Monday, January 09, 2006

Idle Wealth

This quarter I'm taking a class about Richard Nixon, studying in particular the rhetoric of his presidency. Already, this course has imparted a complex impression of Nixon. One of the most interesting things about him, for me, is that he grew up without privilege and throughout his life he positioned himself against those who were born to wealthy families, with elite educations, smooth social skills, and good looks. Although my political views would have probably conformed to his opponent in the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy, I would have found Nixon to have the more appealing personal life. It was Nixon, after all, who worked tirelessly to attain a good education and a distinguished career in the face of many setbacks.

Ironically, Nixon belonged to a party that today is effectively preventing the social mobility that Nixon enjoyed. Most recently, financial aid to college students has been cut by 14.3 billion dollars, which amounts to a $5,800 increase (from added interest payments and grant reductions) for the average college student on financial aid.

That is but one example of the way in which our country's once-great promise of social mobility is being torn apart. Among some groups in our society, there is a sense that the richest person is the most entitled to succeed. Often though, the sons and daughters who have been acquainted all of their lives with wealth and luxury are the ones with the worst performance at school, the so-called playboys who find their purpose in life is to drink and be merry as if trying their damndest to prove the accuracy of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Our current president is a perfect example of one who was raised to expect wealth and distinction without working towards it.

The expression that suggests that everything is politics is anethema to some, but it is true. In this case, the luxurious decadence of the heir(ess) that is glorified by the media is becoming solidified and multiplied via public policy and our economy's pay structure. During the mid 1900s, America enjoyed the largest middle class in maybe any nation's history, with a resurgence in the 1990s. Now, due to a certain dysfunction of values and bad public policy, our country is increasingly ensuring that the rich, popular, idiot that you knew in high school--a person of idle wealth--will succeed over the person who has worked hard.

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