Victor Davis Hanson: Angry rich liberals

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.]

Scolding Americans for our various sins is proving popular among an elite group of self-appointed moralists.

Take well-meaning environmentalists who warn us that our plush lifestyles heat up and pollute the planet. To listen to former Vice President Al Gore or New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, we must immediately curtail our carbon emissions -- or face planetary destruction.

Yet these influential prophets of doom do not have lives remotely similar to the lesser folk they lecture. From time to time, Mr. Gore hops on a private jet - and purchases "carbon offsets" penances for the privilege. His mansion not long ago consumed more energy in a month than the average American home does in a year. Mr. Friedman lives on a sprawling estate reminiscent of those of the grandees of the 18th-century English countryside.

The rest of us would find these environmental scolds more convincing if they chose to live modestly in average tract homes. That way, they could limit their energy consumption and provide living proof to us of how smaller is better for an endangered planet Earth.

Critics in the business of racial grievance offer the same contradictions.

Recently, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. got into a spat with a white policeman who arrested him in his own home for disorderly conduct. Mr. Gates immediately cried racism. He argued that his plight was emblematic of the burdens the black underclass endures daily from a racist white America.

However, Mr. Gates is one of the highest-paid humanities professors in the United States. And Mr. Gates - not the middle-class Cambridge, Mass., white cop -- engaged in shouting and brought up race. Within hours, the black mayor of Cambridge, the black governor of Massachusetts and the black president of the United States all rallied to their chum's side.

Yet this well-connected, well-paid man apparently wants us to believe in melodramatic fashion that he is living in something like the United States of decades ago....

In the old days, critics of what we called the "system" were at least for the most part blue-collar workers, underpaid teachers or grass-roots politicians whose rather modest lives matched their angry populist rhetoric. Now the most vehement critics of America's purported sins are among the upper classes. These critics' parlor game has confused Americans about why they are being called polluters, racists and exploiters by those who have fared best in America.

Do the wealthy and the powerful lecture us about our wrongs because they know their own insider status ensures that they are exempt from the harsh medicine they advocate for others? Mr. Gore, a millionaire, is not much affected by higher taxes for his cap-and-trade crusade....

Here's a little advice for all of America's wealthy critics: a little less hypocrisy, a little more appreciation of your good lives -- and then maybe the rest of us will listen to you a little more.

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Charles Lee Geshekter - 8/15/2009

Prof. Hanson was absolutely correct to point out the double standards and rank hypocrisy of moralizing folks like Gore, Gates and their ilk.

My only regret was that Hanson was far too gentle and low-keyed when skewering those poseurs.

Ryan Schumacher - 8/14/2009

Thanks for that bit of cliche, ad hominen faux-populism, Glenn Beck--er, I mean, Perfessor Victor. I think I'm stupider for having read that. Why come you don't mention the inconsistencies of the likes of Senator Ensign or Mark Stanford on family values, or Stanford and Sarah Palin on fiscal responsibility?

Ernest T Spoon - 8/14/2009

Interesting, Professor Hanson is chastising "angry rich liberals" for hypocrisy, though we can well imagine he too lives a comfortable coordinator class, Boomer lifestyle, like some later-day "wobblie."

Of course Hanson is right in pointing out the hypocrisy of an Al Gore, a Thomas Friedman and, perhaps, a Louis henry Gates, Jr. Yet he too is steeped in the same hypocrisy.

The sorry fact, as I see it, is that the political debate in the United States is in the hands of two factions, centrist-liberal and reactionary, of primarily white, primarily suburban, Boomer coordinator class professionals. Professor Hanson may rail about "angry rich liberal" hypocrisy but I doubt he would deign to saunter down to the nearest NASCAR-festooned tavern for a cold beer with the boys from the slaughter house.

One of the saddest legacies of the Vietnam War era is the emasculation of the labor union movement. By that I mean, organized labor leaders' usually echo the sentiments of the Democratic Party's establishment who are for the most part white, male coordinator class Boomers. Unfortunately many of organized labors' rank-and-file members find voice in the reactionary craziness of so-called "birther" movement, anti-immigrant groups or disrupting so-called town hall meetings on health care reform.