Two recent news items carved into the public consciousness the true extent and hypocrisy of the Teapublican right wing and its myths. Several Teapublican members of congress dismissed all attempts to reach out to the Latino community, lumping all of that community with other supporters of the Democratic Party who are “takers”. As that vile commentary made its rounds it was announced in Davenport, Iowa that one Russell Wasendorf, Sr., the founder of the Peregrine Financial Group was sentenced to fifty years for stealing in excess of $215 million.
One of the many lows of the Romney campaign was the leaked video of Mitt Romney claiming that 47% of the American people were in effect “takers”, receiving a multitude of unearned benefits for housing, food, education and healthcare. It was, Mr. Romney believed, this 47% that would never vote for him and would always for the Democratic handout that was waiting around the corner.
Of course Mitt Romney was half right. It wasn’t 47% of the American people who didn’t vote for him, it was more like 53%. But he was wrong in labeling and libeling so many Americans as “takers”, simply because the social safety net that they helped to create and pay for actually works.
But Mitt Romney and the Teapublicans are totally wrong in implying that there is this class of Americans – 53%, 10%, 1%, it doesn’t matter – who have achieved wealth and success through their own hard work and sheer genius. Such an analysis ignores the public education system, the highways, the commercial banking infrastructure, law enforcement and healthcare that create an environment where businesses can thrive and prosper. And no, they didn’t build that!
But the Teapublican shadow dance also tends to distract from another reality which the Peregrine case illustrates. Mr. Wasendorf founded an investment company, ran it for almost thirty years, stole $215 million of other people’s money and by all accounts never made a single penny. Yet Mr. Wasendorf was a respected member of the 1% club with estates, private planes and an office building to show off his edifice complex until, that it, the entire house came crashing down.
And just in case we should think that Peregrine case is an outlier let us not forget Bernie Madoff ($18 billion stolen – 150 year prison sentence), Allen Stanford ($7 billion stolen – 110 year sentence), and Thomas Petters ($4 billion stolen – 50 year prison sentence).
Meanwhile, with stunning regularity firms like Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America pay staggering fines of hundreds of millions, and in some instances billions, of dollars for “improper practices”. Of course this punishment does not include criminal penalties for the perpetrators/beneficiaries.
It is important for us to understand that none of these examples are outliers. Great wealth many times is the result of “sharp” practices that are many times made illegal after the fact. The “sharp” business practices that created the fortunes of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan gave rise to an entire infrastructure of laws, rules and regulations. Those “sharp” practices were unfair and would now be illegal.
The point is that the real “takers” in American history have not been “welfare queens” getting a few extra food stamps. The real “takers” have been the men and women who have cheated and stolen and lied their way to unimaginable fortunes. To the extent they have been subtle enough to employ their chicanery without a ski mask, these “takers” end up in boardrooms, boards of trustees and in some instances Teapublican campaign finance committees.
Misdirection is one of the oldest ploys in just about every sport and certainly in politics. While filling the airwaves with complaints about the mythical “takers” from Ayn Rand’s fairy tales – students on scholarship, parents feeding their children, veterans receiving health support, elderly citizens receiving care and sustenance – attention is diverted from the brazen robberies that take place every day.
Most people in business are honest. But there are too many who are dishonest and who populate an ever growing den of thieves. These robbers represent the true burden on society and the drain on the economy.
Just because the robbers wear bespoke suits and custom-made shirts while being driven by their chauffeurs doesn’t mean that they aren’t the real “takers”.