The same contradictions define the material world. Those who live in the Bay Area are preponderantly greens — predictably opposed to logging in the Sierras, fracking and horizontal drilling in California’s newly discovered vast oil and gas reserves, and more dams and canals to ensure the continuance of irrigated acreage in California’s vast latifundia. Yet when I drive by the near-nonstop remodeling of older cottages, workers are taking out 1960s-era Formica counters and bringing in granite, or ripping out carpet and laying exotic wood floors. A knot-free redwood deck is still as popular as arugula from Whole Foods. Apparently, somewhere far to the south of San Jose, far to the north of San Francisco, or east of the mountains, a few trees are still being cut, a few quarries still being mined, and a few farms still being watered.
In the southern and central California coastal strip, where year-round daytime temperatures tend to range between 60 and 80 degrees, air conditioning is often unnecessary. Heating is only a 90-days-a-year cost. Power bills are a fraction of those in Stockton or Bakersfield, and therefore cheap natural-gas-fed power generation is mostly an irrelevant issue. That California has the highest electricity rates in the nation, with all sorts of redistributive and green charges that have nothing to do with power generation, does not matter much to those whose bills are less than half those of people living in the interior.
Crass materialism can be defined in lots of ways. In the Reagan years, the caricature was the Wall Street con artist with the “Beamer.” Yet I recently parked in the faculty A lot at Stanford University and counted the first 18 cars next to my Honda. Here was the tally: BMW five, Mercedes three, Lexus three, Volvo two, Honda three, Toyota two. Not one American car, and only five less than $60,000 in price. I assume that someone quite liberal is paying quite a bit out of a retrograde desire for the right logo or desired emblem, rather than a green mpg rate and basic dependable transportation.
There are few new tract-housing developments going in from San Francisco to San Jose. Residential construction is mostly upscale remodeling. Yet in terms of available acreage for new housing, there are vast swaths of open spaces in the Silicon Valley environs. The Freeway 280 corridor from Los Altos to San Francisco is still wide open, and so in many places is the land for 20 miles westward to the Pacific Ocean.
Yet there is no liberal movement for “affordable housing” for hundreds of thousands of Latino service workers who are often living in garages, sheds, and trailers from Redwood City to San Jose. There are no community leaders in Menlo Park or Atherton who lobby to build affordable condos along the foothill freeways, where water, power, and transportation are readily accessible, that might better serve the new Latino population.
Ask a Silicon Valley liberal whether he is for amnesty, open borders, and multicultural curricula, and he assents; ask him next whether he is for new low-income and diverse housing construction a few minutes from Menlo Park or Atherton, and he is aghast. I think the average Bay Area liberal believes his nanny flies home to Oaxaca each evening and is back by the next morning at the Hillsborough doorstep.
Among the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley, there is no apparent inclination to insist on having their gadgets manufactured here in America to provide jobs for the unemployed. But Silicon Valley zillionaires apparently support President Obama’s efforts to raise taxes, grow government, and provide more entitlements and services — at least if their inordinate donations to his two campaigns are any indication.
In fact, companies like Apple and Google have sought to avoid billions of dollars in taxes on overseas profits, and have liberally used offshore tax havens to lower tax liability in a manner that we are supposed to associate with less hip, more old-fashioned corporations. “Google as tax cheat” seems an oxymoron.
Cool is at the heart of the Silicon Valley. It is the lubricant that oils all the grinding contradictions. With the right zip code and the million-dollar-plus mortgage, perhaps you really are not living in a tiny, half-century-old bungalow. Mouthing diversity shibboleths means that you are not a white-flighter from the public schools. Techies don’t really offshore their profits or connive to avoid tax liabilities. Wearing loafers, jeans, and an earring or a slightly exposed tattoo means stock options and hedge funds don’t quite option or hedge.
California is the epicenter of the new regressive progressive — a novel sort of hyper-reactionary but hip 1 percenter who shakes his fist at his image in the mirror.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is The Savior Generals, published this spring by Bloomsbury Books.