We have seen the future of politics, and it looks like Brangelina - well-heeled and out of touch with the realities of day-to-day life in fly-over country.
In case you haven't noticed, American politics is increasingly a rich man's (and woman's) game. But "rich" doesn't quite capture it.
Next year's presidential campaign might pit Hillary Clinton (worth between $10 million and $50 million) against Mitt Romney (more than $200 million) and maybe the third-party candidacy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ($5.5 billion).
In other words, voters could have to choose between the very rich, the super-rich and the mega-rich. Or, for you progressives, between the filthy rich, the obscenely rich, and the f***-you rich.
About half the members of the U.S. Senate are millionaires, with an average net worth of $8.9 million. Our own Herb Kohl is worth an estimated $240 million, while newly elected Tennessee Republican Bob Corker has more than $200 million. They are mere pikers compared with John Kerry, who married his $750 million net worth. And Teddy Kennedy, Claire McCaskill, Elizabeth Dole and Dianne Feinstein are unlikely to be worrying about how to pay for their next Big Whopper.
I'm not bashing the rich or even implying that gazillionaires can't make sound public policy. But it's hard to describe people with the net worth of Third World countries as "representative" of the people they serve. At a certain point, money insulates and distorts.
However well-intentioned they might be, the mega-rich are immune from the daily anxieties of ordinary people. They do not have to worry about paying their rent or heating bills, or losing their jobs to outsourcing or illegal immigrants. They aren't squeezed by higher medical costs or tax increases (since they have accountants and lawyers for that sort of thing).
The wealthy don't have to scrabble to come up with cash for unexpected home repairs or trade family vacations for higher gas prices. They don't have to juggle the cost of having kids in college and caring for elderly parents, while trying to set aside enough money for retirement. Legislation they pass will have little impact on their own futures, or even that of their children, who are pretty much set.
By and large, the super-rich have about as much in common with the daily life of an auto worker in Janesville or a small businesswoman in Middleton as Liz Taylor or the Dalai Lama. But they are the folks running the country.
Government by the elite is, of course, not new. Rockefellers, Lodges and Kennedys bestrode the political stage for much of the last century, while the 19th-century Senate was notoriously a rich man's club.
But we tell ourselves we live in an age of reform - which, indeed, we do. Unfortunately, some of those reforms have nurtured our nascent plutocracy.
Campaign finance reforms have sharply limited individual contributions and party money, while opening the door to massively funded 526s and millionaire/billionaire candidates who are unencumbered by any spending limits.
So, to run for office today, a candidate must either be able to write out huge checks from his or her personal wealth, or count on massive spending by special-interest groups with their own agendas.
The result is that the average guy is increasingly left out. (How ironic that Russ Feingold's reforms may have made the quirky, independent Feingolds of the future impossible.)
Already, we are seeing the transformation of Wisconsin politics. We continue to boast perhaps the Senate's most ineffectual member in Herb Kohl, who remains in office largely because he has more money than God.
The state's newest congressman, Steve Kagen, famously introduced himself to Karl Rove in a White House room as "Dr. Millionaire." A doctor worth an estimated $6.2 million, he largely financed his campaign out of his own deep pockets.
And nobody on either side of the ideological divide thinks this year's Supreme Court race was between the state's two top legal minds. But both Annette Ziegler and Linda Clifford were well-heeled and able to self-finance a costly and nasty race. Candidates of more modest means took a pass, apparently intimidated by their personal bankrolls. Increasingly the word is: If you're not rich, don't bother.
The answer? Start by undoing many of the so-called reforms that have made it so hard for the non-rich to run. Lift individual contribution caps, while enforcing full disclosure, and institute term limits so citizen legislators know they'll have to live under the laws they pass for the rest of us.
But none of that will make a difference as long as the electorate continues to treat elective office as the latest trendy accessory for the rich and famous.