“In the feudal system,” the Oxford English Dictionary says, a vassal is “one holding lands from a superior on conditions of homage and allegiance.”
The system lives on in modern American politics, forsooth in changed form. No longer is it local lords providing military support to a king in return for grants of land. Nowadays, the vassals show their loyalty in the form of large campaign checks. In return, they are promised various economic privileges, among them protection from taxation.
The ritual in all its pageantry has been on display at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. There former President George H.W. Bush, his wife, Barbara, and other members of the Bush dynasty hold court to advance Jeb Bush’s quest for the presidency. The object is to make Jeb the second son of H.W.’s, after George W., to capture the White House.
Picture the Bush clan treating CEOs, sports-team owners and other modern-day vassals to lobster rolls and consenting to pose in the courtiers’ selfies. Imagine the splendor: the many houses, including a new one for Jeb, perched on the rocks of Walker’s Point, the Atlantic crashing at their feet.
Such invites are “the prize for members of the vaunted Bush fund-raising operation,” writes political reporter Nicholas Confessore. They are why Jeb has raised as much money for his campaign as the other Republican presidential candidates and their super PACs combined.
Spending so much time in this closed society may also help explain Jeb’s politically awkward remark that Americans “need to work longer hours.”
In olden times, the serfs were regarded as beasts of burden, to be whipped into higher productivity. Conditions are much-improved, but one can assume the conversations at the Bush compound do not linger long on the common folk’s economic interests.
A big reason Donald Trump is matching or passing Jeb in the polls is that he is talking to the serfs. He may be saying stupid things, but at least he recognizes their existence.
Bush complained that his views are being taken out of context and elaborated. He really said that sustained growth requires that “people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours.” That way, they have more money and can “decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line and being dependent on government.”
Another way of stimulating growth would be to have Americans work the same hours but get paid more. That, too, would put more money in their pockets, prompting more spending and saving. This solution might require employers to share more of the profits with their laborers as they used to do. Such scenarios don’t cross the royal mindset — the key to growth always being to crank up the serfs’ stress level.
The reality is that lots of Americans would love a 40-hour job, but are instead stuck working two 30-hour jobs, neither offering such luxuries as health coverage and vacation time. That’s the sad reality of today’s job market and one reason the Affordable Care Act was so necessary. It subsidizes health coverage for workers who can’t get it through their employment.
But economic security in some eyes is dependency in others’. One conservative argument goes that repealing Obamacare would force workers into the 40-hour jobs they’re alleged to be turning up their noses at. It’s the lash, always the lash.
Over at Walker’s Point, donors are meeting a new set of Bushes, known as “P’s crowd.” That would be George P. Bush, a son of Jeb’s apparently looking to claim the family political inheritance. Some of P’s followers have parents who back P’s parent.
Methinks the show goes on.