Ross Perot thought he was Batman. Donald Trump and Tom Steyer do too, according to Sam Thielman, writing on NBC’s “Think” website. I don’t know. Perot (RIP) was a kind of a weird little guy, and Trump’s issues will keep psychologists (real ones, not Brian Stelter) working for years. Steyer certainly seems to have a green messiah thing going, but I don’t see much Caped Crusader in him.
But as an adult, I confess that I don't give much thought to comic book characters. Thielman does, and he notes that Batman (the franchise turns 80 this year) is from “an era when you couldn’t throw a rock at a newsstand without hitting a pulp magazine or a comic book about a wealthy, idle playboy, driven by his conscience to don something vaguely Draculoid and smack or shoot a villain.”
But those characters, “to their eternal credit: At least they didn’t try to run for president … Our real billionaires are less likely to spare us.”
To the BatPoles, Bernie Bros! We’ve got some rich people to hate!
Yes, Thielman doesn’t like billionaires. (Personally, I’m withholding judgement until I meet one.) Especially billionaires who deign to involve themselves in politics. “Lots of people have believed themselves equal to leading the country by virtue of their bank balances,” he writes. Until Trump, they didn’t win. Of Steyer and Howard Schulz, he says:
Presumably, both men gave it a try on the theory that, if a racist game-show host like Trump can win the presidency by doing little more than calling Latino people ugly names, after which he need only spend three years riding his predecessor’s economic coattails, anybody with enough money to waste campaigning ought to be able to pull the thing off.
Thielman professes to be astounded that “the super-rich” keep trying, “as though each one of them is convinced he or she is secretly the one and only Batman, smarter than all the others and secretly, perfectly suited to unlimited power.”
Take out the silly “unlimited power” bit and he might be describing anyone who runs for high office. It’s a reason to be skeptical of politicians -- all of them.
But here comes the point:
Of course there’s no way anybody with a billion dollars has anything like the skill set necessary to run an enormous bureaucracy with dozens of vital appointments on which the very lives of millions of men and women depend; billionaires spend their time making money by exploiting the labor of thousands they'll never see, not managing H.R. to better the lives of 300 million (or, on the international stage, upwards of 8 billion) they'll never meet.
The Daddy Warbucks or Mr. Monopoly comparison would have been more apt than Batman, though no less cartoonish. Schultz grew up in public housing and started his career as a Xerox salesman. Perot started a company from scratch, and funded and organized an operation to rescue two of his employees from Iranian captivity in 1979. Thielman lists the sins of (policy differences he has with) some rich guys who went into politics, and then declares that billionaires “trend toward the Lex Luthor end of the superhero comics spectrum.”
The real problem is that Thielman thinks wealth is immoral, or at least wealth above some level determined by … Theilman. “A billion dollars in one place is unfairness by definition, especially when it comes from the seed of inherited wealth.”
Thielman has adjudged that “Nobody needs a billion dollars … as a billionaire, you can simply give away so much of that money to charity that you stop being a billionaire and not actually miss it.”
So maybe his problem isn’t wealth, per se, or with Batman. Maybe it’s with Batman deciding how to spend his own wealth.