A snit in first class
David Brooks
Thursday, January 4, 2007, International Herald Tribune

I have a dream, my friends. I have a dream that we are approaching the day when a ranch-owning millionaire Republican like George Bush will make peace with a vineyard- owning millionaire Democrat like Nancy Pelosi.

I have a dream that Pelosi, who was chauffeured to school as a child and who, with her investor husband, owns minority shares in the Auberge du Soleil resort hotel and the CordeValle Golf Club, will look over her famous strand of South Sea Tahitian pearls and forge bonds of understanding with the zillionaire corporate barons in the opposing party.

Furthermore, I dream of a great harmonic convergence among the obscenely rich — between Randian hedge fund managers on the right and helipad environmentalists on the left. I dream that the big-money people who seem to dominate our politics will put aside their partisan fury and discover the class solidarity that Karl Marx always said they shared, and their newfound civility will trickle down to the rest of us.

I have my dreams, but of course I am realistic too, for I am aware that at present there is no peace among the secluded island villas. I look out across the second homes of America and its surrounding tropical regions and I see polarization among the Kate Spade devotees and bitterness among the Rolexes. And I know that both Bush and Pelosi are part of an upper-income whirlwind of strife.

Some people believe that Pelosi is an airhead, but that is wrong. Some people believe she is a radical San Francisco liberal, but that, too, is wrong. The main fact to know about Pelosi is that she is a creature of the modern fundraising system. Some politicians rise because they run political machines. Some rise because they are great communicators. Pelosi has risen because she is a master of the thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraising circuit.

Living amid a web of investors, venture capitalists and West Coast technology tycoons, she raised heroic amounts of money for the Democratic Party before she ever thought of running for anything herself. In 1984, she was the state party chairwoman. In 1986, she was the national fundraising chairwoman for the Senate Democrats.

Since coming to the House, she has discovered what many a savvy pol has discovered — that the fastest way to ascend in Congress is to raise a lot of money and give it to your peers.

She paid her dues selecting party favors, arranging seating charts (after that, legislation is easy), and laying thick dollops of obsequiousness on cranky old moguls and their helmet hair spa-spouses. She has done what all political fundraisers do: tell rich people things they already believe, demonize the other side, motivate the giving with Manichaean tales of good versus evil.

It is not a surprise, as The Washington Post reported this week, that despite campaign promises about changing the tone in Washington, Pelosi has decided to exclude Republicans from the first burst of legislation — to forbid them to offer amendments or alternatives.

She is part of the clash of the rival elites, with the dollars from Brookline battling dollars from Dallas, causing upper-class strife that even diminutive dogs, vibrant velvets and petite salades can't fully soothe.

It pains me to see plutocrats fight, because it sets such a poor example for those of us in the lower orders who fly commercial. It pains me even more because politicians from the rival blueblood clans go to embarrassing lengths to try to prove they are most authentically connected with working Americans.

Think of John Kerry visiting a Wendy's or Bill Frist impersonating a Bible thumper. This week, witness Pelosi going on her all-about-me inauguration tour, which is designed to rebrand her as a regular Catholic grandma from Baltimore. Members of the middle classes never have to mount campaign swings to prove how regular they are, but these upper- bracket types can't help themselves, and they always lay it on too thick.

So I harbor my dreams of reconciliation. But in the meantime, why oh why can't we have a decent overclass in this country — a group of highly attractive dimwits who spread bland but worthy stability over our political scene. Why oh why do we have to have this endless canapé war — the people of the vineyard against the people of the ranch.