If your party serves the powerful and well-funded interests, and there's no limit to what you can spend, you have a permanent, structural advantage. We're averaging fifty-dollar checks in our campaign, and trying to ward off these seven- or eight-figure checks on the other side. That disparity is pretty striking, and so are the implications. In many ways, we're back in the Gilded Age. We have robber barons buying the government.
America's industrial success produced a roll call of financial magnificence: Rockefellers, Morgans, Astors, Mellons, Fricks, Carnegies, Goulds, du Ponts, Belmonts, Harrimans, Huntingtons, Vanderbilts, and many more based in dynastic wealth of essentially inexhaustible proportions. John D. Rockefeller made billion a year, measured in today's money, and paid no income tax. No one did, for income tax did not yet exist in America. Congress tried to introduce an income tax of 2 percent on earnings of ,000 in 1894, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Income tax wouldn't become a regular part of American Life until 1914. People would never be this rich again.Spending all this wealth became for many a more or less full-time occupation. A kind of desperate, vulgar edge became attached to almost everything they did. At one New York dinner party, guests found the table heaped with sand and at each place a little gold spade; upon a signal, they were invited to dig in and search for diamonds and other costly glitter buried within. At another party - possibly the most preposterous ever staged - several dozen horses with padded hooves were led into the ballroom of Sherry's, a vast and esteemed eating establishment, and tethered around the tables so that the guests, dressed as cowboys and cowgirls, could enjoy the novel and sublimely pointless pleasure of dining in a New York ballroom on horseback.