Frank Rich: ‘Money has institutionalized a caste system’ where everyone but the wealthiest stand still

Frank Rich puts his finger on something, and it’s the same thing he’s been touching for a while: the capture of the political process — and the whole rest of the country — by Money.

Regardless of party or politics, there’s a sense a broken country can’t be fixed. Few have faith that even “wave” elections are game-changers anymore.

He kicks off by discussing the competing Washington rallies, Jon Stewart’s against bipartisanship and Glenn Beck’s to restore prayer, and notes the inevitable — that neither addresses the problem.

But both rallies, for all the commotion they generated, have already faded to the status of quirky historical footnotes. The reason is that neither addressed the elephant in the room — or the donkey. That would be big money — the big money that dominates our political system, regardless of who’s in power. Two years after the economic meltdown, most Americans now recognize that that money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver.

“Money has institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains in stasis except the wealthiest sliver.” Worth taping to the wall, in case you forget. Among the evidence he cites is the following:

Wall Street is already celebrating the approach of bonus season by partying like it’s 2007. In The Times’s account of this return to conspicuous consumption, we learned of a Morgan Stanley trader, since fired for unspecified reasons, who went to costly ends to try to hire a dwarf for a Miami bachelor party prank that would require the dwarf to be handcuffed to the bachelor. If this were a metaphor — if only! — Wall Street would be the bachelor, and America the dwarf, involuntarily chained to its master’s hedonistic revels and fiscal recklessness with no prospect for escape.

Pity the dwarf; as many of us discovered this holiday week, he’s the “Reagan Democrat” who has the keys to the handcuffs in his pocket, but because he thinks he’s the bachelor, won’t use them. Poor deluded fellow, eagerly giving money to his Betters.

But the end is the strongest. It deals with Dems in general and the New Dem coalition in particular. The Blue Dogs may be down, but the New Dems are back in force. Let’s make a deal, with help from Team Fierce Advocate:

Since the election, the Obama White House has sent signals that it will make nice to these interests. While the president returns to photo ops at factories, Timothy Geithner has already met with the chamber’s board out of camera range. In a reportorial coup before Election Day, the investigative news organization ProPublica wrote of the similarly behind-closed-doors activities of the New Democrat Coalition — “a group of 69 lawmakers whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists” makes them “one of the most successful political money machines” since DeLay’s K Street Project collapsed in 2007. During the Congressional battle over financial-services reform last May, coalition members repaired to a retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to frolic with lobbyists dedicated to weakening the legislation.

It would clutter this piece too much to discuss the last two links, but please click through. It will surprise you how little you’re surprised.

I’m really enjoying Frank Rich these days. He’s at the very leading edge of what’s obviously true, and he’s said what’s true, by my count, three times already this year. I wonder where he’ll take his game when that’s not enough.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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