Or take the green industry. At about the same time that statisticians readjusted the first-quarter GDP growth markedly downward — to a 1.8 percent annual rate, from the previously reported 2.4 percent — President Obama announced sweeping new regulations to curtail carbon emissions that will hamper the coal industry, further slow the economy — and delight his elite green base. Al Gore thought the speech historic. And why would he not? Gore has made hundreds of millions of dollars in the Marcus Licinius Crassus style of hyping a disaster and then profiting from its remedy. Gore hates carbon emissions. So much so that he dismisses those who live by them, such as coal-company executives, coal miners, and the rubes who mindlessly use coal-based electricity. But Gore also likes money and what money can do for him — SUVs, private jet travel, multiple residences. That’s why he just sold his interest in a failed cable-television network to a broadcasting network backed by a Middle Eastern authoritarian sheikhdom, known for both its anti-Semitism and its huge cash profits from the sale of fossil fuels. Take away the talk of polar bears and melting ice caps, and Gore becomes just another huckster, cashing in on oil profits from the Middle East, a region that is ensured continuance of its riches in part because of environmental restrictions that hamper fracking, horizontal drilling, and coal production on public lands in the United States.
Here in central California there are predictable themes to the new environmentalism: Land that could produce food and provide jobs will be idled to protect a bait fish in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. Rivers that are critical to irrigation and are anchors of the economy will be diverted to their 19th-century course in order to fulfill the dream of salmon runs through a desert-like San Joaquin Valley, and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of gas and oil that could be fracked and provide jobs for communities suffering 10-plus percent unemployment will be ignored. On one side, there are academics, lawyers, high government officials, those with inherited wealth, and those with enough capital to easily afford the higher taxes and higher costs of fuel, power, and food that are the inevitable wages of their own boutique ideology. On the other side, there are the apparent losers and clingers who are out of work, who pay over $4 a gallon for gas for their silly used Dodge Ram trucks, and who stupidly splurge by turning their air conditioners on for an hour or two a day in 108-degree Fresno.
In the real world, the tiny delta smelt is a good psychological totem for a well-paid Google exec in Mountain View, who doesn’t mind paying a little more for his arugula or paying higher sales taxes. But the worship of a bait fish is not shared by Manuel Lopez, a tractor driver in Bakersfield who has no more fields to disc this summer. Those in breezy, cool Malibu hate coal, and apparently believe those who mine it would be better off on food stamps and unemployment insurance, which the generous seaside denizens would so selflessly be willing to pay for.
Take gun control. What caused the latest round of furor over the Second Amendment was not gun-related deaths per se. In fact, they have been declining overall in the United States for some time. Nor is it the death toll in Chicago, where last year over 500 mostly African-American and Latino youths gunned each other down, almost exclusively with illegally obtained handguns in a city that has enacted among the tightest gun laws in the nation. Instead, the horrible tragedies of Columbine and Sandy Hook and Aurora suggest that the atypical shooter with a semi-automatic long gun will on rare occasions slaughter anywhere, from an upscale school to a cinema in a good neighborhood. Worse still, the most effective remedies for stopping these typically young, white, unhinged suburbanite shooters — detain the mentally ill far more frequently, curb the promiscuous use of psychotropic drugs, treat violent video games for our youth as we do pornography, jawbone Hollywood to show some restraint in its graphic and titillating portrays of gun carnage — rub up against liberal elite views on mental health, civil liberties, free expression, and the arts.
The result is that the elite find resonance in demonizing the largely white lower-middle-class gun crowd, who are not responsible for the vast majority of yearly gun deaths, but whose culture as the proverbial clingers is ripe for caricature and the fuel of elite outrage. No gun law that Barack Obama has supported would have stopped any of the recent suburban violence — given the millions of weapons that exist throughout the United States. To stop Sandy Hook — where the deranged Adam Lanza stole from his own mother firearms that she had legally purchased — the president would have had to confiscate privately owned semi-automatic rifles and larger clips, or made the possession of existing rifle ammunition illegal. No matter: Obama knew well that the liberal elites were outraged that savage violence had hit the suburbs; he knew too that there was nothing he could do to stop it that was acceptable to those elites, while there were lots of cultural targets that would at least allow the elites to vent. Thus followed the hysterical calls to ban all sorts of evil-looking black “assault weapons” and the demonization of the redneck beer-bellies who for some reason like to shoot them at their inane target ranges.
Modern liberalism, among other things, is a psychological state, in which very-well-off Americans find ways through their income and privilege to be exempt from the ramifications of their own ideologies, while adopting causes and pets that exempt them from guilt over their own status and limitless opportunities. Judging by their concrete actions, they are indifferent to the poor whom they romanticize at a safe distance. In short, voting for larger government and subsidies is seen as a necessary cost of being a reactionary, liberal elite.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals is just out from Bloomsbury Books.