of their income in federal taxes than Romney is.

Romney said “47 percent of Americans pay no income tax." Is this statement true? That depends on whether he meant “that tax that tax experts think of as the federal Income Tax as opposed to other federal taxes on income,” or whether he meant “[federal] income tax” in the generic sense. The first is arguably correct while the latter is a bold-faced lie.

However, it’s my guess that most Americans think that he meant the latter and further think that he was correct. That’s as he intended. And therein lies an example of the genius behind the Republican class war. It’s crucial that those against whom the war is being waged remain ignorant of the war’s existence. Otherwise they wouldn’t keep voting their enemies into office.

All working Americans pay what is known as a “payroll tax,” which is a tax on their earned income; in other words, a federal income tax. This is the tax that was intended to finance Social Security and Medicare. And it doesn’t matter how little they make, they still must pay this tax. In fact, the Social Security portion of this tax, which is the bulk of it, only applies to income at the lower levels. No tax is owed on earned income above $110,100. (By the way, Romney may not even have what’s known as “earned income,” which is generally only income from wages or self-employment and not investments, so he may pay no payroll tax at all.) Ironically, the reason for the separate Social Security and Medicare tax is so that political operatives like Romney would have a difficult time eliminating those programs. Roosevelt wanted to make sure that "no damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program."

Now we can see where the genius part comes in. Because the tax is a separate “payroll tax,” it can be argued that it’s not technically part of the “income tax”. Therefore any American who merely pays the payroll tax is not paying income tax. And anyone who doesn’t pay income tax is a moocher. That Romney guy really tells it like it is.

Magpie said...

Perhaps you guys should have a look at what the richest woman in Australia (and the whole wide wonderful world) has to say to her fellow Australians:

"AUSTRALIA'S richest person, Gina Rinehart, has issued a stern rebuke to those jealous of the wealthy: start working harder and cut down on drinking, smoking and socialising."

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/gina-rinehart-tells-whingers-get-out-of-the-pub/story-e6frg8zx-1226461138251

Robert Paul Wolff said...

As Marx forsaw, the class struggle knows no boundaries.

Chris said...

This should be added as an addendum to Howard Zinn's A People's History of America