"As business scandals seem to fill the headlines every day and while the media may keep trying to sweep the attention span-impaired public onto a bright new recovery predicated on deeper middle-class debt, perhaps it behooves the rest of us to examine closer this peculiar moment of American triumphalism in crisis. For it really is all of a piece; this era of Wall Street hubris, this era of smug conservatism, and, not coincidentally, this era of George W. Bush's 'nukular' strutting. A corollary principle was that unlike the decadent Europeans and their soft socialism, the moral righteousness of our business titans displayed itself in diligent hard work as well as sexual probity; (thus was Bill Clinton an unnatural blight to be cast out.) This, of course, was mere hypocrisy on all counts." So writes Kent Southard.
My stepdad, a certified financial planner, called the other day to talk about Enron and related developments. "You know, all those years we were pointing fingers at Japan and the other Asian economies for their supposed 'lack of transparency,' while we were doing the same things." "Or worse," I replied. "Yes, or worse." And we spent some time discussing exaggerated profits and exaggerated P/E ratios, off the books debt and off shore partnerships, and the employment history of Harvey Pitt -- GW Bush's toothless "watchdog" currently presiding over the parade of corporate messes in the headlines day after day.
Well said, Dad! And while the media may keep trying to sweep the attention span-impaired public onto a bright new recovery predicated on deeper middle-class debt, perhaps it behooves the rest of us to examine closer this peculiar moment of American triumphalism in crisis. For it really is all of a piece; this era of Wall Street hubris, this era of smug conservatism, and, not coincidentally, this era of George W. Bush's 'nukular' strutting.
The 'finger pointing' my Dad was referring to was the concerted media campaign recently aimed at justifying America's seeming economic dominance with claims of underpinning moral virtue - that our success was proved by our stratospheric stock market, which indicator could be trusted because of our 'transparent' and honest business practices. A corollary principle was that unlike the decadent Europeans and their soft socialism, the moral righteousness of our business titans displayed itself in diligent hard work as well as sexual probity; (thus was Bill Clinton an unnatural blight to be cast out.)
We've since learned of Enron's own little branch of Club Hedonism, with mistresses made personal assistants at outrageous salaries and lunch hours as likely to include blowjobs paid with company plastic as the traditional three martinis. There's been a bit of an epidemic of this kind of news coming from the ranks of conservative Republicans and affiliated big business apologists, actually. Conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan is not only HIV positive, but trolls the Internet for unprotected gay sex; John Fund, the Wall Street Journal writer who ghosted Rush Limbaugh's book was recently arrested for assaulting his ex-fiancéée, herself the daughter of a longtime Fund paramour; Philip Giordano, whom the GOP put up against Joe Lieberman in the 2000 Senate race, is in prison for soliciting sex from girls as young as 11. My own congressional district has just been redrawn, taking the GOP congressman who rigged the election by hiring an employee's brother to register as the Democratic candidate and then disappear; replaced with another GOP congressman who's been arrested for doing a Hugh Grant.
There's more of this stuff, including a dead girl in the office of a GOP congressman who then retires to 'spend more time with his family;' but I guess the media's working on the principle that the sexual indiscretions of one Democrat equals those of ten Republicans, so you never hear about it. We won't even mention Newty, Asa's brother, Mr. Livingston or Henry the Younger...
Then there's Jack Welch, the famous CEO of General Electric, as solid a Republican icon as ever was. For my money, the most fun-packed fact to emerge from Jack Welch's dalliance with the editor of the Harvard Business Review is not the affair itself, but rather Welch's habit of not letting any fine pair go unremarked on - whether their owner was an acquaintance or a stranger (and whether the moment was public or private). Mr. GOP icon Welch apparently can be counted on to blurt out "Great Tits!" Every opening of an elevator door, "Great Tits!" Every elevator ride, crowding close, "Great Tits!" Every dewy intern in marketing, "Great Tits!" Every trophy wife met at a charity reception, "Great Tits!" Rolling down Fifth Ave in the limo, to a well turned out fifty-something emerging from Saks, a drop of the window and "Great Tits!"
Every straight male is familiar with the sentiment, of course, and it's one of life's great pleasures to produce a smile on the woman in question with your unspoken appreciation. Which is to say it's not just morally and civilly wrong to blurt out 'Great Tits!', it's wrong in every way. A boy of 13, roiled by forces beyond his comprehension and helplessly tumescent, knows it's wrong to just blurt out 'Great Tits!' It's offensive, it's trespassing, it's graceless. It's deranged, in a word.
There's a new book out, well reviewed in the business press, 'Giants of Enterprise: Seven Business Innovators and the Empires They Built' by Richard S. Tedlow. The book tracks the lives and accomplishments of Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, George Eastman and others, and finds that with the exception of Kodak's Eastman, all these titans of American business came to suffer from severe mental derangement; the result, in the author's estimation, of already large egos becoming increasingly unchecked by the influence of others and sheltered from even reality itself. These men, the author says, spend many decades in a bubble of their own unlimited power, surrounded by yes men and associating only with their own kind, egoism feeding egoism, and as a result they start getting notions of their own omniscience and omnipotence. And the behavior isn't limited to charmless sexual harassment. Henry Ford put his only son in an early grave and his anti-Jewish diatribes could have been an inspiration and comfort to Adolf Hitler.
Children of the wealthy raised in this atmosphere of derangement probably can't help but reflect it. So when it's reported that George W. Bush when attending a funeral for 7 people murdered at a church, made goofy faces at the reporters present or when on Inauguration day Bush met with Bill Clinton and the TV camera captured Bush's feet bouncing on the floor like a spastic or finally Bush rushed off to play golf when his own daughter had an emergency appendectomy, we recognize the symptoms of an individual whose hard-wiring has some crossed leads.
So as Bush declares his lack of concern about Osama bin Laden while rushing off to nuke Iraq in the fullness of conservatism triumphant, the most obvious response is that this conservatism's economic and moral justification has already been revealed as fraudulent. The complete truth may well be that we're witnessing the systemic mental illness of the American wealthy classes, inculcated and refined over generations who long ago stopped associating with anyone but themselves, unable to see anything past their egoism.