We the People? Politicians as a Social Class
In July, the annual graduation for the students of the Presidential Leadership Scholars took place. The courses for the scholars were taught by a variety of speakers, most notably former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, on the topic of leadership qualities and skills. The graduation, instead of consisting of a speech, was instead an interview of Clinton and Bush. The ceremony, was just shy of an hour and a half, the majority of which was spent in the interview. The interview centered heavily on the personal lives of the former presidents, as well as their relationship. The event was heralded as a success of friendship over ideological lines.
Most people have friends that reinforce their political biases rather than challenge them. Pew Research ran a study which identified that individuals that are consistently liberal or conservative are more likely to have more friends that agree with their personal political views. Subsequently, media outlets such as Vanity Fair and The Washington Post used the graduation as an example of civility in a time of deep political divisions.
Any media that deludes itself or others into believing that Bush and Clinton are role models, fails to recognize the socially imposed and economically enforced privilege that the political class has compared to its constituents.
What the media failed to mention, much less recognize, was that it is easier for politicians to make friends across the aisle than for the average citizen. Politicians are not representatives of the people they claim to represent, despite the appearance they cultivate. Most funds for campaigns come from corporations and uber-wealthy elites, and as such politicians would rather appease their financiers. Votes may put them in office, but money puts their names on the ticket, and that money is exponentially more valuable than votes. Bush and Clinton cannot be a shining example of cross-aisle friendship because they share more with each other than they do with any of their constituents.
Clinton and Bush certainly disagree on a variety of issues, but for each issue, the political mind first jumps to the issue’s utility as a means for re-election, then shifts to ideological defenses to protect whichever stance is more strategically advantageous. For example, according to InsideGov, a website dedicated to ironing out the ideologies of politicians, Clinton strongly believes in expanding public healthcare. According to the same site, Bush disagrees with expanding healthcare access. Notably, neither Clinton nor Bush’s stance represents the will of the people, especially in 2017. According to Pew Research 33% of the American public support a single-payer healthcare program akin to most other first world countries. This opinion is tied for most supported alongside the stance for only continuing medicare and medicaid. However, neither president’s health care opinion reflects the people’s will. Bush represents a healthcare stance that is contrary to the 58% of people in support of expanding healthcare in any manner. Clinton, alternatively, is in favor of expanding healthcare, which still fails in providing the universal access desired by 33% of the population. In office, Clinton cut medicare and medicaid benefits, which today would be seen unfavorably by somewhere between 58% and 91% of Americans. Despite being out of office, the opinions of ex presidents still reflect the difference of what politicians are willing to do, and what the people want. Just one example of how moderate healthcare reform is prepared to cause harm to innumerable families at the benefit of insurers. So, what are these ex-presidents’ personal relationship to healthcare?
We, the third estate, must look inward for models of acceptance and solidarity because we are the materialists, those that understand society intimately through everyday events. All others simply seek to impose corporate interests under the guise of idealism onto a world of intricate realities and exceptions.
Bill and Hillary earn over $210,000 for every speech made since he left office; they certainly have enough money to not worry about healthcare coverage for their family. Bush doesn’t charge as much as the Clintons for speaking, however, he does have a net worth of $36 million, similarly worth enough to buy exceptional health coverage. For both, since neither will hold public office again, reconciling this difference of opinion is a matter of ideological preference. Of course, ideological preference does not mean that politicians cannot care one way or the other for the people affected by the policy. It is instead that the failure of one policy for another does not spell personal disaster for them or their families. For each, the idea of struggling with healthcare issues is a hypothetical problem far from their mahogany offices.
Yet for the average person, healthcare, or any issue, is much more important in their lives. For American citizens, especially those with pre-existing conditions and the average annual salary of $81,400, getting healthcare can be extremely difficult, and the result can be deadly. For the average citizen, emulating Clinton and Bush’s newfound relationship is simply unrealistic. For example, the average American citizen would take offense to an opinion which would make their personal access to healthcare more limited. This healthcare example is especially useful in determining the difference of political opinion and popular opinion; whereas 33% of Americans support universal healthcare, politicians continue to be content providing legislation which falls short of protecting all people, opting instead to protect profits over people.
That difference between elite politicians and citizens is illustrative of our modern social makeup. In modern society we are broken up into three estates, just as the world had been under the old aristocracy in the time of Sieyès. The first estate is made up of the corporate elites, those few that capitalism has given great wealth. The second estate is made up of most politicians, who are indebted to corporatists and willingly execute the will of elites on the third estate. The third estate is made up of the people, the workers of society who built the country for wages not analogous to the work they do. That fundamental difference of class forever separates the average citizen from the politician.
What the media failed to mention, much less recognize, was that it is easier for politicians to make friends across the aisle than for the average citizen.
Figures of political fame cannot continue to be hailed. In his famous statement to the court of 1918, Eugene Debs proclaimed, “While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” Debs is a great example of a politician truly for the people, not for the profit. His socialist rhetoric and popularity with the people was seen as such a danger to the early century elites that he was imprisoned by the Wilson administration for fear of the people gaining too much political power compared to elites. Unfortunately, our leaders are made of the same cloth of Wilson, not Debs, and see the protection of the elites as infinitely more important than the will of the people. As long as the political class continues to remain obedient to the modern corporatist, they will not be able to set an example for the people. Any media that deludes itself or others into believing that Bush and Clinton are role models, fails to recognize the socially imposed and economically enforced privilege that the political class has compared to its constituents.
Politicians play by different rules, where each move is calculated and the boundaries for acceptable behavior are pushed. On the whole, politicians work solely in hypotheticals whereas the everyday people deal in the materialism of specifics and reality. In fact, it is beyond peculiar to hold these ex-presidents up as models for much of anything..Clinton expanded the war on drugs, which increased the number of federal detention centers and disproportionately imprisoned minorities for nonviolent drug crimes. All in an effort to weed out the criminal elements of society, directly in contrast with Deb’s vision of standing by the accused and incarcerated, a vision of solidarity with all oppressed elements of the working class. Bush, of course, is no better, having just last year been found guilty of war crimes as defined by the Nuremburg Trials of 1945 and 1946. The war crimes stemmed from American intervention in the Middle East, which had the purpose, according to some including Former Head of Military Operations in Iraq General John Abizaid, of securing foreign oil fields for American oil companies, like then Vice-President Cheney’s ex-company, Halliburton. We, the third estate, must look inward for models of acceptance and solidarity because we are the materialists, those that understand society intimately through everyday events. All others simply seek to impose corporate interests under the guise of idealism onto a world of intricate realities and exceptions.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the McGill Left Review's editorial board.