Wads of wit 

Pseudo-billionaire Phil T. Rich made a triumphant return to his alma mater last Friday when he provided a group of about 70 at the University of Michigan’s progressive Residential College some of the secrets of his wondrous achievements.

Rich, aka Andrew Boyd, is a prime force behind Billionaires for Bush, a political group growing at a rate faster than compound interest.

Founded in the fall of 2003, the group already numbers 85 chapters nationwide, with an active membership of about 1,000 and a loose-knit circle of confederates reaching as high as 10,000, says Rich, taking some time from his incredibly busy and fabulously lucrative schedule to chat by phone with News Hits.

We’re not certain, but we suspect he noshed on caviar and sipped champagne as we spoke.

In George Bush’s America, things are very, very good for the filthy rich, providing much fertile satiric ground for Phil T. Rich and his cohorts.

“This is, by far, the most fully realized satirical humor campaign I’ve been involved in,” says Boyd. His career as an activist employing street theater to score political points dates back to his days at Michigan, where Boyd majored in “overthrowing the administration.”

One of the highlights of his college career during the early 1980s, as he recounts it, was participation in a fictitious right-wing religious cult that took over a campus laboratory to demand that the facility — the subject of some considerable controversy — continue being used to conduct research in support of America’s military. Among other things, members of the group said they were divinely inspired to knit maize-and-blue nose cone warmers for missiles.

Before getting booted by the cops the group succeeded in getting the lab’s director to take communion with the group, says Boyd, 41.

“They thought that we actually were right-wing students who supported military research,” recalls Boyd, who says that he’s been working around social justice issues, as a volunteer and a professional, on and off for the past 20 years.

These days Boyd and company can be found at Bush campaign events “dressed to the nines in tuxedos and top hats, gowns and tiaras” carrying signs and chanting slogans such as “It’s class war and we’re winning.”

“Our bread and butter,” says Boyd, “is street theater.”

He doesn’t downplay the importance of traditional protests; instead, he sees Billionaires as a “complement” to those actions.

There is a time and place for gravitas and sincerity, says Boyd. But the kind of satire and stunts he specializes in can sometimes accomplish what straight-ahead opposition cannot.

For one thing, Billionaires for Bush — which is hoping to raise and spend as much as $200,000 during this campaign — has no trouble catching the attention of the media’s jaded eye. Outlandish visuals and clever antics — the recent stretch limo tour of Midwestern battleground states being just one example — adds much-needed spice to the typical campaign fodder.

There is also an anti-knee jerk component. Instead of reacting automatically, many encountering Billionaires for the first time have to think about what they are seeing.

“They have to process information,” is the way Boyd puts it. So, instead of Bush supporters automatically opposing a group that’s bashing their man, they have to think a few moments about a group of obviously well-heeled types chanting “Four more wars!”

The group’s next action will take place Monday, Sept. 20, when supporters nationwide are expected to turn out fabulously dressed (of course) in support of completely privatizing this nation’s antiquated public education system.

As the signs say: “Leave no billionaire behind.”

There are four Billionaires for Bush chapters in the metro Detroit area. To find out how you can contribute your two-cents worth, visit the group’s Web site at billionairesforbush.com.

Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com

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