The qualifications of a Tommy “Dude” Vietor or Ben Rhodes that placed them in the Situation Room during Obama-administration crises were not years of distinguished public service, military service, prior elected office, a string of impressive publications, an academic career, previous diplomatic postings, or any of the usual criteria that have placed others at the nerve center of America in times of crisis. Their trajectory was based on yeoman partisan PR work, and largely on being young, hip, and well connected politically. I don’t think either of these operatives has a particular worldview or competency that would promote the interests of the United States. But they do talk well, know the right people, and are hip. Again, they have no real expertise or even ideology other than that.
Al Gore is said to be our leading green activist, and the Steyer brothers the most preeminent green political donors. But do they really believe in reducing carbon emissions to cool down the planet?
Not really. The latter made much of their fortune in the sort of high-stakes speculations that the Left supposedly despises. Many of their financial payoffs derived from promoting coal burning abroad, of the sort most liberals wish to stop.
As for Gore, he cannot really believe in big green government or he would not have tried to beat the capital-gains tax hike when he peddled his failed cable network to a petrodollar-rich Al Jazeera, whose cash comes from the very sources of energy that Gore claims he hates. Do you make millions, and then in eleventh-century fashion repent so that you can enjoy them all the more? Gore certainly in the past has not lived modestly; the carbon footprint of keeping Al Gore going — housing, travel, and tastes — is quite stunning. Both the Steyers and the Gores of our human comedy know that it is lucrative business to appear green, and that by doing so one can keep one’s personal life largely exempt from scrutiny in general and charges of hypocrisy in particular. For them, 21st-century liberalism is a useful badge, a fashion not unlike wearing good shades or having the right sort of cell phone.
The 1 percent fetish is also not really ideological. Elizabeth Warren, one of its greatest supporters, is not just a 1 percent but a 0.1 percent grandee. Her house, habits, household income, past corporate consulting, and net worth all reflect a desire for profits and refinement not accorded to most Americans. Her life is about as much a part of the 99.9 percent as she is Native American. She is not worried about welders getting some work on the Keystone Pipeline or farmworkers put out of their jobs in Mendota, Calif., over a baitfish.
Ditto Paul Krugman. He is eloquent about inequality and about the sort of insider privileges that give so much to so few. But nothing about his own circumstances suggests that he lives the life he professes, as opposed to professing abstractions that psychologically make the quite different life he lives more palatable. Certainly, Krugman’s liberalism means that few care that he once worked in the Reagan administration, that he was a paid adviser to Enron, or that he has just taken a part-time $225,000 post-retirement job at City University of New York — one that, at least initially, requires no teaching. Given what CUNY is said to pay its exploited part-timers, the university could have offered 75 courses with the salary it will be paying Krugman. Or, put another way, Professor Krugman will make the same as do 75 part-timers who each teach one class — and thus one class more than Krugman will teach. Bravo for Professor Krugman to have marketed himself so well and to have earned all the compensation that the market will bear — and too bad for the part-timers, who don’t understand market-based economics, where there are winners like Krugman and losers like themselves who can’t earn commensurate hanging-around money. One last question: Is part-time teacher Krugman going to study the inequality inherent in the modern university’s exploitation of part-time teachers?
Such hypocrisy taxes Krugman’s supporters to find ingenious arguments for the idea that noble ends justify almost any means, and so they argue that Krugman’s advocacy for research into income equality trumps this minor embarrassment, or that he can be very rich and still fight the 1 percent, or that the salary in the metrosexual world of the Boston–New York–Washington corridor is not all that high. Of course, the CUNY billet is likely just a small stream that feeds into Krugman’s other sizable income rivers. Indeed, he more likely belongs not just to the 1 percent, but to the same 0.1 percent as Senator Warren, which he so castigates. When President Obama exclaimed that at some point one needs to know when one has made enough money, Krugman would have agreed. He could now put that agreement into action by donating his salary to double the meager wages of 75 part-timers, who, unlike himself, are contracted professors who really do teach and are not “generously” compensated.
Does the NAACP stand as our watchdog over racism? In theory, yes; in fact, not so much. The L.A. branch was quite content to overlook Donald Sterling’s sterling racialism, given his donations. Sterling apparently thought that supporting the local NAACP either was not antithetical to his racist sloppy talk and rental practices, or was a wise investment in progressive insurance.
Al Sharpton receiving a “person of the year” award from the same branch of the NAACP is no less absurd than Donald Sterling’s “lifetime-achievement award” — given that Sharpton is on record as an anti-Semite, homophobe, inciter of riot, former FBI informant, tax delinquent, and convicted defamer of a district attorney. But the NAACP brand nowadays functions much like our green culture, as a sort of way to display correct coolness. It surely would not go after Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor — or Barack Obama — for either using racialist speech or denigrating others on the basis of race or tribe. Such a fact is widely accepted because it is just as widely assumed that the NAACP has become something fossilized, like Betamax in its waning days, as it existed for a bit longer because it had once thrived.