In the movie Trading Places, two old rich guys make a wager over the debate regarding nature versus nurture. Randolph, played by Don Ameche takes the side of nature, while Mortimer, played by Ralph Bellamy, takes the side of nurture. They decide to settle it by switching the lives of their managing director, Louis Winthorpe III, with the life of Billy Ray Valentine, a black street hustler played by Eddie Murphy.
It’s a classic comedy so this is not new material. It is another version of Pygmalion. That was made into the musical My Fair Lady, which is probably what most people would recognize as the classic of this genre. I have not seen Trading Places in many years, but my recollection is it was very funny. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when Eddie Murphy was hilarious.
Watching Ricky Rubio talk butch about Donald Trump the other day made me think of this movie. Rubio, like Billy Ray Valentine in the movie, is a creation of some rich patrons, who found him useful. Normal Brahman is a gazillionaire in Florida and he was Rubio’s rabbi in politics. It is a common arrangement in state politics, particularly in the South. Bill Clinton was a creation of the same system.
Rubio has charm and enough sense to not start thinking for himself. Like a good actor, he knows how to internalize his lines so they come out sounding off-the-cuff. He understands his role and that is to make the audience believe. It is the job of other people to write the lines, figure out the policy positions and setup the political fights. Rubio’s job is to show up, say his lines with conviction and win the crowd.
Barak Obama is exactly the same guy. Former Weathermen Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers sponsored Obama in Chicago as their dream boat, a black radical who can charm middle-class white people. After some time in local politics, billionaire progressives backed Obama all the way to the White House. There’s a reason the man does not order lunch without his teleprompter. Obama is smart enough to know his words are never his own.
Kept men are nothing new in politics. Local politics across the Anglosphere have been dominated by this arrangement for centuries. The local rich people pay men to represent their interests in parliaments, town councils, city government and so forth. In America, state government is loaded with these guys. They lobby the other members on behalf of their employers.
What’s new is that the global rich now look at national parliaments in the same way wealthy planters or industrialists used to look at state government. The result is Congress is packed with kept men, who play the role written for them by their handlers. That’s how Obama and Rubio made it to Washington. Their handlers were prepping them for presidential runs. That was the plan for Marco Rubio.
Some things don’t scale up very well. The kept men in politics get away with it in low-profile areas like state government or town councils. In a mass media culture, it’s really hard to pull this off at the national level, at least for very long. That’s why Americans want to seal up Washington and burn the place to the ground right now. They’ve figured out that it is just theater, a sophisticated long con.
There’s also the problem that some gags work just once. Americans have had seven years to watch Obama strut about on stage, doing his version of Hamlet. They know how to spot guys like him now, which is why Rubio went nowhere, despite having the entire conservative media ecosystem coordinating their efforts for him. It turns out that Lincoln was right, even in our mass media culture.
Anyway, watching poor Rubio flail about in the final days of his campaign, I can’t help but feel some sympathy for the guy. He is penniless and now his political career is over. He chose not to run for re-election to his Senate seat so he could focus on his presidential run. His other source of income is his wife’s no-show job at a fake charity run by Norman Braman. Now that Marco is no longer of any use to Norman, that no-show job goes away.
Unlike Billy Ray Valentine, Rubio lacks the moxie and cleverness to turn the tables on his masters. Instead, he is running around the country calling Donald Trump a doo-doo head. The hope is he can earn some sympathy from the party and maybe they can hook him up in a no-show job at a bank. John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Eric Cantor got rich playing that game so Rubio probably thinks he can get a similar deal.
Right now, this is the scene Biltmore in Miami.