So, this is what plutocracy looks like.
No character is more reviled in the conservative movement's rogue's gallery of villainy than the union "boss." He's the corrupt and corpulent operator who brings healthy companies to grief with his irresponsible demands. He's the ideological enforcer who uses union dues to support issues and candidates obnoxious to their workers. It's a situation conservative liken to indentured servitude that conservatives are ready to combat with "right-to-work" laws designed to give workers back their "freedom."
Well, as we are learning more and more, union leaders can't hold a candle to real bosses who flex their muscles by blackmailing or intimidating unprotected employees-at-will into supporting their boss's pet causes.
Take the Louis XVI wannabe David Seigal, owner of the Florida based Westgate Resorts, who's now building a 90,000 square foot mansion to rival King Louis' court at Versailles.
In an email filled with hilarious non sequiturs which he sent last weekend to all his employees, Seigal said that business has never been better -- yet if employees value their jobs they will vote against President Obama to ensure that the next four years will not be like the previous four in which their company has been "the most profitable it has ever been."
Seigal exhibits the same head-scratching irrationality manifested by lots of other Titans of finance and industry who bitterly complain about President Obama as the stock market has doubled and corporate profits are at record levels -- even as employment is down.
"The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job," admits Seigal. "What does threaten your job is another four years of the same presidential administration. As your employer I cannot tell you whom to vote for. But if any new taxes are levied on me or my company as our current President plans I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone."
As Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore points out, bosses pressuring workers to vote their way is an ancient if dishonorable tradition in American politics.
This bullying from the boss -- which we saw on rich display in Mitt Romney's debate performance on Tuesday night when he told the President of the United States to sit down and shut up until he was through speaking -- may have reached its peak in the 1896 election between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan when Republican power broker Mark Hanna built a firewall against "The Great Commoner's" prairie populism by urging employers to strong-arm workers into voting for the Monied Interest's chosen candidate.
Worker intimidation seems to have reached Mark Hanna-proportions in Ohio coal country where Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, doesn't even bother to disguise the fact he thinks his workers' jobs are contingent on their support for Republican candidates and causes.
In August, Murray made news when it came out workers at the company's Century Mine in Beallsville, Ohio were pressured into attending a Mitt Romney photo op as workers stood smiling with the candidate in front of a giant placard that read: "Coal Country Stands with Mitt."
As Alex MacGillis reports in the New Republic, miners were not there of their own accord. Murray had suspended operations at the Century Mine "and made it clear to workers that they were expected to attend - without pay."
Since 2007, employers of Murray Energy and their families have contributed over $1.4 million to Republican candidates, says MacGillis. Yet, according to one Murray worker who spoke with MacGillis on condition of anonymity, "there's a lot of coercion. I just wanted to work. But you feel this constant pressure that if you don't contribute your job's at stake. You're compelled to do this whether you want to or not."
Internal company documents reviewed by MacGillis "show just how upset Murray becomes when employees fail to join the giving.
"What is so difficult about asking a well-paid salaried employee to give us three hours of his/her time every two months?" asks Murray in a March 2012 letter to workers. "We have been insulted by every salaried employee who does not support our efforts."
The shakedown begins the moment a worker joins the company, MacGillis says, as employees are told at orientation they're expected to contribute 1% of their salary to the company's PAC by automatic payroll deduction - after signing a paper, of course, declaring the giving is entirely "voluntary."
No wonder, as one worker told McGillis, "people are so upset about being constantly asked for the checks, because people have lives and families and expenses. This isn't right. I don't think they're allowed to do this. Most people do it grudgingly."
Just as in Mark Hanna's day, the blackmailing and intimidation of workers -- and the conversion of economic power into political clout -- reflects an attitude among bosses that business leaders, not democratically-accountable elected officials, ought to run the country under that political system known as "oligarchy."
Even some conservatives find these developments troubling and have begun to raise their voices against what they see as the rise of government of, by and for the few.
From their knowledge of history these conservatives have learned how self-destructive a privileged ruling class can be whenever it is trying to preserve its fortunes against popular demands, and how suicidal its impulses unless kept in check by publicly-accountable counterweights.
Writing in the American Conservative magazine, Mike Lofgren, 16-year Republican veteran of both the House and Senate budget committees, endorses arguments I've made in the past that the real target of Republican animosity in recent years isn't "Big Government" per se - since right wing conservatives habitually grow government when in power -- but the American democratic nation-state itself.
America's rich elites, says Lofgren, "have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens."
Splitting up the country between everyone else and the 47% who are dependent on government and so don't rate attention from Republicans, is a division that comes easy to the super rich like Mitt Romney who have basically seceded from the country, says Lofgren. By this he means the rich have withdrawn into their gated enclaves, cut themselves off from the civic life of the nation, disparaged the country's democratic achievements like public education and disconnected themselves from any concern about the country "except as a place to extract loot."
"Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India," writes Lofgren, "in the place but not of it."
In 1950, Lofgren notes, the payroll taxes that all Americans paid for Social Security and Medicare constituted just 10.9% of federal revenues while today they are up to 33.9%. On the other hand, corporate taxes that were 26.4% of federal levies 60 years ago fell to just 14.4% by 2007. Half of today's budget deficit, says Lofgren, is due to the generosity of tax cuts given to the rich.
After the 2008 collapse, says Lofgren, "the rich, rather than having the modesty to temper their demands, this time have made the calculated bet that they are politically invulnerable -- Wall Street moguls angrily and successfully rejected executive-compensation limits even for banks that had been bailed out by taxpayer funds."
Today's Republican ideology "celebrates outsourcing, globalization, and takeovers as the glorious fruits of capitalism's 'creative destruction,'" writes Lofgren, noting that when he was in Congress he saw for himself how "GOP proponents of globalized vulture capitalism extolled the off-shoring and financialization process as an unalloyed benefit" while being "quick to denounce as socialism any attempt to mitigate its impact on society."
Lofgren likens Republican economic ideology today to "upside-down utopianism, an absolutist twin of Marxism." If millions of people's get hurt in order to protect "scientific laws of economics that must never be tampered with," then in the infamous words of Speaker John Boehner: "So be it."
The objective of the "predatory super-rich and their political handmaidens" is to discredit and destroy the traditional nation-state and reallocate its resources to themselves, says Lofgren.
And so "if a morally acceptable American conservatism is ever to extricate itself from a pseudo-scientific inverted Marxist economic theory, it must grasp that order, tradition, and stability are not coterminous with an uncritical worship of the Almighty Dollar -- nor with obeisance to the demands of the wealthy. Conservatives need to think about the world they want: do they really desire a social Darwinist dystopia?"
Yet, echoing the words of Mitt Romney even before Romney's authentic voice was broadcast to the rest nation via that infamous video about America's 47%, billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Schwarzman was already calling low-income citizens socially irresponsible because they paid no income taxes and therefore had no "skin in the game."
Schwarzman says he doesn't know how much exactly the poor should pay. But he's sure they should pay some so that everyone can be "part of the system."
Yet, in thinking about what we should call the "system" America currently has, it is worth considering that during World War I and II "even a Harvard man or a New York socialite might know the weight of an army pack," writes Lofgren.
Now, he says, speaking directly to the top 1% "the military is for suckers from the laboring classes whose subprime mortgages you just sliced into CDOs and sold to gullible investors in order to buy your second Bentley or rustle up the cash to get Rod Stewart to perform at your birthday party (as Schwarzman did, paying $5 million)."
The sentiment among the super-rich toward the rest of America is, says Lofgren, "often one of contempt rather than noblesse"
No wonder Republicans are making an issue of Joe Biden's derisive laughter at last Thursday's vice presidential debate and the number of times he interrupted their delivery boy, Paul Ryan.