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Works and Days

America — Compared to What?

August 22nd, 2010 - 1:57 pm

The result is that millions of elites have the capital, the leisure, and the inclination to think utopia is within their grasp; that the blueprint of the Upper East Side, Palo Alto, Cambridge, Malibu, or Carmel can be extended throughout the world — if only there were just enough far-sighted caring people like themselves with clean fingernails, an exalted sense of self, and children at Amherst or Brown.

So they hold the U.S. up to a standard that indicts us as bad since we cannot possibly be perfect. And like medieval churchmen who crossed themselves on the way to sodomy, lucre, and graft, so too toss-off lines damning a Bush or Cheney or Halliburton are the new sorts of ritual entre necessary to join a faculty or work at a foundation or get hired at a newsroom.

Of course, most Americans do not follow these views as they appear in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, NPR, or PBS. But the world, I think, does. So it takes its harsh-view talking points about the U.S. from our own harshest critics. (My favorite example was Dr. Zawahiri, an apparently avid Noam Chomsky aficionado, who railed at the U.S. for not signing Kyoto and not passing campaign finance reform — all hot topics of concern apparently in the debating caves of Waziristan.)

Note that the elite, secretly at least, understand that no one should take them all that seriously. A Guantanamo was a Stalag under Bush but now a mere complex dilemma, and not to be shut down under Obama (e.g., one of those released terrorists might show up in Brentwood).

Affirmative action means taking a law school spot from some hard-working white clueless guy from Idaho State or a nerdy straight-A Asian kid in San Mateo, not from a well-connected elite who has the contacts, family lineage, or money to side-step state-sanctioned discrimination. (Has anyone heard a wealthy liberal demand an end to legacy or other such special admittances based on criteria other than merit? Or for that matter, complain that tuition rises faster than the rate of inflation or that part-time lecturers are treated less well than Wal-Mart greeters?) Hating charter schools and teacher merit pay does not mean sending Johnny to the D.C. schools during a government sabbatical in the Obama administration.

For evidence of why we should not take this bunch as too principled, wait until the Obama tax hikes hit the lower tier of the cultural elite. (Not all are in the Kerry class — and even Kerry, remember, felt, for all his tax talk, that he could not quite resist skipping out on a $500,000 tax bite on his yacht.)

Soon we shall read sophisticated and contorted reasoning how and why a Manhattan or Chevy Chase $500,000 a year income is not that much when one has to buy a brownstone, or send Buffy to Sidwell Friends (cf. the Michelle “raise the bar” trope of 2008). Remember, there will be no IRS law that says those who voted for Obama do not get hit with 40% on their upper bracket income, or can opt out on the health care surcharge, or can get out of California’s or New York’s 10% state tax (will there be an article soon suggesting those who live in such caring, high-tax blue states already do enough for world justice so as to be exempt from the new federal tax hikes?), or can receive exemption from the cap on income exposed to FICA taxes being lifted (that will be the largest tax hike in U.S. history)? Is it really fair that a caring and committed progressive in high-tax San Francisco or Manhattan has to pay at the same federal rates as a Neanderthal reactionary in selfish, low-tax Boise or Carson City?

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