Labor-backed Americans United for Change has launched a campaign to call attention to Mitt Romney’s history as a venture capitalist with Bain Capital. (h/t Steve Benen) As most people know, Romney made a lot of money while he was with Bain by buying up distressed companies at fire-sale prices, breaking them up, selling them off, and putting a lot of people out of work. Of course, he didn’t do it all by himself – he had plenty of taxpayer subsidies to help him “earn” all that money.
Americans United for Change had the bright idea to directly connect Mitt Romney with fictional venture capitalist Gordon Gekko, memorably portrayed by Michael Douglas in 1987’s Wall Street:
The thing is . . . I think this campaign can only help Romney in the Republican primary. And I don’t say that snarkily or sarcastically.
I don’t care how many times the zombie lie is repeated, the Republican base and the Teabaggers of which it consists are not upset with big business. They don’t believe that the banks or the CEOs or America’s wealthy 1% have anything to do with the economic misery the country is suffering right now; so far as they are concerned, the entirety of the nation’s woes can be traced back to the government “printing too much money” and giving it to “those lazy, shiftless, poor people.”
Besides, there is a powerful authoritarian thread running through our national culture that idolizes strong, ruthless winners – from George C. Scott in Patton declaring that “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser,” to Joe Lieberman pumping his fist in the air and yelling “Yeah! All right!” whenever American forces scored an onscreen hit in Behind Enemy Lines, to – yes – a lot of people’s idolization of Gordon Gekko when Wall Street came out.
Cast your mind back to the half-dozen years immediately following the release of Wall Street. Suddenly, professional men all started wearing suspenders and colored shirts with white collars and slicking back their hair – just like Gekko. These people weren’t hipsters, they weren’t imitating Gordon Gekko ironically. These people liked Gekko’s ruthlessness and the fact that he broke the law to grab what he wanted and screwed over everybody who got in his way . . . to them, that was admirable.
And a later movie, American Psycho, got a lot of bad press for being violent and misogynist when it first came out, so I avoided it for a long time. I finally watched it about two years ago and was mad that I had waited so long. I think the movie is a brilliant satire of that entire Gekko-inspired yuppie period on Wall Street. But what really struck me was watching the DVD extras and listening to director Mary Harron explain that after the movie came out she had “so many men” boast to her that they were just like Patrick Bateman (less the torture and murder, I’m sure). She pointed out that anybody who would idolize Patrick Bateman really must be just a terrible person, and had missed the point of the movie completely.
But, as she said . . . there are a lot of such people.
The thing is, the people who think ruthlessly crushing the weak in order to “get yours” is admirable all naturally gravitate to the Conservative side of the aisle. From the Rick Perry supporter who admiringly exclaimed “It takes balls to execute an innocent man," to the debate audience that applauded Perry’s record number of executions, to the Kingmaker status the Republican base seems inexplicably to have conferred on a know-nothing narcissist whose most lasting impact on American culture will be the sneering dismissal “You’re fired!”. . . the Republican base has made it pretty clear that they admire mean, vicious assholes if that’s what it takes to be “successful.”
Watch that video again. You wanna know what the only thing a Conservative voter who watches that video is going to remember? He’s going to remember the footage of the Hamptons, and the image of the happy, laughing couple in their private jet – and he’s going to think: Nice . . . that’s the team I want to play for.
I can’t really explain it. It’s as if Republicans don’t actually realize they’re voting for a politician, but instead think they are picking their avatar for a round of Mortal Kombat and the only thing they care about is selecting the richest, meanest, nastiest piece of work available.
Right now, that’s Newt Gingrich. That’s why Newt’s ahead in the polls. But if Americans United for Change can convince a bunch of Republican voters that Mitt Romney is the second coming of Gordon Gekko, Romney might still be able to sell himself to them. The Republican base would love to have Gordon Gekko for their avatar.