by Jon Worley
Bloom County first four years displayed the art of comics in its most refined form. I'm not denigrating Doonesbury (in which Berke Breathed found much of his inspiration), the Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Pogo, Peanuts, Zippy the Pinhead or even Prince Valiant (okay, maybe I don't have anything good to say about Prince Valiant). It's just that Breathed spun a matchless tapestry of cynical complaint against the early 80s vision of "morning in America," complete with an effeminate pre-pubescent, commie ducks, the machine politics of the Meadow Party, a reactionary grandfather, a feminist schoolteacher, a frat-boy lawyer, a Vietnam vet in a wheelchair, a well-intentioned but befuddled grand wizard of the moral majority and one very strange penguin.
Breathed made all that work. Sing, actually. In the beginning, Breathed had a knack of expressing outrage without getting shrill. Like I said, those first four years or so have gone down in the canon.
In one of my favorite strips, Senator Bedfellow is visiting Miss Harlow's classroom. He stands at the lectern and asks the children, "Now ... can any of you nits tell me which great principle our political system is based upon?" Milo Bloom, the embodiment of pure idealistic cynicism (a personal philosophy I find almost as attractive as misanthropic optimism), replies in his chipper voice, "Money talks."
As you might expect, this response confuses the senator's gin-frazzled nerves. Because while I'm quite sure our founding fathers didn't want money to be a deciding issue in the nation's politics (which is why only white, male land owners were enfranchised in the original Constitution), the fact remains that money, indeed, talks very loudly in Washington. Witness the new chair of the G.O.P., former Montana governor (and Enron lobbyist) Marc Racicot.
He's eschewing the salary that comes with his new job (former Virginia governor James W. Gilmore made $150,000 in the position last year) in favor of the one he earned at his old job as a lobbyist with the law firm of Bracewell & Patterson. His spin is that he's saving the party some money. That, of course, is his story. According to a report in the New York Times on Friday, the G.O.P. offered significantly more than Gilmore's paltry salary, and still Racicot insisted on retaining his financial ties to a lobbying firm.
While many G.O.P. bigwigs have expressed some concern over Racicot's finances, more than a few Republicans have said they see no problem with Racicot's financial arrangement. After all, it's not like he's got a legal conflict of interest, just an ethical one. And anyway, what's more American than getting rich?
Precisely what Chris DePino, chairman of the Connecticut G.O.P., told an NPR reporter last Friday.
"Don't hold anybody down for making money in America. It's just not fair. I hope he makes a hundred and fifty million dollars. I want him to be prosperous. I want his children to be happy. It's okay. It's why we're here."
So much for old stand-bys like "Land of the free and home of the brave." The G.O.P. is auditioning for a few good "rich like me" slogans. Maybe we can change the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to read "Give us your rich, your tanned, Armani-clad playboys." Or maybe switch the scrawl on our coinage to say "In cash we trust." No, wait. For some of these folks, their god is money. No need to change anything there.
What bothers me about what DePino said, more than anything else, was the casual nature with which he said his piece. As if the reason we went after Osama bin Lauden was because he didn't believe in free markets and the stock exchange (which, of course, he does, since that's where he made much of his once-considerable fortune). While our nation's standing as the richest country on earth does have a lot to do with why people around the world fear us, the reason most folks want to immigrate to the United States is freedom.
Freedom is one of those words that has many meanings. There is, of course, the "from" side of freedom: freedom from religious or political persecution, freedom from governmental intervention in personal affairs, freedom from constant pestilence. All very important freedoms. As are the "to" forms of freedom: the freedom to speak freely, the freedom to go just about anywhere you please, the freedom to participate in your own government. Well, that last one is more of an obligation, but some countries don't like it when regular people get involved, so I'll include it here anyway.
What I'm saying is that the United States was not founded with the intention of creating the crassest, richest nation on earth. It's ended up that way, and a lot of that does indeed have to do with our Constitution and form of government. No getting around that. But just because an immigrant like Rupert Murdoch has taken a billion bucks and turned that meager stake into a vast media-based fortune doesn't mean that every immigrant comes to these shores with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Most just want a better life.
I guess it all comes down to how you interpret "the pursuit of happiness" clause in the Declaration of Independence. If you follow the original form, which had something or other to do with private property (I can't find the exact citation, I'm afraid), then you probably also believe that the pursuit of happiness ultimately means the pursuit of money.
Those of us who find the greatest meaning in our relationships with other people (you know, that whole "family values" thing writ large), well, we've found that for us, the pursuit of money above all else is a pointless exercise.
As far as DePino, Racicot and more than a few members of the Greedy Old Party are concerned, Milo Bloom was dead on. Cash is king.