I am currently about one third through Chris Hayes', Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, which argues that the very nature of the meritocracy ethos to which almost all Americans subscribe leads inevitably to corruption: unmediated competition drives winners to game the system and cement their advantages. It's through that prism that Hayes, focusing on Romney's violation of the negotiated ground rules (e.g, by posing direct questions to Obama), viewed last night's debate -- and by extension, Romney himself. Kos diarist Iarxphd transcribes (I've fixed apparent typos):
The theme of the last 10 years of this country is that the people at the top don't think the rules apply to them. And you send your people to sit down and negotiate a set of rules, and 20 minutes into it you throw it out the window. Everything we've seen, from the financial crisis to everything else that's happened to this country has been about the Oligarchs and the ruling class, and the people at the top, feeling like they are not a party to the social contract. So some stupid little contract that was negotiated by your people, you don't worry about it 20 minutes into it.Call it Romney Rule #18: debate rules are to inhibit my opponent, not me. More broadly, Hayes suggests that Romney's private equity m.o. has brought the ethos that governs Wall Street to our national politics -- and that by so doing, he is merely bringing to a kind of quintessence the rules by which our elites in all their various spheres have learned to play. As I put it in introducing the Romney Rules: "As a private equity chief, Romney was a master of playing a rigged game, or of himself rigging games in his firm's favor; he has carried that skill to the political arena. " Or, as Obama put it last night:
And Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That's been his philosophy in the private sector; that's been his philosophy as governor; that's been his philosophy as a presidential candidate. You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money.Hayes, incidentally, identifies Obama as himself a product of the meritocratic gospel and beholden to it. I presume, though, that he doesn't see Obama as a kind of avatar of elite corruption, as he does Romney.
That's exactly the philosophy that we've seen in place for the last decade. That's what's been squeezing middle-class families. And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess, and the last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.
BTW, I suspect that Hayes exaggerates in his portrait of elite corruption -- or rather, exaggerates the extent to which our elites are more corrupt than in the past. But I'm only 1/3 through, so I'll stop there.
I may even catch Up with Chris one morning. But oh, the commercial breaks.
Update: a little more context for the Chris Hayes riff on the Up with Chris web page, here.