Charting liberal hypocrisy is now old hat. From academia to the Sierra Club, elite progressives expect to live lives that are quite different from what they envision for the less sophisticated. No one believes that Elizabeth Warren would wish affirmative action to work for everyone in the way that she herself subverted it. Nor would we expect Warren not to be in the 1 percent that she so scolds — any more than we would assume that Al Gore would not leave a carbon footprint as large as those of thousands of the less environmentally sensitive put together.
First lady Michelle Obama recently lamented that “many young people are going to schools with kids who look just like them.” And she added: “And too often those schools aren’t equal, especially ones attended by students of color, which too often lag behind.” But that anguish should not mean that the Obamas have put or would put their children in the inner-city public schools the way President and Mrs. Carter did with Amy.
The message from Silicon Valley to Chevy Chase is that the public schools are being abandoned by the wealthy and that the new apartheid is a bad thing — and, by deploring both that fact and those who contribute to it, one exempts oneself from any worry about doing precisely what is being castigated.
It would be otherworldly to expect Paul Krugman, now studying marketplace inequality as a new professor at City University of New York, to not be making 75 times more than a part-time teacher of one class at CUNY — which is one class more than Professor Krugman will be teaching. We are not surprised that Joseph Stiglitz, world-famous economist and consultant on the sources of inequality, is an academic entrepreneur who has made a 1 percenter income by speaking at $40,000 a pop to wealthy groups, governments, and other concerned entities on growing inequality and why a few privileged insiders make more in an hour than the many make in a year.
The Steyer brothers deplore the Koch brothers’ big-money contributions, as they seek to trump them. That the formers’ money in part derives from coal investments matters little given their green intentions. The media are furious over rumor-mongering about Hillary Clinton’s health, but that is an ad hoc concern, not one born of principle about leaving the private health issues of public figures alone, given that they not long ago gladly trafficked in sick rumors about Sarah Palin’s supposed faked pregnancy.
The Bill Gates family lectures about the need for inheritance taxes; but no one believes that any of their heirs will ever be down to his last million. The Sierra Club fights to divert irrigation water for the sake of fish, but would never offer to chip in some of the Bay Area water supply from the Sierra-fed Hetch Hetchy reservoir for the poor smelt or the beleaguered salmon. It makes sense that the Obamas both deplore the 1 percenters and seek to rub shoulders with them at Martha’s Vineyard or Vail.
Nancy Pelosi lectures about the nobility of illegal immigrants, but stays away from the overcrowded emergency room, public schools for her own grandchildren, and mixed neighborhoods. Harry Reid offers us unhinged lectures about the Kochs, but not about his own mega contributors — while the New York Times fires its female executive editor in a manner that, if Chick-fil-A or Fox News did the same thing, it would go after them for big time. The more John Kerry used to call for higher taxes, the more we assumed that he would try to avoid paying them on his yacht — as big-government Al Gore rushed the sale of his cable-TV channel to avoid a new and higher capital-gains tax rate. When we see universities raise tuition faster than the rate of inflation, exploit part-time lecturers, and berate any invited speaker deemed too conservative, then why would we not expect their presidents to enjoy salaries and perks at rates never before seen in American higher education? Guilt-free privilege is not available to everyone.
The list of such hypocrisies could be easily extended to Hollywood elites, New York–Washington, D.C., media talking heads, green gurus, and leaders of the identity-politics industry. So what happened to cause the new egalitarian grandees to replace the old practitioners of noblesse oblige or the limousine liberals of the Kennedy style?
With the advent of globalization, riches are at levels never imagined just 30 years ago. Had Al Gore begun his green hucksterism in the 1980s, he would likely have made $1 million rather than $100 million. The Steyer brothers would be successful financiers who made $10 million in 1980, not $1 billion in 2014. The bottom line is that there is so much money to be made in the global marketplace that the new wealthy envision the power of wealth in a way unthinkable a generation ago.