U.S.

Our Privileged Scolds

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the One Iowa and GLAAD LGBTQ Presidential Forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, September 20, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)
Let them lead by example before they lecture the country on carbon emissions, gun ownership, and ‘white privilege.’

One theme of the Democratic debates is collective furor — at whom or what is not always clear, other than at Americans who voted for Trump. Or perhaps at America itself for failing the expectations of our moral betters? Yet such rage is so deeply embedded in hypocrisy that it is not merely hard to take; it’s even harder to believe it’s serious.

So upset are our woke progressive candidates that they insist that the rich, the privileged, the white, and the native-born must now pay ever more penance. Amid such acrimony is an inconvenient truth, though one that remains utterly unspoken: Most of those on stage who are so livid at the exploitative “system” have become wealthy and quite privileged through it — especially since they have spent so much of their adult lives gaming supposedly poorly compensated political service.

Multimillionaire, mansion-living, ethnic-identity-stealing, and formerly house-flipping Senator Elizabeth Warren talks nonstop about corporate greed, endemic racism, and the need for executive fiats to deal with right-wing American pathologies. In Warren’s reductionist world, every sin originates with some Snidely Whiplash corporate CEO with a black top hat and handlebar moustache who trumped the success of her own past cynical efforts several hundred times over.

Beto O’Rourke, born into privilege and wealth, and married into greater influence and riches, was so pampered and well connected as a teen that his prior burglary and drunk-driving arrests were either dismissed or white-privileged away. Otherwise, had he been treated as others — including poor working-class whites from southern Ohio or central California — he might now be an ex-felon, and certainly might not be eligible to buy or own a firearm under the regimens that he now blasts as too weak.

Naturally, the multimillionaire Beto lectures the country on its racism, its original and permanent sins of white supremacy, and the need to confiscate some models of guns and to restrict the ownership of almost all others. As in the case of erstwhile Native American Elizabeth Warren, Beto is so concerned about the asymmetry between the haves and the have-nots that he pushed a fake ethnic identity to do something about it.

Apparently Beto does not like what he and his family represent or how they got so far ahead. But he is not quite angry enough over his own dispensations to give any of them up — at least if his own net worth juxtaposed to his anemic record of philanthropy is any indication (in 2017, he donated 0.3 percent to charity).

Socialist Bernie Sanders is now a newly minted multimillionaire. He owns three homes. His wife, a former president of a small college, left her campus in such financial shambles that the FBI was called in to investigate how it was that she had done so well while her college was forced to shut down owing to the insurmountable financial difficulties that had accumulated under Mrs. Sanders’s leadership. (The FBI declined to recommend charges.) Sanders flies in private jets around the country to campaign stops, preaching the virtues of socialism, the need to significantly raise taxes on both the income and the existing wealth of the affluent, and the sins of burning so much carbon. One wonders whether he stayed in a Crimean seaside dacha on his honeymoon to the Soviet Union

Joe Biden has a long, checkered history of plagiarism, intellectual theft, allowing his offices to be leveraged by his family to profit, and occasional bizarre racialist outbursts, ranging from idiotic discourses on African-American dialects and hygiene to the ubiquitous and growing non-white customer base of Delaware doughnut shops. So naturally Biden now runs for president on the themes that we are a racist nation, that integrity such as his own is needed in the Oval Office, and that greedy wannabe-rich people like his brother or son need to be called to account. In between boasts that he’d beat Trump like a drum or that he’d like to take Trump behind the proverbial gym for a whipping, Joe lectures Americans on the loss of civility and bipartisan respect.

Left unsaid is the case of the progressive scold emeritus and par excellence, the “you didn’t build that,” “now is the not the time for profits,” “at a certain point, you’ve made enough money” Barack Obama. The missing former progressive president now migrates between his $15 million Martha’s Vineyard estate and his $8 million Washington mansion, where he works on increasing his not-enough profits and building his own business until he reaches his own particular point of sufficient riches — somewhere beyond his present $100 million net worth, accumulated entirely in the less than three years since he left office.

The list of such paradoxes could be expanded to include almost all the progressive candidates, most of whom are quite well-to-do and yet eager to rebuke America for its nasty selfishness, carbon addictions, and innate privilege.

If one were a Christian, he would offer these socialist, green scolds, and hypercritics of the United States, Jesus’s famous advice at John 8:7. Facing the vigilantes who are ready to pummel an adulteress, Jesus says, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Or if one is a secularist, then perhaps the warning from Petronius’s Satyricon would do: “You see a small louse on someone else, but not the tick on yourself” (In alio pediculum, in te ricinum non vides).

Such hypocrisy is a theme among the Democratic field for obvious reasons. One, 21st-century America is the most opulent and leisured country in the history of civilization, and especially for millions of its most blessed citizens by either marriage, inheritance, or their own non-muscular work. In present-day America, it is far easier for the cultural elite to be rich than at any other time or place in history.

Two, many of the political class either enter or leave office quite wealthy (or both) — and that is not supposed to be the case for progressives and equality-of-result socialists who do not believe that rich people should do better than others. Note that the Democratic party has mostly abandoned the middle class and is largely demographically a reflection of the very wealthy who fund it and the dependent poor who are taken for granted. The former seeks greater power and influence; the latter depends on redistributive social programs and identity-politics set-asides.

Three, these spread-the-wealth progressive politicians apparently feel guilty about their singular privilege — at least all the way up until the moment when they have to dispense with any of it. As a general rule, the more that progressives harp on “too much” money, the more likely they themselves, by their own definition, have too much money. When a progressive refers to “checking your privilege,” does he mean a young Kamala Harris ingratiating herself to an older politico, the married Willie Brown, to jump-start her political career? Or Cory Booker, child of two IBM executives, who grew up in an exclusive neighborhood? At least multimillionaire techie Andy Yang does not take too seriously the idea of disowning his own privilege. Add up the number of Ivy League degrees on the debate stage, and it becomes hard to believe that these scolds know all that much about the underclasses, at least compared with the various fast lanes that their privileged degree brands opened up.

Given these realities can we ask for a brief manifesto from our affluent scolds in Washington and Hollywood?

How about just five simple commandments to see us through until November 2020?

  1. I will not lecture on the evils of gun ownership if I own a handgun or if anyone in my security details carries one. Given Joe Biden’s advice just to rely on a few random blasts of a shotgun on the front porch, perhaps his private security guards could do the same.
  2. I pledge not to sermonize on the unfairness of wealth distribution or carbon-emission greed if I own more than one home, and if any of my homes is larger than 2,500 square feet.
  3. If I continue to virtue-signal about the Green New Deal, I promise that, from this day forth, I will not fly on a private jet, not own a heated swimming pool or hot tub, not own or ride in an SUV, and not own or use air conditioning. The green future starts now, with me!
  4. I swear not to rail about the failure of the public schools in general, the evils of non-union and charter schools, and in particular the asymmetries in the quality of our education system — if I place my own children in private academies and prep schools or if I attended a private school myself.
  5. Finally, I will cease pontificating about “white privilege” and “white supremacy” if I live in a nearly all-white, non-diverse neighborhood and my children have ever attended a wealthy, predominately white school.

If our multimillionaire scolds would just adopt these five promises, Americans might at least listen to some of the nonsense they espouse. Otherwise, their debate screeds are mostly virtue-signals intended for their own career advancement, and reflections of their own psychological insecurities about squaring the circle of their wealth and privilege — and how much they think they must feign to feel badly about both.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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