The Billionaires stand by the entrance on Houston Street, so delegates have to walk by the small crowd on their way to and from lunch. A few tell the Billionaires to get a job. Others, like the man in the Revolutionary War hat, linger by the door and watch. A woman in a Ted Cruz t-shirt takes pictures. “Can I get a group shot?”
Counting the handbag dog named Dotty, there are nine of them. The men wear top hats; the women, shimmering dresses and feathery pink boas. One drinks water from a champagne flute. Another has hundred-dollar bills stuffed into his coat pockets. They carry signs that read “Wealthcare for the wealthy” and, “It’s class war and we’re winning.”
They speak in the way that billionaires do, stressing the first syllable of every word and prolonging the last. They don’t ask for much: another yacht, a new vacation home, some money to travel the globe. “Living like the 99 percent would just be bizarre,” says Leslie Harris, a spokeswoman for the group. Around her neck are pearls the size of jawbreakers. As we talk, a twenty-something with a laptop points her webcam at us. She says she’s livestreaming for Occupy Dallas. “Keep your distance, darling,” Leslie tells her. “I don’t want the cooties.”
The Billionaires belong to “Billionaires for the Ryan Plan,” a subsidiary of “Billionaires for Prosperity (Ours).” They’ve come to Fort Worth on Saturday to show support for Paul Ryan,Â representativeÂ from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Budget Committee, who’s listed as a speaker on the convention’s schedule.
In the air-conditioned arena, away from the sign-bearing Billionaires, Ryan takes the stage to a lengthy standing ovation. More cheers come when the congressman notes the similarities between Texas and his Badger State: football, steaks, liberty, and noodling. “Because you understand freedom, you now legally recognize a man’s right to catch a catfish with his own bare hands,” he says.
Then he speaks about the economy. “Consider the math of our debt.” According to Ryan, the Congressional Budget Office says that by 2030 “they can’t even measure the economy going forward because they don’t think it can continue because of this burden of debt that our government is racking up.” And the problem goes beyond numbers, as Ryan sees moral implications in the state of the country’s economy. The idle of America, he says, now lie on the government’s safety net as though it were a hammock, with their feet up in the air.
The “Ryan Plan,” his solution to America’s economic and moral demise, is officially titled The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal. (Not to be confused with The Path of Prosperity, a self-help book available for $4.95 at Barnes & Noble.) It’s a sequel to The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America’s Promise, Ryan’s failed budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year. Like its predecessor, it promises to restore the economy with lower tax rates for the top bracket and less funding for expensive social programs, like Medicare.
Also like its predecessor, this version of the Ryan Plan appeals to a moral understanding of the free market. High taxes and welfare spending not only disincentive participation in the economy; they betray the American Dream. In the document’s introduction, Ryan writes that the plan “promises to renew confidence in the superiority of human freedom.”
Out on Houston Street, the Billionaires agree. “Let freedom ring,” they chant. “Cha-ching, cha-ching.”
Teo Soares is a D Magazine summer intern. He’ll graduate from Yale in 2013 with a BA and an MA in history.