Our Not So Best and Not So Brightest
From Eliot Spitzer to Elizabeth Warren to Fareed Zakaria -- what is wrong with our elites? Do they assume that because they are on record for the proverbial people, or because they have been branded with an Ivy League degree, or because they are habitués of the centers of power between New York and Washington, or because they write for the old (but now money-losing) blue-chip brands (Time magazine, the New York Times, etc.), or because we see them on public and cable TV, or because they rule us from the highest echelons of government that they are exempt from the sorts of common ethical constraints that the rest of us must adhere to -- at least if a society as sophisticated as ours is to work?
I understand that there is a special genre of conservative Christian hypocrites -- a Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, or Ted Haggard -- who preach fire and brimstone about the very sins they indulge in. The Republican primary was in some ways a circus as the media had a field day pointing out the ethical inconsistencies of the candidates. But here I am talking about secular elites across the cultural spectrum who simply do not live by their own rules, and yet are often granted exemption for their transgressions because of their own liberal piety -- and a more calibrated assumption that the world of blue America (i.e., the media, the government, the arts, the foundations, the legal profession, and Hollywood) will not hold them to account.
Take affirmative action. Over-the-top and crude Ward Churchill at least bought the buckskin and beads to play out his con as an American Indian activist with various other associated academic frauds. But Elizabeth Warren’s “Cherokee”-constructed pedigree was far more subtle -- and the sort of lie that Harvard could handle. She more wisely kept to the fast lane of tasteful liberal one-percenters, as she parlayed a false claim of Indian ancestry into a Harvard professorship. So whereas Churchill is now a much-lampooned figure, Warren may be headed to the U.S. Senate. To say that Elizabeth Warren is and was untruthful, and yet was a law professor who was supposed to inculcate respect for our jurisprudence, is to incur the charge of being a right-wing bigot. But reflect: how can someone who faked an entire identity -- and one aimed at providing an edge in hiring to the disadvantage of others -- not be completely ostracized? Again, Warren was successful precisely because she wore no beads or headband and did not affect a tribal name -- the sort of hocus-pocus that makes faculty lounge liberals uncomfortable. It was precisely because she looked exactly like a blond, pink Harvard progressive that Warren’s constructed minority fraud was so effective.
Why would a Fareed Zakaria lift the work of someone else? Time constraints? Carelessness? Amnesia over how and why he reached his present perch? Do such columnists farm out their research or outlines to assistants? Or do they think their liberal credentials outweigh reasonable audit of what they write? Steal from someone else and take a month off work? Even my copper wire thieves out here on the farm would have to pay a bit more if they were caught. Their last theft was about $70 worth of conduit, but I imagine Time pays lots more per Zakaria column.
Or why did Maureen Dowd think she could lift some sentences from someone else and then claim she got them from a friend’s email -- especially given her hyper-criticism of less-liberal others? And did she not guess rightly that no one would really care? After all, do we remember the Pulitzer Prize winning Team of Rivals or the fact that far earlier Doris Kearns Goodwin was a confessed plagiarist? When I pick up the Selma Enterprise, I do not expect the cub reporter to steal her report of a DUI accident verbatim from the Fresno Bee. Should I?
Why did Barack Obama think, in Rigoberta Menchu or Greg Mortenson fashion, that he could more or less make up most of the key details in his own autobiography? Again, think of it: the current president of the United States fabricated much of the information about his own life, in ways designed to enhance his self-serving narrative of America’s racial insensitivity. But then again, for over a decade the president allowed his literary biography to claim that he was born in Kenya. His political opponents who claimed just that were written off as unhinged; but are we to think of the president himself as a birther?
I think that I should have boasted that I was born in Lund, Sweden, and dated the insensitive daughter of an agribusiness magnate, to make my past account of small farm life more effective. But then again, Vice President Joe Biden is likewise a plagiarist -- who lifted an entire section of a speech from British Laborite Neil Kinnock, a "lapse" that recalled Biden’s earlier plagiarism in law school.
I thought Trent Lott should have stepped down for praising 100-year-old Strom Thurmond at his birthday fest in ways that could have suggested support for Thurmond’s earlier creed of racial segregation. But what does it take for his liberal counterpart -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- to quit? Declare the Iraq war lost in the midst of a surge to save it? Claim that Barack Obama is a light-skinned black who can turn on and off his black accent? Defame an African-American member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a “sh-t stirrer"? Or in McCarthyesque style fantasize that "someone" heard a rumor that Romney did not pay taxes, and hence Romney must release a decade of returns to "prove" that he is not a tax cheat -- and this from a man who became a millionaire while in public office and has not released a single year of his own returns? The treatment of Lott versus the treatment of Reid reminds one of the quite different fates of Alberto Gonzales and Eric Holder; the former was grilled by Congress to the point of being forced out, while the latter simply called his accusers racists and ignored what followed.
Liberal penance explains why Timothy Geithner apparently thought that he need not pay his full income tax obligations -- in a way a CEO of Chick-fil-A or Amway might never dare. If there is a problem with white redneck crime, will a mayor call in the racist Klan in the way Rahm Emanuel welcomed to Chicago Louis Farrakhan? Why worry whether Hilda Solis had a lien on the family business, when she issues a video invitation to illegal aliens to report their unfair employers to the Labor Department? And why did television host Eliot Spitzer, the white-collar crime fighter, think he could employ prostitutes with impunity while governor -- and, if caught, expect to end up as a cable TV news host? Or why did John Edwards, of "two Americas" fame, preach populism while enjoying the one-percent lifestyle (well aside from the lies about his campaign-subsidized girlfriend)? Or why did John Kerry both advocate higher taxes and yet seek to avoid them by docking his luxury yacht in a different state?
Or why, more recently, did Obama campaign guru Stephanie Cutter assume that she could simply lie on national television by stating that she did not know the circumstances behind the Joe Soptic "Romney-cancer" ad? She knew that earlier she was on tape outlining the Soptic narrative, so did she think she could claim ignorance on TV, blast her critics in the days to come, and then go back on as usual, given her efforts to extend the Obama agenda? Stranger still, she is probably right about all of those assumptions. I expect her in a week to be on television accusing her opponents of lying, with a press aiding and abetting her. Why does wealthy Andrea Mitchell yell at us for being illiberal, when she could instead yell at her husband, who was far more embedded in Wall Street than any Tea-Party pizza store owner?
Did David Plouffe really think his mediocre speaking skills or so-so knowledge of communications would win $100,000 a pop on the international lecture circuit -- on the eve of his assuming a key role in the White House? Hope and change? No revolving door? What sort of ad would Plouffe have run, had a top Romney aide been hired to speak by a company doing business with Iran? And isn’t $100,000 in an afternoon sort of one-percent-ish -- the sort of unfair, Costa del Sol-like privilege that Obama is trying to rectify?
In most of these cases, the above are servants of the progressive cause. They operate on assumption that they are our self-appointed censors, vigilant to spot class, race, or gender bias and unfairness among those less well-branded. But as our morals police, they do not fear any policing of themselves. Never is there any assumption that John Edwards’s attacks on the wealthy mean that he should not live in a ridiculous, self-indulgent mansion or hire on a groupie with other people’s money. It made perfect sense that the green moralist Al Gore should have enjoyed one of the most energy-guzzling homes in Tennessee, or from time to time played boorish "crazed sex poodle" with his call-up masseuse. Elizabeth Warren is knee-deep in the world of the one-percent, in part because she knows how to work the system of exemption that assumes loud liberal credentials allow one to live a life quite differently from the one professed.
In short, our top pundits, our political elites, our very president all believe that they can blast the unfairness of high capitalism while doing everything in their power to enjoy its dividends -- and demand an ethical standard from others that they habitually do not meet themselves. It is as if the more left-wing one sounds, the more anti-left-wing his tastes; the more the ethicist lectures on morality, the more he is likely to be unethical; the more green an advocate, the less likely the 800-square foot cottage replete with recycled water, a solar toilet, and 70-degree hot water. The only mystery here is whether there is some sort of logical connection. Does the profession of cosmic morality by design allow one to enjoy without guilt quite earthly sins? Why do super-rich liberals not like the Tea-Party upper-middle-class entrepreneurs? Are the latter in no need of liberal condescension? Do they not have quite enough money to show exquisite taste? Or are they grubby, too close to the struggle for a buck?
Two final notes on why all this matters. First, when the left-wing media ceases to scrutinize public figures, the latter are emboldened to fabricate, cheat, plagiarize, and flat out lie. It is not that there are not conservative hypocrites, just that the present system makes it far harder for them to get away with these failings. (Imagine the press reaction to a Romney autobiography full of untruths; a Paul Ryan with a yacht docked in a no-tax harbor; a Charles Krauthammer lifting entire paragraphs from the work of others).
Second, all of the above are part of an elite establishment that is supposed to set standards for emulation, but instead only coarsens civilization. Why tell the truth, hoi polloi, when everyone from Bill Clinton to Stephanie Cutter will not? Can we determine what is true and false, when we have no idea in Time magazine or in a presidential memoir whether the sentence is copied from someone else or simply made up? If the governor frequents prostitutes, how can there be a law against prostitution? After Elizabeth Warren, how can there exist such a thing as affirmative action? Cannot every white male in America assert that he has high cheek bones and so deserves a leg up on any other white male stupid enough not to claim his great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee?
Our civilization is under assault. Those who have taken upon themselves to direct it are instead doing their own part to destroy it.