Oh, the irony. (Not to be confused with “iron knees” which I’m going to have to look into in the years ahead as my joints head south faster than the rest of me. They say the knees are the first to go, followed by the eyes and everything in between. They are right. I hate They. Let us track them down and smite them. But I digress.)
Helmsley was a classic case of—a titan of—the arrogance of power. Filner is more of a petty little blip. But both demonstrated manifestations of that all too human – and dangerous—condition. For Helmsley, great wealth meant great privilege—and exemption. Restrictions applied to other merer, poorer mortals and should not, could not apply to the gods and goddesses of the new American Mount Money Olympus. And how different was her attitude, strongly reviled by the public, from the whole attitude our wealthy classes over the last generation? Helmsley simply said publicly what others thought privately, lobbied for privately and got passed into law publicly. Let the little people pay taxes.
And, yes, the rich pay more in income and capital gains taxes than the rest of us – a higher percentage of their share of the national income, in fact. But when you take into account all taxes – social security withholding, state fees and sales taxes, etc., the tax burden falls more heavily on the working and middle classes. And the inequity in the distribution of the national obligation of taxation has grown substantially since 1980.
Just as the rich would have it, of course. It’s called the Arisotelean bias. Fitzgerald said the rich are different than you and I. According to the old Greek Fitzy was right. They’re richer because they’re smarter. You can’t argue with the logic. If the rich were dumb they wouldn’t be rich. (Okay, maybe you can argue with the logic. Two words: Paris Hilton. Two more words and an initial: George W. Bush.) And if the poor were smart they wouldn’t be poor. (Unless they were born too rich parents which is still the number one route to riches. See previous examples one and two.) Expo facto, leave the money and power to the rich and they will make society richer. Eventually that wealth would trickle down (sound familiar?) to everyone else. Aristocracy—the rule of the wise rich—was seen by Aristotle as a good system of government. Democracy—the rule of the stupid poor—was seen by Aristotle (and most political thinkers right into the 19th century) as disastrous.
We put that philosophy into practice in the 1980s with Reaganomics (cut taxes on the rich so they would invest in and grow the economy—which they did, though usually in East Asia or Latin America…). We did it with the defacto raise of the plutarchy of K Street, where big money buys big influence in government. We did it with the argument that, since the rich pay the taxes they should get to say what the laws are—and exempt themselves from them as much as possible. Laws, you see, are for the little people, too.
Filner’s arrogance of power is of a far diminished scale than Leona Helmsley who, everyday, treated her underlings with as little or less respect than Filner showed a United Airlines employee who tried to block his access to a restricted baggage area. And, in fairness to Filner, who hasn’t wanted to rebel against the Gestapo-state that air travel in America has become. But Filner didn’t react out of annoyance. He reacted out of outrage that his superior position as a Congressman was not being honored as it should be—that he was being held to the same standards as all the rest of the little people left crowding hopelessly around empty, turning luggage carrousels like souls damned to airport eternity.
In this Filner joins the proud ranks of other temper-tantrum political egoists like Congresspersons Chris Shays and Cynthia McKinney who pulled similar “flog the little person for getting in my majestic way” acts on Capitol Hill. Filner still remains in the minor leagues of power arrogance, however, not reaching the esteemed heights of ego gratification like Randy “I’m a Congressman, dammit. I deserve more money” Cunningham, who believed serving in Congress entitled him to a life style of the rich and greedy.
What do you expect? You surround our elected politicians with the rich and powerful some of that ‘ol Leona black magic is bound to rub off on them eventually. (Unless they were already rich and powerful before coming into office). That doesn’t excuse their behavior in any way, of course. Actions like Filner’s only underscores the need of the press and public to keep a close eye on all elected officials and watch out for signs of patricianitis, the greatest danger of which is for the elected officials of all the people to start feeling to much empathy with the aristocracy. God’s already blessed the rich. Government needs to look out for the rest of us. (That would we the people are the government, or at least supposed to be.
But Leona Helmsley and, to a lesser extent, Bob Filner are both manifestations of our cultural and political trend of the last generation to value the rich and powerful over the poor and average. That’s a trend that strikes right at the roots of democracy.