Thursday, May 08, 2014
Liberals: Exempt from Scrutiny
Victor Davis Hanson
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.
Too many modern liberal fetishes are predicated on the medieval notion of exemption, and should not be taken as anything much other than useful pretensions or smart career moves — something like joining the Masonic lodge in the 1920s in small-town America. Charter schools are bad, and troubled public schools are noble, but the coastal elites, whether at Sidwell Friends or the Menlo School, assume that they should not sacrifice their children on the altar of their own ideology. Diversions of Central Valley canal water from agriculture to fish are good, but diversions of Hetch Hetchy canal water from San Francisco to fish are bad. Dreaming about salmon jumping in a hot Central Valley river is a lot easier than bathing with recycled grey water three times a week.
Concern for the Sierra toad and frog should stop logging-road and mountain development, but incinerating fauna with solar mirrors or grinding up eagles and hawks in wind turbines is the necessary price of green membership.
The Koch brothers have allegedly polluted politics with their ill-gotten cash; the Steyer brothers have not with their coal money. The revolving door is what right-wing operators do, not what a Tommy Vietor or Peter Orszag does. Affirmative action is necessary to stop “old boy” hiring and power wielding, but the sort of incestuous D.C. relationships that the Carneys or the Rhodes brothers have (Jay Carney’s wife, Claire Shipman, is a senior correspondent for ABC News; Ben Rhodes’s brother, David, is the president of CBS News) are not what we are talking about.
The issues per se are not so important. No prominent progressive really believes that his children belong in a public school with the “other.” He does not wish to live in an integrated neighborhood in order to promote his notion of high-density, non-suburban racial assimilation. A Che poster does not mean you want to live somewhere like Venezuela and wait in line for toilet paper.
The liberal is not immune from the material allurements of the 1 percent. Whizzing off on a private jet or climbing into a huge black ten-mile-a-gallon SUV limo is no problem. You do not necessarily denounce all racist stereotyping, given that sometimes attacking friendly bigots could be a headache. Taking the Google bus with like kind instead of the messy public bus or the uncertainties of the commuter train does not mean you are against mass transit for “them.” You surely don’t want the Coastal Commission enforcing beach-access rights for hoi polloi when who knows how many of the 99 percent wish to walk right by your deck in Malibu. It would be like ruining your beach view with a wind farm.
Liberalism offers a wise investment for a politician, a celebrity, an academic, or a journalist, by letting him take out inexpensive insurance against a politically incorrect slip of the tongue. Donald Sterling almost achieved exemption by his donations to Democratic candidates and the NAACP and his trial-lawyer billions; he lost it by keeping his ossified Republican registration while being an old, sick white guy who said the sort of reprehensible racist things that one hears sometimes in bits and pieces from some NBA players.
So, in medieval fashion, liberalism serves as a powerful psychological crutch: You can be noble in the abstract to assuage worries of not being so at all in the concrete. It adds a hip flourish to the otherwise mundane pursuit of power, lucre, and influence that plays out on the golf course, at the Malibu party, in front-row seats at NBA games, or in the tony Martha’s Vineyard summer home. About three decades ago, sipping a fine wine at a Napa bed and breakfast, or getting the right Italian-granite and teak flooring, became a force multiplier of being loudly liberal.
If a liberal has a really nice Chevy Chase estate or Upper West Side brownstone or Tahoe summer home, it is important to sound all the more liberal. Or maybe it is just the opposite: You cannot sound credibly liberal unless you first have the correct liberal address and square footage. The joke is on us. Having lots of stuff and lots of money, while deriding the system that provides it, is perverse, but perverse in a postmodern sense: You fools love the free market, where you didn’t do too well; we whose parents or selves did very well in it don’t like it all that much. How postmodern — like guffawing that lots of smoke came out of that Gulfstream ride, or lecturing about inequality from Rancho Mirage or the back nine at Augusta.
We are told that the Kennedys, the Pelosis, the Kerrys, and others like them are noble because they vote against their class interests. But they really do not; they vote for them. Liberalism is now the domain of the elite, and antithetical to the aspirations of the upper middle class that lacks the capital and tastes of the 0.1 percent. The higher the taxes, the more numerous the regulations, the greater the redistribution, so all the more the elite liberal distances himself from those less cool who breathe down his neck, and the less guilty he feels about the growing divide between him and the poor he worries about, but never worries about enough to associate with.
Liberalism professes a leftwing ideology, but these days it has absolutely no effect on the lives of those who most vehemently embrace it. In other words, being liberal is professionally useful and psychologically better than Xanax, but we need not assume any more that it is a serious belief.
The truth about a great American massacre
The Sacrament, a new suspense film closely based on the 1978 Jonestown massacre, illustrates the extremes to which leftism corrupts and the ends to which its philosophy can ultimately lead. The fictional movie turns out to be more accurate than many documentaries and news articles in its treatment of Jim Jones’s radical left-wing politics — a topic that is inescapable when (honestly) broaching the subject of Jonestown.
The 1978 massacre at Jonestown, Guyana, was the largest mass suicide in recorded history and the largest single-day mass killing of American civilians prior to the 9/11 attacks. Some 909 members of Jones’s “People’s Temple” cult were murdered or (in an unknown but probably large number of instances) were forced to commit suicide by drinking a poison-laced fruit drink. The popular phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” to describe herd mentalities originated with the Jonestown massacre.
Yet the Jonestown massacre itself is only dimly known to contemporary Americans, and the details of the event are often ignored by news and academia. It is, after all, an inconvenient story, in which a Communist community, led by a committed Marxist and ’60s Bay Area radical, came to a horrifying end.
Following the mass suicide, the mainstream media spun the story into one of religious fanaticism rather than leftist fanaticism. Had a right-winger persuaded followers to join him in retreating from society and building their own enclave, then held them prisoner and ultimately persuaded or forced them to take their own lives in some sort of revolutionary act, Jonestown would be taught more widely in schools than Abe Lincoln. Instead, when Jonestown is addressed, the Marxism of the People’s Temple is whitewashed and the story is packaged as one of a religious cult gone awry, or as a warning against the perils of organized religion.
This deliberate obfuscation happened immediately. As a contemporaneous (1978) Accuracy in Media report made clear, “The ideology of Jonestown was communism, not Christianity, but the media have obscured rather than explained that fact.”
AIM explained, “Our media have concealed, misrepresented, or downplayed the key element in the philosophy of Jim Jones,” rightly noting that Jones was, contrary to the misleading media reports, “a long-time dedicated Marxist communist who admired totalitarian communist dictatorships such as the Soviet Union and Cuba so much that he built one of his own in Guyana.”
Even weeks after the event, AIM found there was not a single article in the mainstream press that delved into Jones’s Marxist beliefs and connections. Instead, despite his views and his well-known admiration for Castro’s Cuba and the Soviet Union, reporters went out of their way to avoid labeling Jones a Communist. Some in the media, such as Walter Cronkite, even reported on Jones as a “fascist” — any “ist” as long as it wasn’t a Communist.
Yet Marxist he was, and so was his group. Jonestown life was nearly identical to that in Communist nations: Inhabitants were essentially prisoners (prohibited from leaving the settlement and punished if caught trying to leave); no private ownership of any goods was allowed; no communication with the outside world was allowed; hard labor in the fields was mandatory, as was attendance at Jones’s lengthy, Castro-like sermons; armed henchmen spied on and intimidated others who dared step out of line or complain; family structures were deliberately destroyed, with Jones encouraging adultery or assigning husbands and wives to separate living quarters; residents were poorly fed and overworked, while Jones himself lived in luxury; and, of course, in keeping with Jonestown’s Marxism, there was almost no religious observance, making the media’s description of Jonestown cultists as religious fanatics, over more than 30 years, all the more dishonest.
As for the enigmatic Reverend Jim Jones, who was he? The Indiana-born Jones, a former community organizer, was a committed Marxist since at least the age of 18. (His idol was Mao Tse-tung.) He believed himself to be the reincarnation of Lenin and dreamed of a socialist America. Jones began attending Communist-party meetings in 1951 and was soon a full-fledged radical.
An atheist, Jones cleverly realized, quite early on, that religion could serve as a vehicle to attract followers to his social-justice views and his “church.” Masquerading as a Christian preacher, he ultimately founded the People’s Temple, which grew substantially thanks to followers’ donations. Jones would later readily admit that he asked himself what would be the best method to spread Marxism and decided on doing so by infiltrating Christians and preaching Marxism disguised as religion. In a 1977 New York Times interview, his wife reportedly admitted that Jones was promoting Marxism by mobilizing people via religion, and that he referred to the Bible as a paper idol he must destroy.
Lest there be any doubt about Jones’s political views and those of his fellow Jonestown residents, he once boasted: “I believe we’re the purest Communists there are.” When a Soviet diplomat visited Jonestown, Jones gushed: “Thank you, comrade. For many years, we have let our sympathies be quite publicly known, that the United States government was not our mother but that the Soviet Union was our spiritual motherland.”
This was not a church — this was a Communist organization.
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Posted by JR at 12:49 AM