They’re Rich!

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They’re Rich!

Hey everybody. Did you know that, for the first time in United States history, half the members of our Congress are millionaires? Yeah, I didn’t either; thanks, Twitter.

Yep. According to reports recently filed by both opensecrets.com and — lest you think I’m resting the entirety of my evidence on the merits of a website whose names implies anything from conspiracy theories to a coming-out WordPress site — The Center for Responsive Politics, the median net worth for lawmakers in the House and Senate is $1,008,767, up 4.4 percent from last year. More details from the New York Times:

The wealthiest member of Congress, as has previously been the case, was Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, who had a net worth of between $330 million and $598 million, a significant chunk of which he earned through the Viper car antitheft system that is marketed and sold by a company he owned.

The poorest was Representative David Valadao, Republican of California, who listed debts of about $12.1 million, mostly from loans on a family dairy farm.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress were about equally wealthy, with Democrats boasting a median net worth of $1.04 million, compared to $1 million for congressional Republicans. The averages in both cases were up compared with the previous year, when the numbers were $990,000 and $907,000, the analysis showed. 

Many of the members of Congress who were first elected in 2012 were unusually wealthy, helping drive up the overall standard of living among representatives and senators.

But the change in the average wealth also tracks overall changes in the well-being of higher-income Americans nationwide, as stock markets have recovered from the recession. The biggest stock holding among members of Congress is General Electric, followed by Wells Fargo and Microsoft, according to the analysis.

If your butthole isn’t furiously clinching and unclinching in fury right now, you might want to consult your physician, as you seem to have lost all feeling in your butthole.

I can already hear the dark, primordial mass of tentacles, hornets and Toby Keith albums that comprises the Augusta Chronicle comments section stirring. This column may not appear in that paper or on its website — which, on a side note, guys, you’re operating about a rung and a half above Angelfire there — but from previous excursions into the Libertarian Disneyland that is those message boards, I get the sense that any well-made point about income inequality in America sends a ripple through the fabric of their flimsy reality.

So, okay. Let me play a hyper-antagonistic devil’s advocate: “Our lawmakers and policy mavens are super-rich? Good! These are the kinds of people I want running my country; obviously, their good sense and financial know-how will set this country’s populace on a course to achieve the kind of success they themselves have achieved. They have absolutely zero interest in maintaining the U.S.’s ever-widening class discrepancy. Praise be to Glen Beck’s neck-fat!”

See, I can reach across the aisle!

Look, it’s not just “the principle of the thing” or whatever, though having a country wherein a fraction of 1 percent of the populace controls most of the wealth run by a gaggle of millionaires (Democrat and Republican alike) is not, as the hippies like to say, sustainable, man. Why is it not sustainable? Empathy, or rather, a lack thereof. As the median net worth of our leaders increases — which, trends indicate, it’s going to keep doing; it was a few newly elected officials in 2012 that pushed us up and over this milestone — their ability to empathize with the plight and circumstances of normal Americans is going to gradually erode until it’s essentially nonexistent.

And this is not hypothetical. We all clung to a glimmer of hope that poverty-shaming would bite the dust after Mitt Romney got his ass handed to him last cycle. But, not coincidentally, this news breaks just as Congress has allowed unemployment benefits to expire for many Americans, and just as this country is about to enter into a — I fear, futile — debate on raising the national minimum wage.

The income gap is very real, and has very tangible effects on politics; thus, it has very tangible effects on people’s lives. I moved to Wisconsin right in the thick of the Scott Walker recall kerfuffle; it was ugly and depressing. Fundraisers for the recall managed to scrape together $7 million. Awesome. In response, the Koch brothers and various GOP shill outlets pumped over $30 million into Walker’s reelection campaign, because Scott Walker is about as likable as a bleeding tumor, and if facts were allowed to speak for themselves, he’d have been hustled unceremoniously out of office. The dollar prevails, usually.

Worse, I think this sort of apathy is infectious, contagious. I happened upon this information on Twitter, and initially resisted writing about it. At this point, I’ve very much accepted the fact that there are a hell of a lot of people much better off than me, and a hell of a lot of people worse off than me. I’ve settled into that acceptance, and I’m not sure I’m very proud of it.