Ed Driscoll

Vanity Fair and the New Feudalism

While Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon specifically references Vanity Fair in the subhead of his read-the-whole-thing column titled “Medieval Times,” the passage quoted below applies equally well to Time magazine (or any Time-Warner-CNN-HBO property), Business Week (now owned by the company that bears Michael Bloomberg’s name), and the Daily Beast as well. All publications that followed the disastrous model that Newsweek attempted in 2007-2008, when it transformed itself into a supermarket checkout edition of the New Republic, only to wonder where its readership went:

One of the more remarkable things about this collection of do-gooders, overachievers, and symbolic analysts is their consistent inability to apply to themselves the skepticism and criticism they shower so heavily on Republicans and conservatives, on the rich who make their fortunes from resource extraction, manufacture, and investment. Not long ago a social critic such as C. Wright Mills could write pitilessly and accurately about The Power Elite, about the WASP establishment he saw lurking behind militarism and inequity. Few were exempt from his gaze. Our social critics today, however, prefer only to focus on a minority of a minority: the wealthy and influential whose policy and ideological objectives happen to be the very opposite of their own.

Put a banker or an industrialist or—dare I say it—a Republican in front of the men and women who edit Vanity Fair, and they will approach their subject with the utmost incredulity and commitment to ferreting out the worst possible facts. But the Hollywood tycoon or Internet billionaire or green-energy hawker or “engaged” actor whose politics exist in the temperate zone of bourgeois liberalism, whose public pronouncements are reliably “down the middle” and “moderate,” whose bold stands on the issues include such courageous positions as support for abortion-on-demand, affirmative action, amnesty, gun control, free trade, diversity, globalization, alternative energy, public transit, and government “investments” in education and infrastructure—his place in the establishment is not only noted but celebrated, applauded, held as an example to the people.

The news that a group associated with Charles and David Koch had contributed to another group that advocates for shutting down parts of the government to protest Obamacare has seized the political press and its allies in the Democratic Party as earth-shattering, revelatory. Meanwhile the imperious outgoing mayor of New York City can flood Colorado with outside money to support gun control, can cut a million dollar check to help his Democratic pal Cory Booker in New Jersey, can announce his intention to spend some $400 million in 2013 to make the world conform to his prejudices, and Time magazine slaps him on its cover, writes the headline “Bloomberg Unbound,” and writes in bold type: “He’s remade New York. Next up, the world.”

Does the world get a vote? Remaking the world into one giant New York City may sound swell to the editors of Time magazine, to the editors of Vanity Fair, and to the wide-eyed, Millennial bookers and producers toiling away in the Rockefeller and Time Warner centers, but it is not a cost-free proposition. New York is nice if you can afford it: If you are a wealthy liberal, or a recent college graduate rooming with three friends, if you are at the top of the world or setting out in the world, if you are Carrie Bradshaw or doing your best to impersonate her, the city cannot be beat. But it is hard to raise a family there.* It is no place for the middle class.

“Does the world get a vote?” As Jonah Goldberg wrote in a recent edition of his emailed G-File column:

It’s worth noting again that there is something fundamentally unpatriotic in the yearning to fundamentally transform your country. I love my wife. Inherent to loving her is loving her for who she is. Gentlemen, turn to your wife and say, “Honey, I love you completely. It’s just that I want to fundamentally transform you into someone else.” See how that plays out. If you want to fundamentally transform the object of your affection so that it conforms to your fantasies, that is not love, it is lust.

Or it’s an attempt to play Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. And speaking of which, as Bryan Preston writes at the PJ Tatler, “So There’s a GOP Proposal to End the Budget Standoff? It’s Vertigo at the Alamo.” And sadly, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne left the saloon a long time ago.

* That topic is explored by Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres at City Journal: “The Childless City: It’s hip, it’s entertaining — but where are the families?”

They’re in the suburbs, the next target for Mr. Obama’s “fundamental transformation.”