Why No Politician Can Fully Harness the Politics of Envy

by Jim Geraghty

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why No Politician Can Fully Harness the Politics of Envy

Ramesh, writing in the New York Times:

REPUBLICANS think they have found a new weapon to use against President Obama: the charge that income inequality has risen on his watch. In recent weeks that criticism has been lodged by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell; Speaker of the House John A. Boehner; Representative Paul D. Ryan; and the former governors Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Three other potential presidential candidates, Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, used inequality to indict the Democrats in a January forum.

But Republicans are likely to find that this weapon will be a dud. Inequality does not appear to be an issue that moves voters, and even if it did, Republicans would not be able to come up with an agenda that does much to reduce it.

I’d argue that the politics of envy are a weapon too unstable, unpredictable, and dangerous to really be useful to the one who wields it. Because ultimately, just about everybody in elected office lives a life that appears luxurious to the average American.

Andrew Ferguson, writing over in the Weekly Standard:

[The article] itemized the [Governor Christie’s] taste for luxury, especially when it is paid for by someone else, usually wealthy political allies: elaborate family vacations disguised as trade missions, gilded hotel rooms at $30,000 a night, first-class tickets to concerts and sporting events, and a preference for private jets that feature “exotic wood interiors and a Rolls Royce engine.”

The governor’s high life isn’t illegal, as even the Times admitted, and it isn’t unusual. A seldom-remarked fact of American politics is that people in positions of government authority — senators, cabinet officers, governors, ranking members of the House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats alike — live a life utterly removed from that of the people they rule, with cars and drivers and private jets on call, sumptuous meals and skyboxes stocked with excellent liquor, all for free. They will tell you it’s to make the people’s business run more smoothly, but they also think it’s fitting compensation. Why else would they put up with the rest of us?

Sometimes you don’t even need to be elected to any office or appointed to any key position to enjoy these little perks; witness Valerie Jarrett’s personal security detail.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Sarah Palin in these parts. Let’s take a moment to observe that for whatever flaws she has, Palin lived the most “normal” and “middle class” life of any figure on a major party ticket in decades. The reason she ran into that brouhaha about the RNC buying her clothes is that she didn’t already have a campaigning-across-the-country wardrobe. She had a wardrobe fine for campaigning in Alaska, but not, apparently, appropriate for the image the McCain campaign thought she needed — and that apparently the American electorate expected. Think about it, by the time anybody becomes a member of Congress, they already have a closet with at least a week’s worth of suits, shirts, ties, blouses, shoes, etc. for campaigning and looking professional. The Democrats rode to victory in 2012 by demonizing Mitt Romney’s wealth but compared to the average American, they’re all wealthy.

Sure, Barack Obama had his credit card rejected as recently as 2000, but he became a multimillionaire from a January 2005 book deal and book sales shortly after his 2004 Democratic National Convention address. Vice President Joe Biden claims to be “the poorest man in Congress” — and he probably comes close to qualifying, although that’s not as significant as it sounds — but he still has a net worth estimated from $39,000 to $800,000.

A presidential campaign that somehow utilized “the politics of envy” would slam into the fact that the candidate — just about any serious candidate — makes more money, has a bigger net worth, and lives a more lavish lifestyle that almost all of the voters they’re attempting to win over. It’s going to be comical and delicious to see Hillary railing against the same Wall Street bankers who she just charged $200,000 per speech.

And she will; she won’t be able to help herself. The Democratic base will command it. And she’s already dabbled in bashing those other rich people, back in 2012:

There are rich people everywhere, and yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries.

Jazz Shaw rapped me on the knuckles for writing about Mike Huckabee’s lavish lifestyle, contending that even the wealthiest person can enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Sure. But when a guy who rides on private jets starts claiming that “status is a Ford 150 truck; luxury is crawfish étouffée and slaw on your pulled-pork sandwich” a certain segment of the electorate is going to roll their eyes at what they deem as inauthenticity.

The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.