The latest group to claim victim status is the rich. Actually the super-rich, whose wealth ordinarily exempts them from pity. While they are not yet subjected to airport profiling (except for early boarding and club access), they sense that the public is turning subtly against them — otherwise how could President Obama propose raising their taxes?
Admirers of the rich, led by pundits and politicians on the right — from Laura Ingraham to Larry Kudlow — have long derided the victimization claims of African Americans, women, gays and the unemployed, but now they’re raising their voices to defend the rich against what they see as an ugly tide of “demonization.”
At a time when poverty is soaring, unemployment hovers grimly above 9 percent and growing numbers of Americans suffer from “food insecurity” — the official euphemism for hunger — this concern may seem a tad esoteric. At a time when executive compensation is reaching dizzingly new levels and the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing as fast as the federal deficit, it may even seem a little perverse.
But even beyond the taxes-and-deficits debate, in which wealthy Americans have been routinely characterized as yacht owners and corporate-jet fliers, the rich have indeed suffered a few blows to their self-esteem. Last year’s film “The Social Network” was unflattering to exemplars of both new and old wealth, and now two new television series are being hyped by some in the media as incitements to class warfare. In “2 Broke Girls,” a couple of young women struggle to survive — not as runway models or high-maintenance housewives but, shockingly enough, as waitresses. And Time magazine titillatingly describes ABC’s “Revenge,” set in the Hamptons, as “a target-rich environment of polo players and stock traders” in which a young woman stalks the singularly overprivileged people who, years earlier, ruined her father. No less a social commentator than “Revenge” star Madeleine Stowe has observed that “we’re dealing in a particular time right now in American history where I think the average American is going to want to see a takedown of the rich.”
You would never guess, from all the talk of “demonization” that the rich enjoy perhaps the strongest PR machine on the planet, far beyond their entourages of agents, publicists and assorted image-makers. The mainstream media, for example, are not owned by collectives of busboys and taxi drivers, and even the “liberal” outlets among them are not pitched toward the impecunious. They may snicker when the occasional hedge fund manager is brought to justice, but they’ve been equally snarky about populist actions against the rich, such as the ongoing occupation of Wall Street, which is newsworthy if only for the levels of brutality it’s elicited from the NYPD. Or did you know that the Transportation Security Administration just won union representation this summer? Probably not, because that’s “labor news,” which has been all but supplanted by “business news.”
In fact, if you keep your ears open, you can hear the praises of the rich ringing out almost everywhere. Evangelical Christianity, for example, once harbored an ancient biblical bias in favor of the poor, but now, at least in its high-profile megachurch manifestations, it has abandoned the book of Matthew for a “prosperity gospel” that counts wealth as a mark of God’s favor.