Michelle Obama is Right: ‘They Aren’t That Smart’ —They’re Just Greedy

by on January 14, 2019 · 0 comments

in Economy, Under the Perfect Sun

Michelle Obama, 2013. Photo credit: Pixabay

Michelle Obama caused a small stir last fall during the London leg of her book tour when she observed that her time in the highest circles of the global power elite had revealed a startling truth about our faceless masters:

 “Here’s the secret: they’re not that smart. There are a lot of things that folks are doing to keep their seats because they don’t want to give up power.”

More specifically, the former First Lady observed that,  “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

Obama’s refreshing remarks were delivered in the service of encouraging young women to overcome “imposter syndrome” and believe in their abilities, but they are just as important for all average citizens in a democracy to keep in mind.  Her confession is a rare moment of brutal honesty coming from someone who has been on the inside of a world of largely rich and entitled people who like to believe they are the product of meritocracy.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it is easy to take pot shots at the dangerous imbecility of the current occupant in the White House, it is far more important to understand that he is simply a grotesque manifestation of the arrogance of those at the top of our thoroughly plutocratic power structure.  Far from a meritocracy, our democracy has been captured by parasitic oligarchical and corporate interests who bring nothing to table but a ravenous appetite for more wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority of Americans.

In an extremely insightful New York Times column last week, Thomas B. Edsall warns that the task of the reform-minded freshman class of Democrats pushing to expose corruption, defend voting rights, and advocate for a Green New Deal will be made difficult by the entrenched power of those who, as Obama puts it, “don’t want to give up power.”

In the United States, Edsall notes, moneyed interests dominate the $3.37 billion lobbying industry and, as a result, “a limited number of organizations at the very top of the resource distribution have escalated their political investments in ways that increasingly distinguish them from the rest of the pack.”  Thus, the folks representing elite interests have become “increasingly stable over the last two decades. This group of top organizations — which we call the top tier — is positioning itself as a distinct class.”  Consequently, these groups can often exercise a “defacto veto” over legislation.

Edsall goes on to cite numerous studies that show how this domination by elite interests of our democratic process helps produce and deepen economic inequality which then serves not to create more solidarity amongst those at the losing end, but to foster a mean-spirited political environment hostile to progressive change.  As the Scottish economists Edsall refers to put it, economic and political inequality create “a self?reinforcing mechanism where the unequal distribution of income leads to political exclusion, which in turn leads to more inequality.”

In sum, people get angry and apathetic as the government fails to serve them, and, in turn, become hostile not to those benefiting from the rigged system but to the system itself or others they see as benefiting instead of them.  This vicious cycle is the mother’s milk of right-wing populism and the challenge for progressives is to figure out how to overcome it and weave together a diverse and frequently divided constituency and show people that the system can be made to work for them rather than for the power elite.

Edsall calls for Democrats to develop “their own populist playbook” that can, however briefly, turn the tide of public opinion against the entrenched power in Washington.  I would suggest that Michelle Obama’s line of argument might not be a bad place to start.

Keep it simple.

All those guys trying to keep their seat “aren’t that smart,” they’re just rich and greedy for even more.  If you want a bigger piece of the pie and a brighter future for your kids, you need to vote the bastards out and open our democracy to the people.

The rich aren’t going to save us, we need to save ourselves.  Together, we can do it.





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