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Monthly Archives: May 2010

What Our Media Taught Me

May 29th, 2010 - 9:27 am

I’ve been over here in Europe for about ten days, getting a different perspective on our illustrious media and how it is handling the various Obama “troubles.”

Perspective and distance are sometime valuable. I used to think, given the enormous size of the bureaucracy and the tragic nature of the human condition, that from time to time disasters would overwhelm us — and there would be not much the president of the United States could do about them. But after Katrina, the media taught me that neither the mayor nor the governor nor the Army Corps of Engineers nor the people of New Orleans were at fault for either the vulnerability to the chance of a catastrophic Katrina or the response after its arrival. No, you see, the commander in chief is the ultimate arbiter of successful or unsuccessful reactions to all such disasters. OK, so be it.

So while I am not inclined to blame Barack Obama for the scandalous federal laxity in the now polluted Gulf, the media long ago taught me that I most certainly should.

I don’t play golf. Never have swung a club. But in the spirit of live and let live, I also never cared much for deconstructing the game in terms of culture and sociology. The media, however, in 2002, taught met that I should in the case of George Bush — that his swing and even his use of a golf cart reflected a certain class disdain for us, or at least a frat-boy frivolity at a time of two ongoing wars. So while I would like to give our present president a pass on his obsession with playing golf at a frequency far in excess to poor George Bush’s, I cannot. I am conditioned now to grasp that Obama’s golf craze is a sort of self-indulgence reflective of a disturbing narcissist who entertains a shocking indifference toward the rest of us.

Press conferences were always painful to watch. Finger in the wind pundits try to one up their commander in chief, who, in turn, is always one slip of the tongue away from global scandal. But the press during the Bush administration also taught me that we need these feeding frenzies frequently, and must demand that our executives prove to be both eloquent and veracious. So while I don’t much care whether Obama stutters off the teleprompter, or idiotically says things like “corpse-man,” or misleads us on matters of fact, or even grossly says things such as the beheading of Daniel Pearl “captured the world’s imagination,” the media lectured me that I very much should care — namely, that President Obama almost never gives a press conference, and on the rare occasions when he does, we know why he was wise not to have done so in the past.

I used to think leadership meant from time to time taking on public opinion, advocating an unpopular position in a genuine belief it was for the long-term good of the country. However, here too the enlightened media taught me once that it is not so. When George Bush wanted to reform Social Security, Barack Obama was widely quoted by the press as a voice of wisdom in warning Bush not to beat a dead horse — given that the public polled overwhelmingly against any changes in Social Security (apparently fiscal insolvency will alone be the remedy for long-needed changes). In other words, we live in a democracy, and even a popularly elected president should not ram down something the people don’t want. Note that argument was advanced again with the Bush insistence on the unpopular (but ultimately successful) surge in Iraq.

Therefore, while I want to say that it was the president’s prerogative to push through an unpopular health care takeover, and to oppose a very popular Arizona law, I have learned that it was almost undemocratic that he has done so. The press instructed me on that again. Why tear apart the country, virtually create a tea-party movement, or pit Arizona against California by stoking the fires of resentment by so diametrically opposing what 60 percent and more of the people want?

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History Down the Danube

May 25th, 2010 - 11:51 pm


Triumph of Will

A German remarked today to some of us that he found it odd that, given all the graffiti one sees, there is never any defacement on the great stone stage at Nuremberg (patterned by Albert Speer after the Pergamon altar) that is immortalized in so many film clips of Hitler screaming to the masses in the 1930s.

The German government has done a wonderful job in creating a museum inside the uncompleted Speer-design coliseum not far away from the parade ground. One leaves Nuremberg with the reminder that the fantastic and impossible are just a blink away when the planets line up.

Had I suggested a year ago that the euro would be in freefall and the entire union on the verge of implosion, one would have suggested I was unhinged. Today such an assessment is mainstream to conservative. I think the European debt crisis is far worse than let on, Iran far more likely to get the bomb than we think, and a North Korea far closer to trying something stupid. If we are not careful, there is going to be a Mideast nuclear arms race that will spill into Europe itself. (I take nothing back from the last posting on a seething Germany, and still insist that should an Iran go nuclear, and after it, an Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and should there be real doubt about the reliability of the United States [and I think there is already], then a great nation like Germany amid a financial meltdown in southern Europe would quite quickly dispense with its utopian UN rhetoric and take measures to defend itself from third-rate thugs with missiles that could hit Berlin.)

Europe and immigration

If we revised immigration policy and predicated legal entry on education and skill, ten million Europeans would arrive tomorrow, replete with degrees, expertise, and capital. There is a great unease over here, mostly in worry that no one knows the extent of aggregate debt, only that it is larger than let on and will result in higher taxes and fewer benefits without resulting in budget surpluses. It is always difficult for a government to ask its citizens to pay more than ever, receive less than ever, and end up nevertheless with greater debt than ever.  We’re next.

Here and there a few Germans seem to wonder what Obama is doing, but they are torn: “We are flattered the U.S. wants to emulate our system” versus “Why would you wish to get yourself into the jam we are in?”

World War II (near Regensburg)

We are heading down the Main-Danube canal to meet the Danube with stops and lectures in Regensburg and Vienna, today and tomorrow. There is much discussion in the group on World War II and especially Operation Barbarossa, a lunatic gambit that ensured a war largely won (by May 1941, Europe from the Atlantic to the Russian border was mostly subdued, allied, or neutral) would be largely lost. But one must not fall into the fallacy of hindsight: to us it seems ridiculous for the Wehrmacht to have sent 190 of its divisions into Russia when Stalin was granting all of Hitler’s requests for strategic materials, when a far easier and smarter route (with implications for hampering the British fleet in the Pacific), would have been to send 100 divisions into Egypt, take Suez, and go into the Middle East — Russia and Turkey remaining quasi-allies eager for a share of the spoils.

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The New Old German Problem

May 22nd, 2010 - 7:48 am

Reflections on Germany

Munich — I’ve been walking the last two days through Munich. Much of the city core was bombed out by the allies by spring 1945. Yet today there is little evidence of such destruction. The museums are among the best in the world, the streets and parks spotless, the infrastructure superb, and the people as hard at work as ever. To walk an urban street in Germany is a different experience from say in Athens or Istanbul — traffic follows law, pedestrians are respected, horns are used rarely, trash is absent. In other words, things work and work well.

Such observations sound stereotypical these days, but to even the casual observer the difference between life in Germany and much of the eastern and southern Mediterranean seems far greater than the divide between a Minnesota and Mississippi. For someone who has lived in Greece and occasionally visits Germany, it becomes increasingly clearer each year why the European Union won’t work. Germans work and create wealth. Yet  under the present system, they do not receive commensurate psychological rewards — and they increasingly receive insufficient material compensation as well.

And history shows us that an unhappy Germany is a very dangerous thing indeed.

Memory Lane

Let me explain by a brief historical detour.

After the unification of Germany in 1871 and its subsequent alliances over the next decades with Austria, Europe was not sure how to handle its powerful German-speaking center. In the twenty-first century it is politically incorrect to suggest that culture matters, though most privately grant that the German work ethic, cohesiveness, and competence all lead to economic and financial clout that eventually ends in superior political — and ultimately military — power.

In the last century and a half, there have been all sorts of ways to check that German dynamism from spilling over its borders. The idea of a two-front British/French/Russian alliance was supposed to dissuade Germany from expanding its sphere of power either westward or eastward. Nonetheless, wars usually followed, and it was no solace to the millions who perished in World Wars I and II that such anti-German containment, largely aided  by the entry of the United States into two wars, eventually led to the defeat of Germany — for a time.

Try, try again

After the war, a divided Germany,  shared European fear of Soviet communism, and a nuclear France and Britain all in various ways ensured there were supposed to be no more worries about Germany for a half-century.

But with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the implosion of the Soviet Union, a newly ascendant Germany — once the costs of East German unification were absorbed — was supposed to be integrated into the new utopian European Union with it common currency, the euro.

That is, the unstated idea was that natural German economic strength could be harnessed through new tariff-free markets for its export-driven economy, whose goods and services would help bring eastern and southern Europe up to northern European standards of living. Germany would be captain, but still a team member, and all would pay homage to its star for leading the team to victory.

So cash-flush German banks loaned the European poorer nations easy money to buy all things German. The EU would both guarantee the debts, and reap the benefits at large — as Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain would begin to see their infrastructure and lifestyles match those of France, Germany and the Netherlands. Southern siestas, strikes, tax evasion, and low worker productivity would all be nullified by northern European largess.

The Supposed End of History

As a result, instead of the old deadly inter-European rivalry, for a while a continental culture did indeed emerge. Prosperous Europeans from the Mediterranean to the Baltic  embraced socialism, utopianism abroad, childlessness, agnosticism, and a fashionable anti-Americanism, ensuring no more 19th-century nationalism or 20th-century wars.  At least all that was what we were lectured about for the last twenty years by European chauvinists and dreamy American liberals.

Yet such dreams were always predicated on some dubious propositions.

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Reflections on Small Town America

May 18th, 2010 - 10:28 pm

Last Saturday…

Kingsburg, California, is a sort of small town that modernism forgot, at least by the measure of the usual landscapes of the Central Valley. Its broad streets, Swedish building façades, good schools, neat homes, and downtown preservation don’t quite reflect the surrounding region’s 18% unemployment, brain drain to the coastal universities, ground-zero illegal immigration, tree-fruit and raisin depression, water cut-offs, general bankruptcy of California, and endemic gangs and their sometimes vicious crime. I was the town’s grand marshal last Saturday at the annual Swedish festival and had time to reflect on Kingsburg’s near century-and-a-half of existence — and its present status as a sort of oasis on the 99 freeway.

An admission: I grew up 4 miles away in rural Selma, and in our teens we of the rougher town thought Kingburgers softer folk. But I had mixed sympathies about the rivalry, as my father’s grandparents were members of the original Swedish pioneers who founded Kingsburg Colony in the late 19th century. Their farm is now the site of the city park and a part of it is marked “Hanson Corner.” I faintly remember the late 1950s in downtown Kingsburg, when as a small boy visiting my grandfather and uncle, we could still hear Swedish as often as English. I remember my grandfather’s (gassed in the Meuse-Argonne offensive and chronically short of breath) stories of his father’s generation, centered around Swedes taking the train (or riding?) to San Francisco to measure the width of Market Street to ensure their own Draper Street would be no narrower, or his mother Cecilia fundraising to ensure a wrought iron fence around the cemetery.

I’ve often wondered how a group of mostly poor Swedish immigrants could migrate en masse to an empty wasteland, form a colony, and within thirty years have created a humane community, impressive churches, banks, government buildings, wide streets, and an irrigated tree and vine agriculture.

Tough, they of course were, and without the technological advantages of our own age, much less the social services safety nets. My father told me his grandfather was directed by the local doc to drink a turpentine concoction to expel a large tape worm of several feet from his gut; he himself at 12 fell on a hay-rake, was impaled, and had half his liver removed (but remember the myth of Prometheus). Another uncle pushed the bellows of a stuck hand-sulfurer and burned out his eye. These were common rural experiences; and I have to assume that our modern ailments like allergies (I saw an ad yesterday for a medicine to address sweaty palms) were not quite considered ailments by the old breed. My point is not to suggest that they were Titans and we mere mortals, but simply to  suggest the streets, buildings, and culture we enjoy were all inherited from those who created them at a physical cost we often are clueless about.

They certainly did not have the oil wealth of Libya. There were not the picturesque coastline and islands of Greece. Little coal, bauxite, or any precious minerals were to be found. The land was arid, and mostly empty. Swedes are not generally associated with 100-degree summers. The answer in a word was quiet competence and work. Work for the sake of work, or in Hesiod’s parlance, “work on top of work on top of work”.

I also recall going to a funeral of a Swedish relative when a boy; the comments went “Ya, he worked hard. Ya, he did at that.” I don’t remember too many tears. Everyone stone-faced went back to the house for coffee, and there I heard more one-line assessments: “He worked, he did at that—up before dawn.” “Ya, in the vineyard at dark.”

There was more to it all than reticent pragmatism. Wealth was sought after but not coveted; the rich were neither envied nor parodied; the same with the working poor who were in turn neither pitied nor condemned. The middle, what the Greeks called “to meson,” was the ideal as I remember it, but it was an egalitarianism that came out of an equality of opportunity rather than enforced result. And there was little of the progressive activism one associates with the Swedes of Minnesota or Wisconsin — or at least as one could determine a near century after the town’s founding. Maybe the weather was just too hot in central California, or the original Swedes missed out on the activism of the Farmer-Labor party, or the general conservatism (often manifested more through the Democratic than Republican Party) of the valley won them over.

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America 101 With Dean Obama

May 15th, 2010 - 1:42 pm

America is now a campus, and Obama is our Dean

This is the strangest presidency I have seen in my lifetime. President Obama gives soaring lectures on civility, but still continues his old campaign invective (“get in their face,” “bring a gun to a knife fight,” etc.) with new attacks  on particular senators, Rush Limbaugh, and entire classes of people—surgeons, insurers, Wall Street, those at Fox News, tea-partiers, etc.

And like the campaign, he still talks of bipartisanship (remember, he was the most partisan politician in the Senate), but has rammed through health care without a single Republican vote. His entire agenda—federal take-overs of businesses, near two-trillion-dollar deficits, health care, amnesty, and cap and trade—does not earn a majority in the polls. Indeed, the same surveys reveal him to be the most polarizing president in memory.

His base was hyper-critical of deficit spending under Bush, the war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan, and government involvement with Wall Street. But suddenly even the most vocal of the left have gone silent as Obama’s felonies have trumped Bush’s misdemeanors on every count.

All this reminds me of the LaLa land of academia. Let me explain.

That Was Then, This is Now

Last week, Obama was at it again. He blasted the oil companies and his own government for lax regulation in the Gulf, apparently convinced that no one in the media would consider his last 16 months of governance in any way responsible for, well, federal governance. (I don’t have strong views on the degree of culpability a president has for lax federal agencies amid disasters, only that I learned from the media between 2004-8 that a president must accept a great deal of blame after most catastrophes [at least Katrina was nature- rather than human- induced].)

Obama also trashed, inter alia, Halliburton for the spill, as he had done on other matters ritually in the campaign (“I will finally end the abuse of no-bid contracts once and for all,” “The days of sweetheart deals for Halliburton will be over when I’m in the White House”). Obama seemed to assume that few cared that his administration just gave Halliburton a $568 million no-bid contract.

Standards for Thee, But Not …

When a Senator Obama a while back weighed in on the ill-fated Harriet Miers, he quite logically predicated his skepticism on a dearth of publications (though I found that embarrassing at the time since Senator/Law Professor Obama was essentially without a record of scholarly work), and an absence of judicial experience—both legitimate concerns. So, of course, are we now to expect Obama to talk up his recent Supreme Court nominee Ms. Kagan, and ignore her relative lack of scholarly experience without a judicial past (sort of like being secretary of education without having taught anything)? Does the president, who as a senator voted to deny a court seat to Alito and Roberts, think Kagan is better qualified than either, and, if so, on what grounds—more scholarship, more judicial experience, a more diverse upbringing, intangible criteria like once recruiting Barack Obama?

I once wondered during the campaign whether such serial contradictions in the Obama narrative ever mattered. During his denials of ever hearing Rev. Wright engage in the pastor’s trademark hate speech, I recalled Obama’s 2004 interview with the Sun-Times when he was running for the Senate and wanted to boast of his religious fides. When asked, “Do you still attend Trinity?” Obama snapped right back, “Yep. Every week. 11 o’clock service.” Every week, but mysteriously not one in which Wright did his customary race-bashing?

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Shall We Laugh or Cry at Morgan Hill?

May 10th, 2010 - 4:00 pm

What are we to make of the five students who were temporarily suspended by the administration at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill for purportedly seeking to provoke—by the wearing of various American flag insignia, no less—Mexican-American students who were at the time celebrating, with some Mexican flags, Cinco de Mayo Day?

Or, in the words of aggrieved student Annicia Nunez, as picked up by the news services, “I think they should apologize ’cause it is a Mexican heritage day. We don’t deserve to get disrespected like that. We wouldn’t do that on Fourth of July.”

Let us deconstruct this episode to discover, if we can, the proverbial “teachable moment” of this collective farce.

I. First, the five male students. Were the flag-wearers “provoking” Mexican-American participants in Cinco de Quatro Mayo festivities? Sort of, but more likely it seems that they were perhaps chiding the idea of Mexican ethnic chauvinism, and doing so in a particularly ironic fashion by appearing in American patriot gear par excellence. They certainly did not wear symbolism traditionally associated with any sort of  “white” chauvinism (two of the students were part “Hispanic”). It is not as if students were brandishing the stars and bars, or militia regalia. Rather, it seems that the boys rightly suspected  that the American flag might cause discomfort to some of the Cinco de Mayo celebrants, and that such discomfort would in turn reveal the ambiguity, if not the ridiculousness (cf. the asinine reaction of  Ms. Nunez), of an overarching ethnic ideology. (Can a Ms. Nunez imagine the surreal antithesis: a high school south of the border punishes some of its students for wearing Mexican flags on the Fourth of July as Mexican nationals of American ancestry parade the American flag?)

We should remember that the present generation (born after 1990) does not know first hand of the civil rights movement, Cesar Chavez, or any of the protest/reform controversies of a half-century ago that sought to adjudicate oppression, grievance, and compensation. (Just as I once did not know much in high school of the Roaring Twenties fifty years earlier). They grasp only that among mostly middle class suburbanites, Hispanic surnames, and in some cases particular ethnic profiles—not demonstrable racial prejudice or even legitimate ongoing collective grievances—earn affirmative action consideration for everything from federal jobs to college admissions. And this new generation (one that will be paying our debts off despite a “normal” 10% unemployment rate) suspects further that someone like the assistant principal, Miguel Rodriguez, who sent the flag-wearing boys to the office, cannot tell them why, for example, a third-generation Mexican-American student would be entitled to special consideration, but a first generation Punjabi-American or Lebanese-American would not. Surely affirmative action is not based on comparable distance from being “white,” ongoing racial prejudice, or claims of past unfairness. In other words, I fear we will see more Live Oak “moments” as those of the Obama (who once called for more “oppression studies”) generation cannot quite figure out the labyrinth of a now fossilized  “diversity” spoils industry that allots preferences and rewards contrary to the entire spirit of the original civil rights movement—by accentuating rather than deemphasizing racial and ethnic difference.

II. Then we come next to  Mr. Rodriguez, the assistant principal. It is said that he meant well, by citing presumed provocateurs to avoid unnecessary tension. But I don’t quite accept that (I think more likely he did the math: lots of Mexican-flag/regalia waving/wearing students, few American flag/regalia waving/wearing students; presto, go after the smaller, safer number).  A competent credentialed administrator should have some rudimentary knowledge of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the role of a school official in protecting the rights of free expression. And failing that, he should wonder what has gone so wrong to reach a point  where the wearing of an American flag—even if were meant to be provocative—really should be provocative? To whom and why? In other words, what is the larger culture at Live Oak that suggests that the sight of an American flag—even at an ethnic day celebration—could possibly be considered inflammatory to an American student body? Reports circulated that MEChA, for example, has an affiliation on campus. If true, one need only to read its charter to grasp that it is a racialist organization akin to all supremacist cadres that traffic  in racial/ethnic triumphalism. Bottom line? Mr. Rodriquez should discourage MEChA, encourage the wearing of the American flag, and start reading  the U.S. Constitution. (A footnote here: apparently no one has reminded the students that thousands of Mexican-Americans, in heroic fashion, have fought and died for the United States from Okinawa to Fallujah, and that they did so at least in part because they knew well that to be a minority in America was far preferable to remaining among the majority in Mexico.)

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News beneath the news

May 5th, 2010 - 12:19 pm

From the embarrassing to the pathetic

I don’t want to beat the proverbial dead horse, but these media polarities are getting to the point of absurdity. Bush, the lazy golfer while we were at war; Obama the engaged commander-in-chief playing golf for needed relaxation more in one year than in Bush’s eight. Katrina, the emblem of federal inaction and culpable incompetence; the BP slick, either a result of private greed overwhelming noble federal auditors or proof of the Obamian competent response. Bush’s illegal war clearly alienating Muslims and thus creating terrorists daily; laughable excuses from a terrorist that Obama’s stepped-up targeted Predator assassinations “created” would-be killers such as himself. Right wingers in bed with Wall Street oligarchs greedily crafting federal policy for the exploiting class; Obama for some odd reason, no doubt in the end a noble reason, taking more money from the likes of Goldman Sachs and British Petroleum than any politician in history. The Bush-Cheney nexus shredding the Constitution with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, Predators, and renditions; Obama the civil libertarian reluctantly forced to maintain or expand  such protocols, albeit at last under a watchful liberal eye. Bush’s “lost” war in Iraq miraculously soon to be Obama’s “greatest achievement.”

What is the theory behind all this other than partisanship or cynicism? I think it involves the power of faith and the irrational, in some cases not confined to the left. (e.g., I once got a prominent conservative angry at me when I suggested Reagan embraced large deficits, signed an amnesty bill, wanted nuclear disarmament, and raised payroll taxes). Politics is a religion, never more so than in the case of Obama. And true believers always prefer the saintly explanation rather than the most logical.

An era of zero interest

I went to two banks the other day. The interest rates on interest checking, or short-term savings, or money market accounts (without tying money up for a half year or so) were all below 1%. In my lifetime of some 56 years, I cannot recall lower rates. I just refinanced last fall a loan at 4.8%. Two observations. That is quite a spread of profitability for banks; and, two, given inflation at 2-3%, it seems better to borrow than to save. For conservative, thrifty retirees, worried about the mercurial stock market in the post-2008 days and post-real estate crash age, there is essentially little income to be had from their savings. I don’t follow the inter-workings of either the Federal Reserve or the Treasury Department, but as an historian I note only that we are in a cycle in which debt trumps capital, and we are witnessing an enormous redistribution of wealth far beyond the implications of new tax policies. Interest income on savings simply has ceased to exist for millions — leading to profits for banks, and essentially cheap money (the interest rate minus inflation) for debtors. Was this an artifact of the recession or a planned act, and have we seen anything quite like it in recent memory?

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Thoughts on Gorism

May 2nd, 2010 - 8:08 am

From the Sanctimonious to the Ridiculous

I think sometime this year elite radical environmentalism died. And at about the same time perished also the notion of the man in the mansion as the man on the barricades. Let me explain.


We all know that Al Gore has become a near billionaire through tirelessly warning the Western world that our daily habits have ruined the planet and nearly doomed us. Gore argues that what we take for granted — the too large homes in which we live, the carbon-spewing cars that we drive, the superfluous vacations and energy-hogging appurtenances that we enjoy — are all pernicious to the environment, and unsustainable.

That advocacy — expressed through investments, partnerships, advertising, movies, lectures, books, private companies, ads, and essays — has made Al Gore fabulously wealthy. The recent Climategate scandal concerning fudged science did not affect the religion of Gore, LTD.

Nor did the horrendous natural ash cloud that blanketed Europe — and in unprecedented fashion shut down all European air travel for days — remind a humbled Gore that sometimes nature in a second has the destructive power to alter the very way we live in a way that man does not over decades.

No, what ended the gospel of Gorism was Al Gore himself.

In this context, the recently purchased Gore second mansion at Montecito, in Oprah country, is of some national interest. Why would Gore purchase a second energy-guzzling estate, replete with several fireplaces, fountains and bathrooms, when he was stung so badly about his hypocritically profligate energy use in his Tennessee compound, his houseboat, and his private-jet junketeering? Does he understand that his newest mansion is a sort of volcanic ash-cloud that has now overwhelmed Earth in the Balance, Inc?

Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

The answer is sort of important, because it is emblematic of the decline of liberalism over the last thirty years. Collate the anti-capital rants of a zillionaire currency speculator George Soros, the green sermons from a late Ted Kennedy who stopped a wind farm from marring his vacation home’s views, a John Edwards of “two nations” fame constructing a Neronian Golden House, a Tom Friedman warning of the consumer habits that lead to a hot, flat earth from a 10,000 square foot English-style estate of the sort that 18th-century English barons built after successful careers in the Raj, the comic case of Jeremiah Wright moving to a mostly white golf course to dream up more sermons about “white folks’ greed runs a world in need,” or a $5 million a year earning Obama — with all his expenses picked up by the government — lamenting out loud why rich people seem to want ever more money they don’t need. Some spread the wealth around.

We can call this malady Gorism — living not merely at odds with your zealotry, but living entirely against your zealotry — and it seems to reflect a few assumptions of the modern progressive elite that are not mutually exclusive:

a) Penances and Indulgences. A life professed spectacularly at odds with one lived seems a psychological mechanism akin to medieval penance. The sinner finds exculpation through loud confession of, or material payment for, his sins. And the payment is not just for past hypocrisies, but works preemptively — in the expectation of present and future enjoyments to come once the pay-as-you-go formula is established: one new docudrama about a polar bear trapped on a melting ice shelf, one new mansion in and about Santa Barbara.

The more spectacularly Mr. Gore’s veins bulge, the more he hits the high notes with “digital brownshirts” and “he lied to us!,” and the more he weeps over shrinking ice caps and coastlines on the rise, the more these manors — and others to come — become morally acceptable. In other words, gallantly bearing the environmental cross more than earns the Gores’ hot tub and Pacific view. By now, given the decade of Gore’s indulgences, I think he can do just about whatever he pleases and still enter the green fields of Elysium.

b) The Guardian Mystique. Plato’s Guardians at least took on some sort of sacrifice as the price to dictate to others. Our new ones do not.  Al Gore has convinced himself that if he is to triple his productivity on our behalf, he really must, from time to time, endure a ride on a private, carbon-spewing jet — to ensure that there are fewer carbon-spewing jets.

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