Belshazzar’s Feast

Look, we all know that wealthy people play a disproportionate role in the satantic system of campaign financing that the U.S. Supreme Court has foisted upon us. And we also know that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, “the very rich are different from you and me” (“They think, deep in their hearts, they are better than we are.”).

So it’s with some concern that I am being partisan here that I maliciously wallow in Maeve Reston’s description of the attendees of one of Mitt Romney’s big Hamptons fundraisers over the weekend:

As protesters assembled on a beach in advance of Mitt Romney’s evening event at the home of conservative billionaire David Koch, the candidate slipped to East Hampton for his first of three fundraisers on this tony stretch of Long Island.

The line of Range Rovers, BMWs, Porsche roadsters and one gleaming cherry red Ferrari began queuing outside of Revlon Chairman Ronald Perelman’s estate off Montauk Highway long before Romney arrived, as campaign aides and staffers in white polo shirts emblazoned with the logo of Perelman’s property — the Creeks — checked off names under tight security.

They came with high hopes for the presumed Republican nominee, who is locked in a tight race with President Obama. And some were eager to give the candidate some advice about the next four months.

A money manager in a green Jeep said it was time for Romney to “up his game and be more reactive.” So far, said the donor (who would not give his name because he said it would hurt his business), Romney has had a “very timid offense.”

A New York City donor a few cars back, who also would not give her name, said Romney needed to do a better job connecting. “I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.

“We’ve got the message,” she added. “But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”

Yes, “they think, deep in their hearts, they are better than we are.”

Because of Mitt’s own spectacular wealth, and the spectacular extent to which his policy agenda is congruent with the fondest hopes of his donors, there is some risk these sort of events involving these sort of people in these sort of places might assume a symbolic importance beyond the usual mutual massaging of egos.

I am reminded of “Belshazzar’s Feast,” the biblical allusion applied to a big New York fundraising banquet for presidential candidate James Blaine in 1884 that came to symbolize the Gilded Age corruption of the Republican Party (at least in the eyes of the influential “Mugwump” journalists who abandoned Blaine for Grover Cleveland that year). That event was even interpreted by some as tipping the election to Cleveland.

Mitt’s toney fundraising events may not achieve that notoriety, but after Reston’s account, I’m sure he wishes his donors would just shut up and write checks. The quotes are just, ahem, too rich.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.