- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

The older we get, the more we are secure in our conclusion that becoming rich is merely a matter of luck, choice of parents, simply working hard or sometimes, even just showing up at the right time. We won't knock luck, genetics, hard work (as long as it is somebody else who is doing the sweating) or happenstance. But what burns us up is that if you are rich, the world often interprets this as sign that you are super-bright and that people should listen to what you have to say no matter how loopy it may be. We offer as exhibit A Ted Turner, who can now happily join the ranks of such noted savants as H. Ross Perot, who believed that gangs of lesbians were about to invade his daughter's wedding; Henry Ford Sr., who was convinced that all of the world's woes were a result of a Jewish conspiracy, then spent millions of dollars to convince the public of this fact, ending up as a philosophical brother to such notables as Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler (which is a little like Mike Tyson, in his ear-biting days, being intellectually connected to Jeffrey Dahmer).

Anybody, at least on this continent, who would declare publicly that the 19 perpetrators of the September 11 outrage were anything less than depraved murderers, would probably be speaking to an audience of two: himself and his guard at the lunatic asylum. And yet Mr. Turner, in a recent lecture at Brown University, referring to the terrorists said, "I think they were brave, at the very least."

The only other person, aside from cave dwellers, to express this sentiment was Bill Maher, host of the television show "Politically Incorrect."

After Mr. Maher's similar recognition of the "bravery" these terrorists, sponsors withdrew their financial support from his show. Saying this in the wake of the attack when there were daily announcement of funerals, it was assumed that the show would be taken off the air. Mr. Maher buried a double-talk apology on the show's web site and, when all was said and done, the result was that just a few days ago newspapers carried full page advertisements promoting the fact that Mr. Maher's show has just completed its fifth season. Similarly, Mr. Turner's press agents, after his "bravery" remark, which was made before a large group and confirmed by the two reporters present, issued a press release basically saying Mr. Turner did not make the statement that everyone in the hall heard him make. Mr. Turner, of course after making the remark, still has as many millions or billions as he did before making it. Both remain in a position where they can affect the public's thinking: Mr. Turner as vice-chairman of AOL Time Warner, and Mr. Maher as host of a nationally broadcast TV show. What should happen is clear. Mr. Turner should resign or be kicked off his chairmanship, and Mr. Maher's show should be deep-sixed.

The basic difference between Messrs. Turner and Maher, give or take a few million or billion dollars, and the fact that only one of the two flap mouths slept with Jane Fonda, was the fact that Mr. Maher's audience is comprised of people who choose to stay up late to listen, or fall asleep, to his drivel. On the other hand, Mr. Turner's audience was college students whose parents pay, or overpay, for the privilege of attending Brown University.

Having hopefully consigned Messrs. Turner and Maher to the dust bin of modern culture, it is interesting to observe the effect money has in the thinking of the have-nots. In Great Britain if a man is crazy, and rich, they don't call him "crazy." They call him "eccentric." In America if a person spews out a garbage pail of psychobabble nonsense, he would be called, plain and simple, a "schmuck" and you would run away from him faster than would a rabbi who wandered into an Arab Bar Mitzah. If the person, however was rich, people would say, "Wait a minute, let's hear what he has to say. There must be something to it, he didn't get rich by being stupid."

The point is that being poor does not make you stupid, in the same way, being rich does not make you smart. But yet, the opposite is becoming institutional wisdom in America. Our colleges and media seem to cater to this theory as evidenced by the activities of Messrs. Maher and Turner. And even our political system seems in agreement. We see very rich men who are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars on a campaign, but lack any political experience, being elected to public office. The conventional wisdom is that this is because these candidates are able to fund massive media campaigns and outspend their adversaries. While this may, in some part, be true we believe that many voters are swayed by a mental process that concludes the rich candidate must have been very smart to have made all of that money, and therefore he or she would be a good choice to run a government. Whereas, the reality might be that he or she might have merely showed up in the right place at the right time.

Our conclusion remains: Rich or poor, it's still nice to have money. But if it is used as a representation of political astuteness or for absolution of political culpability, we will become cheerleaders for selective poverty.


Jackie Mason is a comedian and Raoul Felder is a lawyer.


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