Letterman, Romney, and false class consciousness


David Letterman made fun of Mitt Romney’s “Day One” campaign video on his show the other day, a flaccid spoof whose only punchline is “David Letterman really wants Barack Obama to get re-elected.”

Letterman warmed up with some equally flat jokes about Romney’s vast fortune, but the punch line to those jokes is much funnier: Letterman, after many years of hosting a television show, has almost twice as much money as Mitt Romney does. 

Both Letterman and Romney, along with the great majority of celebrities in both entertainment and politics, are comfortably part of what the Obama-endorsed Occupy Wall Street movement would call the “One Percent.”  Everyone else is supposedly lumped in the “Ninety-Nine Percent.”

This is Marxism for dummies, a simplified version of an already idiotic class system.  Membership in the “One Percent” currently requires an annual income of just above $380,000 per year.  A person at that income level has very little in common with a genuine “millionaire,” much less a “billionaire.”  Likewise, the “Ninety-Nine Percent” grab bag includes everyone from six-figure doctors to the people in line at soup kitchens.

There isn’t even much similarity between multi-millionaires, as the contrast between Letterman and Romney illustrates.  The manner in which they earned their fortunes, and the collateral effect upon people around them, was very different. 

The original class system is also foolish, but it’s deeply ingrained into our discourse.  I must apologize for using it myself, alongside everyone else who speaks of the “middle class.”  This is an entirely political term, with no real empirical value, broadly understood to mean “people who have jobs, but are not rich.” 

The concept of the “middle class” does have value in a political discussion, because the evolution of a true middle class marks the appearance of a very large group that combines voting power with a vested interest in economic independence.  The middle class is a dangerous obstacle to collectivists, because it has enough muscle to resist centralized control, and is difficult to restrain through dependency.  In fact, it is arguably impossible to subdue the huge middle class by making them dependent upon government programs without borrowing a ruinous amount of money.  It’s a good thing we don’t let governments do that!

The middle class label has become more commonly abused in the manner of the One Percent vs. 99 Percent idiocy, however.  It’s an attempt to impose false consciousness upon a wildly diverse population, whose interests don’t otherwise coincide.  We are being made to feel like part of a mythic “group” we don’t really belong to, and likewise persuaded that our designated class enemies, the Evil Rich, are somehow in league with each other.  An ersatz banner is raised to rally a phony brotherhood against a phantom enemy.

Also built into this narrative is the implication of a conflict between the Noble Rich and the Evil Rich.  The Noble Rich are people who deserve their wealth.  You bought their record albums, or tickets to their movies.  You watch them on TV.  Politicians who “devoted their lives to helping people” deserve enormous salaries and incredible luxuries, funded at public expense. 

The Evil Rich, on the other hand, are predators and thieves.  They made their money by robbing or cheating the Little Guy somehow.  They’re hideously over-compensated, for abstract jobs that don’t involve any real “work” in the sense an average person would understand it.  They fire people and cut benefits to maximize their sinister profits.  They’re greedy and selfish.

This is all even more obvious when you consider the latest tool of false consciousness, the “working families” label fashionable with today’s class warriors.  As if people who achieve high income don’t “work” for it!  But the more pertinent implication is that they don’t suffer.  They don’t understand you the way benevolent politicians, or millionaire entertainers, do.