A Populist Campaign of One Percenters

by Victor Davis Hanson

The problem with President Obama’s us-vs.-them fairness campaign is that the Democratic technocracy that runs the redistributionist state is so deeply embedded within the One Percent that it is impossible to hide the hypocrisies. Today’s Big Money is not the staid GM and IBM of the ’60s, but the hipper Wall Street and Silicon Valley where millionaires can still wear the same sort of clothes, listen to the same sort of music, and adopt the same sort of platitudes as the left-wing counterculture of Occupy Wall Street. Without that veneer of coolness, someone who milked Freddie, Fannie, or Citigroup would be reduced to an Enron- or Halliburton-style caricature.

This week we heard that consumer populist and Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren is, by both net worth and salary, part of the One Percent herself — as well as a past consultant to insurance companies seeking to avoid litigant claims. All three of Barack Obama’s chiefs of staff were Wall Streeters; all three made their Wall Street millions in very little time; two had some sort of association with Freddie and Fannie. Peter Orszag of both OMB and Citigroup is emblematic of the technocratic class’s revolving door between “public service” and ever more enhanced billets back on Wall Street. And, fairly or not, even good handlers cannot keep Michelle Obama’s taste for the aristocratic life of high fashion out of the press.

The media that resonates Obama’s “fairness” attacks are One Percenters to the core, from Soros-subsidized blogs and think tanks to mega-salaried corporate news anchors. The epitome of all this is the business model of Arianna Huffington — low or no pay for writers, trendy liberal celebrity spotlight appearances, and tabloid photographic gossip — which turns a “progressive” blog into a corporate-bought-out bonanza that will earn AOL very little and Ms. Huffington quite a lot.

The loudest advocates of Obamaism — academic elites, green corporatists, Hollywood, foundations, Silicon Valley, Wall Street itself — are generally America’s most affluent. The political and financial implosion of Jon Corzine remains the touchstone to fathoming the psychology of blue Wall Street, the tastes and tax avoidance of John Kerry to fathoming the hypocrisy of progressive taxation.

The president has tried to square this circle with Buffettism, dragging out a zillionaire to confess that he pays too little and is therefore exempt from populist derision. But Buffett himself is contending various tax charges, and his estate will avoid billions in much-needed federal inheritance-tax revenue, largely due to his apparent reluctance to have government (rather than private foundations) administering his money. And the idea that the very wealthy can buy exemption from the us-vs.-them campaign by giving their money to progressives is too medieval to be taken seriously.

Most universities are far more unfair to their part-time teachers than Wal-Mart is to their greeters. Robert Redford does not seem concerned that at least a few of his fellow HuffPo writers are paid almost nothing for their work. Al Gore would never ask an out-of-work pipeline worker to hitch a ride on one of his private jet swings. Hollywood predicates much of its production on the basis of non-union locations. In short, the genius of Obama’s class warfare is his unique and unspoken assurance to the One Percent that if they join him with contributions and loud support, the vast contradictions of their own lives will be excused through these rather paltry, penny-on-the-dollar penances. I don’t know why conservatives don’t hit back at these contradictions.