Warren Buffett and George Soros are apparently hip; the Koch brothers are not.
How did that come about, given that there is not much difference in the capitalist modes in which they all became billionaires? After all, a Koch brother did not try to break the Bank of England, or get convicted of a crime in France. Warren Buffett’s choice to leave much of his estate to the Gates Foundation will cost all of us billions in lost federal estate tax revenue. And his efforts to hike estate taxes on the upper middle class would mean that a keystone of his empire — life insurance — might profit handsomely. Could Obama just jet to Omaha and say: “Warren, HHS and HUD have a funding problem; could you steer a few billions their way in your estate?”
The difference is that Buffett and Soros espouse liberal causes and progressive politicians. CEO Jeffrey Immelt not only won lots of tax concessions for GE, but also did so without much public rebuke. You see, he was a loud proponent of Barack Obama and once bankrolled MSNBC. (Did Eugene Robinson ever blast on the air his patron for not paying his fair share?). That in and of itself provided exemption from charges of crony capitalism and insider influence peddling — and the fact that GE paid no income taxes in 2010.
If the executives of Solyndra had been coal-company CEOs, they would now be in deep trouble for squandering public funds obtained through rank cronyism.
We don’t worry much when Facebook or Google invades private lives; we worry a great deal when frackers produce oil without polluting the environment. BP had it right — keep the familiar abbreviation and green color and just say the logo now means an eco-friendly “Beyond Petroleum” (rather than the neo-colonialist British Petroleum) as you pump more gas and oil than ever. Government Motors will soon not be a parody; but Green Motors would be even better.
What’s in a Name?
So: hip is often as easy as changing one’s name. Had Mitt Romney only reminded us of his family’s Mexican ancestry and ran as Zarpa Romneo, and against Barry Dunham. We do not associate the billion-dollar couple — rapper Jay-Z and singer Beyoncé — with the one-percent elite who made zillions through music, endorsements, and scores of cutthroat capitalist subsidiary companies. Would Barack Obama dare lecture them: “You did not build those businesses”? Or “Come on — at some point you made enough money”? Or,“Hey, you two, now is not the time to profit”?
Would the two seem different to the public had they been known as Beyoncé Knowles and Shawn Carter? Would a Barry Dunham or even Barry Obama have quite found the hip resonance of Barack Obama?
Why did we agonize over George Bush’s purported cocaine use while a youth, when Barack Obama, of Choom Gang affiliation, openly bragged in his memoirs of using “blow”? One was a seen as a pampered frat wastrel, the other a literary and confused man “coming of age” in an uncertain world, turning to Niebuhr for solace.
Hipness can be especially hard to acquire for old white guys who have tons of money and will do almost anything to increase it — like a stingy John Kerry who tried to avoid $500,000 in property taxes by moving his $7M yacht to Rhode Island, or a conniving green Nobel Laureate Al Gore who just sold his $100 million interest in Current TV to the anti-American al-Jazeera funded by the fossil-fuel burning royal family of Qatar, and attempted to beat the new 2013 tax hikes in the process. (What a liberal trifecta!) But as exemption for not buying a $5 million dollar yacht and paying his taxes with the savings, Kerry often harangues for high taxes on others. And we remember his passionate 1960s protest career. (Ghhenzzzis Khan made far better senatorial drama than Genghis Khan). For dessert, Kerry wind-surfs and wears spandex while bike riding. Add all that up and Kerry is exempted from the Occupy Wall Street disdain of one-percenters. He is one of the good guys, mansions, yachts, and all.