Thomas Frank has written a new book, “Pity the Billionaire” which takes a look at the ideological divide that seems to be pulling the country apart. He admits his conclusions are observational and not derived from any study, scientific or otherwise. What he sees is a tug-of-war between those who refuse to compromise on values and the more pragmatic among us who prefer results and prize harmony. His point is that the divide between the two camps is being dug deeper than normal by the super-wealthy. Billionaires on either side of the political divide throw money into media campaigns as they vie for the hearts and minds of the seemingly powerless middle class.
Of course, one might ask what’s new in this irreconcilable difference. We’ve been a nation divided since our inception, beginning with whether or not the colonies should declare independence from England. These disputes have been resolved by war, civil disobedience or the passage of time — when a new generation brought a different view to the ballot box. Throughout these changes, the wealthy have always used money to influence politics. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling that money is speech, their participation has become more visible, however, as a new set of laws were created to shine a light where previously there was darkness.
Frank argues this new light shows us a shift in the way wealthy arbitrators of the good and evil go about their business. Their new tool is the attack ad where they spend limitless dollars to inflame our passions rather than ignite our thoughts.
I agree with Frank’s concern. The change is subtle — one of degree rather than difference. But a “new speak” is being invented. Distortions, if not lies, by their endless repetitions have taken on the color of truth. Like drops of water upon a stone, they leave their impression. If we aren’t mindful, the jabberwocky language of attack ads may plunge us into a new kind of wonderland.