Following the Republican debate Thursday evening, one newspaper quoted on PBS’ McLaughlin Group observed that Jeb Bush spoke as if he thinks that America’s problems are all psychological and not real at all. The Bushes have done well and live the dream and can’t understand why others have failed to achieve the same.
On Sunday, reports from Moscow showed a similar problem. President Vladimir Putin, by some accounts now the richest man in the world, thanks to the accumulation of ill-gotten gains, ordered the destruction of 350 tonnes of food from the EU in retaliation for western sanctions on Russia. Mr. Putin’s decision shows that he is oblivious to the fact that millions of Russians are struggling to feed their families. 40% of Russia’s food was imported before the sanctions were announced.
Jeb Bush and Vladimir Putin aren’t the only two politicians who are out of touch with reality. It’s difficult, for example, to imagine how Hillary Clinton, who, together with her husband, earned approximately $30 million last year, can possibly claim to represent the middle class.
It’s dangerous when politicians at the top are out of touch with people at the bottom.
In 1789, France’s Queen, Marie Antoinette supposedly said: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”—“Let them eat cake.” That same year, the monarchy was overthrown and, three years later, the hated Marie lost her head to Madame Guillotine. It wasn’t that simple. The queen actually did a great deal for the poor through her charitable work and the words she supposedly uttered were recorded over a century earlier, attributed to the Spanish wife of King Louis XIV.
But hungry people don’t care about historical accuracy – they just want to eat.
A lack of food has been a regular cause of revolution throughout history. In 1917, a bread riot in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) started the revolution that led to the downfall of the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty. It’s not inconceivable that something similar could happen to Mr. Putin. Of course, the revolution did not improve the situation – seven decades of communism included many years of famine and regular food shortages even at the best of times.
No nation is exempt. If billboards in Michigan are to be believed, one in five Michigan children go to bed hungry.
Former presidential candidate Ross Perot warned a few years ago that food stamps are all that stand between us and anarchy – in other words, take away free food for the poor and you could see a revolution in the United States.
In June, 1932, veterans marched on Washington demanding that a bonus they were promised by Congress should be brought forward as, in the midst of the Depression, they could not afford to feed their families. They built shanty-towns outside of Washington and were determined to stay until Congress met their demands. President Herbert Hoover sent in troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to tear down the camps and send them home. Reports at the time tell of great hunger amongst the vets and their families, including young children. President Hoover was seen to be out of touch and uncaring (the shantytowns were dubbed “Hoovervilles”) and lost the election a few months later to Franklin Roosevelt.
Mr. Bush should remember the fate of the last Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who lost the 2012 election to Mr. Obama. Mr. Romney was recorded dismissing the “47%” of the electorate who depend on government and who, therefore, were not going to vote for him anyway.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Bush, both claiming to be conservative, should have read a biography of Benjamin Disraeli, the nineteenth century Conservative British prime minister who warned of Britain becoming “two nations,” one rich and the other poor. He reshaped the Conservative Party to be a party that reached out to the working-man. If the Republicans are to succeed, they have to do the same, to show how their policies will help improve the life of Joe Citizen. To do this, they need to distance themselves from Big Business.
They can do it. The 1896 election was held in the midst of a Great Depression that saw 50% of the people unemployed, at a time when there were no unemployment benefits for those who were out of work. Understandably, the election saw the highest turnout in American history. 80% of the electorate voted. The presidential election that year was won by Republican William McKinley. He promised the people sound money and high tariffs to increase employment at home. It’s interesting to note that the same issues still prevail.
Left-leaning parties, whether the Democrats in the US or the Labour Party in Britain, do not represent working people. They are the parties of Big Government, which gives jobs to their supporters, but leads to a rise in taxes. Those taxes are paid by ordinary people and small businesses, making life harder for the majority of people.
Leaders, and aspiring leaders like Jeb Bush, cannot afford to be out of touch with the common people. This is especially true in democracies where every citizen has the vote. Perhaps Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin should copy Britain’s Prince William, who spent the night sleeping on the streets of London to get the feel of homelessness. At the very least, his gesture showed empathy with the poor, a realization on his part that tens of thousands of people are homeless and unable to take care of themselves.
Only a return to conservative values, including restoration of the traditional family, can help people get out of poverty. Conservatives everywhere need to convince the voters that they represent them and not Big Business.
They could start by following the example of Menachem Begin, an Israeli conservative and former prime minister. Mr. Begin spent many years in prison under the Bolsheviks. Reading a biography of Benjamin Disraeli helped him maintain his sanity and inspired his future conservative course. Focusing on struggling voters makes more sense than pursuing big business! After decades of Big Government, people want change.