UPDATE:So this thing turned out to be some sort of fuckup, oh well, I guess my heart really does go out to the oligarchs after all, ‘as if.’
Last night I watched the election returns from the headquarters of FreedomWorks. The full experience was actually too painful, and too much of that pain was self-inflicted, for me to adequately describe at this juncture or possibly ever, because obviously I was drinking heavily. The office was equipped with a massive poster of Ayn Rand and, more improbably, with an entire keg of Dale’s Pale Ale. I say “improbably” because I don’t think the “market” would have chosen Dale’s since most people in this town regardless of aisle are wine-sipping beer philistines, but then again, the whole Dale’s brand identity is predicated upon its being the first pretentious “craft” beer to concoct the ingenious gimmick of packaging itself in cans, and at one point I think “Yes We Can” was one of its marketing slogans, so it’s probably actually pretty clever that the libertarians chose it to commemorate their big night. Fuck you, elitist liberals, the masses saw right through your tongue-in-cheek populist packaging, and now watch as we drink you for breakfast, or something, I don’t know.
Dick Armey was there, tanned and for some reason wearing gold-toed socks with no shoes. I decided to warm up by mingling before I approached him and then he was gone. So the evening mostly consisted of my attempts to eavesdrop on Tea Party volunteers’ conversations and, once I had finally drunk enough, converse civilly with FreedomWorks volunteers. In one corner two affluent-looking middle-aged men (white, but duh) (I don’t remember even seeing any token minorities in the hundreds that came through but like I said I was drinking) were having that distinctly upper middle class conversation about their respective adolescent children’s college searches in which the barely-masked paranoia, desperate self-justification and inadvertent underminery churning wildly beneath the thin veneer of cordial water cooler type chat never ceases to impress me.
This particular one seemed to have started with one guy’s probably harmless remark about the endless layers of bureaucratic college admissions apparatchik red tape currently at home stifling his kid’s creative vitality, which in turn seemed to unleash a hidden wellspring of repressed shame in the other guy, because his own kid had attempted to sidestep the whole competitive bidding process by exploiting the protectionist loophole known as the early application.
“Well you know, after a comprehensive exploration of his options achieved on a dizzying array of college campus visits, he just decided he liked UVA best of all and figured he might as well apply early,” is what this guy sounded like, apparently either terrified of the distinct possibility that the other guy’s kid might actually end up getting into Harvard, or that his own kid would end up getting rejected despite having so prudently pursued the self-debasing route of applying early, or some combination of the two.
“But you know,” he went on, still scrambling to defend his kid’s wholly defensible college preference, “He’ll actually save a lot of money this way, because state school tuition is so much more affordable. I mean, he probably Vanderbilt most of all the schools he visited, but tuition, room and board are fifty eight thousand dollars next year. And Georgetown is fifty six!”
Jesus Christ, right?! Finally, something our two dads could share in a moment of solidarity about. Why does it always take so long for upper-middle class white folks who stumble into this particular conversational mine to remember the fail-safe universal extinguishing fact that is wherever one’s precious offspring end up going, the tuition is too damn high??
How does any conversation about higher education in this country last thirty seconds without coming around to what an awesomely ostentatious rip-off it is? I can only think of one explanation, and it is that the two people having the conversation can either actually afford to pay for it, or believe that they should somehow project the vibe of someone who can.
If I had to guess I would peg people like this somewhere between the 90 to 99th percentile of American income earners, people in households that rake in between $100,000 a year and $400,000 a year, most of whom know they probably fall into the highest tax bracket or stand a good chance at it, but few of whom seem to realize that the top 1% of Americans wealthier than themselves control nearly a quarter of the annual GDP, or that hundred or so oligarchs who make more than $50 million a year got a 500% raise between 2008 and 2009—and it’s those guys who are bankrolling the exploitation of widespread economic malaise to justify this repellent “extend the Bush tax cuts” bullshit. Those guys, who quintupled their earnings in 2009 while tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs, whose rationale for cutting their taxes is that, if we don’t, they will stop creating all those nonexistent jobs.
In any case, I’d venture that the above describes one class of white person volunteering at FreedomWorks last night. Then there were the twentysomethings, who wore T-shirts that parodied that Shepard Fairey Obama Hope thing for the 875th time with a portrait of their leader Matt Kibbe and the words “CHOPS” underneath, a reference to his muttonchops. They all seemed to attend or have recently graduated from Christian colleges they apologized in advance for my never having heard of them. Maybe libertarianism is the Gen Y answer to the old Campus Crusade for Christ/Young Americans for Freedom/etc. thing, or maybe the answer to Who Would Jesus Appoint Treasury Secretary has always been Friedrich von Hayek, I don’t know. They did not seem to come from particularly affluent backgrounds with the maybe exception of one who informed me that the repeal of the Bush estate tax was about to bankrupt his family’s composite dispensing equipment business. I asked him what he expected the new Congress to do, and he did not say. “Well I think they’re representing a mandate from the American people…” he trailed off. “You know, history has shown us that the combination of a Democratic president and a Republican Congress is best for keeping deficits down.” He had a point there, if one anecdote counts as a trend, but then he started to really got going. “Do you know about Al Gore’s yacht tax?” he asked. I did not. Apparently Al Gore personally imposed a draconian tax on yachts designed to unfairly target yachting enthusiasts, and “thousands and thousands of people” proceeded to lose their jobs because the American yacht industry completely collapsed. I did not ask if maybe it just found a new home in Korea, the way the rest of the shipbuilding industry has, or whether the episode, presuming it was based on something that actually happened, maybe could also be deployed to make a case against taxing consumption and in favor of higher taxes on income and capital gains instead, because by now he was on to how the capital gains tax—again, he explained this was a historically proven fact—obviously needed to be cut.
The evening was not without its flashes of cheer: every GOP candidate I actually recognized aside from Rand Paul (this originally said “Ron Paul”) seemed to lose as predicted, and one well-dressed guy who would not give me his name informed me that new evidence suggests so-called “fossil” fuels are actually constantly being generated by some mysterious natural process inside the earth’s core. I also talked to a nice girl who had recently moved to Virginia from Michigan, whose views were far less objectionable than those of most of her compatriots for the fact that she had yet to develop any arrogance, but then she introduced me to a young man who worked for a libertarian think tank and basically told me I was an ignoramus for equating Hayek with Chicago School economics because obviously he was from the “Austrian School” and I asked lamely if he’d read Schumpeter and don’t remember if he answered because I was preoccupied watching his face contort into a series of evermore exasperated expressions until finally I ended the exchange with the actual utterance, “this conversation is making me want to commit suicide.”
On the elevator it occurred to me that the only things I’d consumed that day were a few laffy taffys, some starbursts, two vanilla-flavored tootsie rolls and beer, and also that one of the straps on my backpack had broken, at which point I must have tweeted something about wanting to die that my sister made fun of me for this morning.