The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Saturday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central Time (8-11pm Eastern Time) on ShockNetRadio.com.
After John King got his ass handed to him by Newt Gingrich at the opening of the January 19 debate, ahead of the South Carolina Republican primary, I started thinking about George Bernard Shaw. I think the Irish playwright and social critic told a relevant story of the utility of middle-class morality, and who is obligated to abide by that code of conduct, in his 1916 play Pygmalion.
Much like the weather, everybody talks about middle-class morality, but nobody does anything about it. Certainly not Mr. Gingrich, who led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton simply for having an exchange of bodily fluids with a White House intern while himself violating his marriage vows.
Do those who propose to be our leaders simply – excuse me for the double entende – have only to pay it lip service? We didn’t see that in Mr. Gingrich in debate. His response was an arrogant deflection of the marital infidelity issue and an attack on the mainstream media generally, for even raising the question.
Why wasn’t Mr. Gingrich standing up for middle-class morality?
The response from Gingrich reminded me of a character in Shaw’s play Pygmalion: a dustman (in America we would call him a “sanitation engineer”) named Alfred P. Doolittle. Doolitle finds out that his daughter Eliza has been taken under the wing of Professor Henry Higgins, who has bet his friend Pickering he can pass off Eliza as a duchess simply by changing the way she speaks. And that leads to this exchange between Doolittle and Higgins:
DOOLITTLE Well, what’s a five pound note to you? And what’s Eliza to me?
PICKERING. I think you ought to know, Doolittle, that Mr. Higgins's intentions are entirely honorable.
DOOLITTLE. Course they are, Governor. If I thought they wasn’t, I’d ask fifty.
HIGGINS [revolted] Do you mean to say, you callous rascal, that you would sell your daughter for £50?
PICKERING. Have you no morals, man?
DOOLITTLE [unabashed] Can’t afford them, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me. Not that I mean any harm, you know. But if Liza is going to have a bit out of this, why not me too? ... What am I, I ask you? I'm one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up agen middle class morality all the time... What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything.
Instead of the “undeserving poor,” in Mr. Gingrich we have an example of the “entitled rich.” People like Mr. Gingrich don’t need to abide by middle class morality – and not because he can’t afford it, but because he is above it.
Religion plays a part in this. Every one of the Republican candidates for President uses religion as a club to keep the rest of the populace following the rules that they break with impunity. The serial infidelities of Mr. Gingrich unaccountably cost him nothing in terms of credibility among the vastly Christian fundamentalist populace who ordinarily would shun him as a sinner. How can a sinner become a winner? Only religion can do that!
That's why the Republican candidates must convince the people that they believe in God. But somehow professing a belief in God gives them a free pass to violate God’s laws – as most Christians, Jews and Muslims would see them.
Why do I think it is important for our leaders to lead by example? Because the morality of Mr. Gingrich leads to chaos. Because the middle class is all that provides stability to American society. In fact, I say the middle class is America. And not just Mr. Gingrich in particular and politicians in general, but business leaders, Wall Street, capitalists and corporations – everybody who benefits from the system paid for by the middle class – all should support and defend not just middle class morality but the very existence of a middle class.
Why? Because that’s where America lives. People like Mr. Gingrich have complained that the middle class are like Alfie Doolittle – that they benefit from undeserved “entitlements,” such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, that we cannot afford. Yet somehow we can afford generous tax breaks for the wealthy, subsidies and tax breaks for corporations, corporate welfare in the form of defense contracts for the politically well connected and a military more expensive than all the armies in the rest of the world combined.
If there is an “undeserving poor,” it is more than counterbalanced by the undeserving rich. Those capitalists and their professional political puppies, like Mr. Gingrich, are actively trying to destroy the middle class by destroying the benefits the middle class pay for and rely on.
Destroy the middle class and you destroy America.
I know many Americans who voted for Mr. Obama are disappointed in his performance as President. And this may be for the same unrealistic reason that some Americans want him replaced by a man chosen by God to lead this nation: what they really want is a king. Somebody like the imaginary king in the sky, to whom they pray for deliverance with all their might.
But those who are looking for a king to lead this nation should not be surprised if he turns out to be as vain, despotic and cruel as the sky king they imagine. A president is a man, not a king, and certainly not a god. Be careful what you pray for.
Copyright © 2012 Ronald Bruce Meyer. To hear an audio version of this Reflection, click on this link: Middle Class Morality
This deathbed conversion, by so critical a thinker as Leonardo, who would have nothing to lose by professing piety all his life, can only mean that during his prime years he was a secret freethinker.