These days marketers
are excited about a new emerging American lifestyle group which is setting
marketing mavens' greedy hearts aflutter. The marketing industry is conducting
all the research it can on the spending habits of an affluent class of consumers
who have variously been nicknamed "bobos" (bourgeois bohemians), "creators,"
and LOHAS (Lifestyles Of Health & Sustainability) enthusiasts.
Email Murray Soupcoff
Basically, all these high fallutin' labels are the marketers' way of acknowledging
that a new breed of liberal is emerging in America--rich, accomplished and
ostentatiously "socially responsible." In other words, think of everyone's
favorite leftist-chic candidate for California Governor, Arianna Huffington
(known to some as the fifth Gabor sister). Or how about Babs Streisand, Peter
Jennings and Martin Sheen? Or maybe even that eccentric MBA down the street
who made a fortune in the tech runup of the nineties. After all, doesn't
he wear birkenstocks to PTA meetings and natter on endlessly about the evils
of irresponsible neighbors who offer his kids Cocoa Puffs for breakfast when
the kids attend sleepovers at the neighbors' homes? And how about the way
he loudly denounces the decadence of life in the West (as contrasted to the
"spirituality" of the East) and yet spends seven thousand dollars on a new
Italian ultra-light ten-speed racing bike? Not to mention that Mr. Rich &
Sensitive is planning a fundraiser for America's most charismatic political
visionary, Howard Dean.
What we're talking about here is lifestyles of the rich and hypocritical.
And taking a look at this ever-growing social stratum of progressive achievers
tells us a lot about what liberalism is all about these days--supplying a
socio-political world view which allows affluent, privileged achievers to
salve their consciences and feel morally superior to everyone else. In the
meantime, with their consciences clear, they continue to conspicuously consume,
employ domestic help at low wages, and generally spend money just as decadently
as the "greedy" ruling class they so often publicly condemn (though the rich
& hypocritical spend their money on more socially-responsible consumer
goods--for example on $7,000 ultra-light ten-speed racing bikes).
As a few keen observers have noted, the essence of this lifestyle is being
wealthy and living the good life while pretending you're not. One espouses
(maybe even fakes), in one's politics and social discourse, a sophisticated
progressivism that allows one to feel morally superior to the great unwashed.
Meanwhile, it's business as usual in dealing with the practicalities of real-world
living (exhibiting as much greed, immorality and snobbishness in your private
behavior as the worst of capitalism's 'robber barons'). To form a clearer,
real-life picture of these high-achieving hypocrites, just think of Bill
and Hillary Clinton.
Or how about wealthy social climber and ersatz California gubernatorial candidate,
Arianna Huffington? Once married to a wealthy Republican (who is rumored
to have left poor Arianna for another...er, man), the jilted former conservative
commentator (and society queen) switched political ideologies with surprising
alacrity when she became determined to worm her way into Hollywood's notorious
ruling liberal social clique.
Of course, Arianna continued to travel around town by limousine, fly around
the country in a private jet, and employ members of L.A.'s economically-marginal
immigrant class as household help. But now Arianna has discovered the guilt-alleviating
joys of espousing a progressive liberal political and social philosophy.
Following in the path of such groundbreaking Hollywood liberals as Babs Streisand
and Martin 'Mr. President' Sheen, Ms. Huffington has discovered not only
that America's economically-marginal 'proletariat' are useful for preparing
her meals, cleaning her mansion, washing her car and doing her laundry. They
are even more useful as 'victims' to be saved and liberated by her progressive
politics--the expression of which could help cleanse her conscience and make
her feel like a 'good' and ethical person.
Robotically spouting liberal 'talking points' could help her feel morally
superior to the materialistic, passé bluebloods who had previously
been her lifestyle soulmates. Not to mention that it could also help reinforce
her sense of social superiority to the vast masses of polyester-crazed suburbanite
women with big hair--as well as all those déclassé 'bubbas'
with big paunches--whom she had always looked down upon.
Not that Arianna hasn't continued to be a wealthy, materialistic, social-climbing
snob. It's just that, like her fellow wealthy liberal arrivistes in Hollywood,
she has discovered a new LOHAS (bobo) lifestyle that allows her to mask her
elitism, materialism and selfish ambition in a superficial but ostentatious
public sensibility of social responsibility and caring. For example, in terms
of her wealth, conspicuous spending and employment of various domestic servants
(who are not servants in Arianna's mind, because she treats them "just like
a friend"), Arianna might still resemble the selfish, rich capitalists loathed
by Karl Marx and company. But unlike yesterday's stereotypical bourgeois
capitalist 'exploiters,' Arianna now 'cares.' She espouses a progressive
politics of equality, empowerment and liberation for the many victims of
American corporate thievery, exploitation and empire. And she is dedicated
to saving the world's exploited masses from the, well, um, Ariannas of the
Similarly, Arianna might now conspicuously spend thirty thousand dollars
on a useless, decorative object d'art to display in her 800-square-foot living
room. But these days she makes sure she's spending such an obscene sum on
a useless, decorative object d'art from a Third World country. After all,
how can it be decadent to spend fifteen thousand dollars on a bit of interior
decorating when the money is being spent on Third World culture--the ultimate
expression of cultural authenticity and anti-consumerism (even if the Rodeo
Drive art dealer keeps about 85% of the $15,000-dollar expenditure as his
or her cut)?
In essence, this lifestyle flim-flam is a way for wealthy arrivistes like
Arianna to fool themselves into thinking they're really not the greedy, self-indulgent,
wealthy elitists that they are. It's how this emergent liberal lifestyle
of 'the rich and hypocritical' fulfills the contradictory needs of its enthusiasts--to
live like a wealthy person but to cultivate the outward sensibility of a
In essence, the primary purpose of this new liberal-tinged lifestyle is to
quell the consciences of the guilty. It is a lifestyle medicine designed
to heal the affluent soul, allowing the rich and self-indulgent to take a
hypothetical 'hypocritic oath' and ostensibly cure both the ills of the world
and their guilty consciences--all the while behaving just like the rich always
As an example, Arianna Huffington's latest book, Pigs at the Trough: How Political Greed and Corruption Are Undermining America,
launches the usual fusillades against the excesses and corruption of America's
corporate ruling class. And obviously Arianna now counts herself among the
enlightened, caring crusaders fighting to end such excesses and corruption
(and by extension the exploitation of the disadvantaged by the ruling class).
However, Arianna has obviously signed on to the liberal 'Hypocritic Oath.'
Because her new political ideology hasn't stopped St. Arianna from living
in an 8,000 square-foot home in Brentwood, flying around America in private
jets, and indulgently living what used to be called 'the good life.' And
now papers filed in her run for California governor have revealed that the
beneficent Ms. Huffington paid a grand total of $771 in federal income taxes
for the past two years--despite the millions she squeezed out of her former
husband in a divorce settlement and despite her obvious wealthy glitterati
lifestyle. Talk about lifestyles of the rich and hypocritical!
However, let's stop picking on Arianna, fun as it is. Let's turn to a completely
different example of hypocritical liberal excess and handringing. For example,
let's look at the pleasant, enlightened, liberal enclave of San Francisco.
Progressive San Francisco liberals--like liberals in Manhattan and Brookline
-- spend a lot of time articulately rhyming off 'talking points' regarding
the need for 'affordable housing.' Yet, although these same liberals have
dominated San Francisco's municipal politics for years, San Francisco--just
like Manhattan and Brookline--has become an urban shrine to the joys (for
the affluent) of unaffordable housing.
Affluent and self-righteous San Franciscan liberals may shout their compassion
for, and solidarity with, disadvantaged minorities and low-income earners.
Yet, it is the disadvantaged urban classes who have been squeezed out of
the compassionate 'city by the bay' by soaring rents and property values
created by San Francisco's anointed class (read affluent liberal leftists).
Propertied San Franciscans have much invested in keeping property values
rising. And onerous "environmentalist" zoning and building restrictions have
only accelerated this trend and the accompanying scarcity of affordable housing.
Consequently, according to various census reports, the black population of
San Francisco declined 15 percent between the 1990 census and the 2000 census.
And despite San Francisco's elite's love for the poor, it is a city that
has increasingly become an urban enclave for the wealthy and privileged (in
the last census, San Francisco boasted the highest average income of any
city in America).
Enlightened San Franciscans may vocally identify with, and advocate for,
the poor and disadvantaged. But that doesn't mean these progressives have
to actually live with such people. Better that the 'servant class' commute
from the suburbs every day for two hours, to work at low-income jobs servicing
the needs of affluent liberals, rather than reside among the anointed and
bring down property values.
The truth is that, blinded by their smug pomposity and self-righteousness,
the urban elites of Manhattan, Brookline, San Francisco and other left-liberal
enclaves have increasingly chosen to ignore the social and economic underpinnings
of their privileged existence. After all, they enjoy their affluence and
freedoms thanks to the free-enterprise American political and economic system
they chronically criticize. And they remain safe in their upscale mansions
and condos thanks to the millions of less sophisticated and supposed "reactionary"
working-class "rednecks" and "philistines" who defend their country as part
of America's armed forces, fight crime and arrest lawbreakers in their jobs
as policemen and policewomen, and fight fires and combat disasters such as
the 9/11 terror incidents with their very lives at risk.
Most important, the privileged practitioners of today's hypocritical liberal
lifestyles live so comfortably thanks to the working class stiffs whom they
despise for "cluelessly" voting for such alleged political villains as George
W. Bush and George Pataki. Yet these same "ignoramuses" are the ones who
mow the lawns of the privileged progressives, pave their roads, pick up their
garbage, unplug their sinks, and transport and deliver so many of their expensive
However, class-based snobbishness and condescension is what the liberalism
of so many of today's affluent social reformers is really all about. And
a lifestyle that mixes a sophisticated 'bohemian' consumerism with progressive
politics is the subcultural vehicle through which this snobby, elitist bent
can find expression.
In fact, it doesn't seem to matter whether the Hippocritic Oath of the affluent
finds its expression in the words and behavior of Arianna Huffington, Barbra
Streisand, Sheila Jackson Lee or Walter Cronkite. This 'hip' new sensibility
ultimately expresses and celebrates a paradoxical lifestyle of conspicuous
caring and consuming self interest.
For example, is it any surprise that The Hill has reported that noted
Democratic Congresswoman and political leitmotif for American egalitarianism,
Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), demanded a whole row of seats to herself on
a recent Continental flight from Washington to Houston. According to The Hill,
Ms. Jackson Lee usually gets first-class upgrades from the airline, but when
cabin attendants on one particular flight delivered the unfortunate news
that she would have to sit in the coach section, Jackson Lee "exploded" according
to a witness: "When she saw that she had to sit with other people, she started
shouting that she was in Congress and worked hard. She was really loud. Everybody
in the plane could hear."
According to The Hill, frequent flyers on Rep. Jackson Lee's many
flybacks to Houston note that such outbursts are common whenever Jackson
Lee is on board a flight. However, you can be sure that Rep. Jackson Lee
would excuse her unflattering behavior by referring critics to her many lofty
public pronouncements in support of social equality and the common man. After
all, she's long been a fighter for social equality and justice--just so long
as she doesn't have to sit on a plane with the rest of us.
And now, as the grand finale for our travels through the wild and wondrous
world of privileged progressivism, let's turn to that media symbol of caring,
compassionate liberalism, the one and only Walter Cronkite. Based on the
latest environmentalist dustup in the exclusive Nantucket Sound region--the
yachting home base of Mr. Cronkite--it appears that the famous CBS newsreader
is just one of the many rich and hypocritical Cape Codders who have taken
the Hypocritic Oath, shilling for environmental causes when the cameras are
on, but taking a completely different tack when their comfy and exclusive
lifestyles are being threatened.
It seems that Walter and his rich yachting friends are up in arms regarding
a plan by Cape Wind Associates, an environmentally-friendly, clean-power
company, to use windpower to generate pollution-free electricity for 75%
of the region. The bad news for the liberal yachting elite like Walter Cronkite
is that Cape Winds Associates plans to place 130 windmills, spaced one-third
to one-half mile apart, seven miles off the coast of Hyannis--right in the
way of the pristine views enjoyed by privileged yachting enthusiasts like
Walter and his friends.
Never mind that this environmentally-friendly power project would not use
one drop of oil or natural gas from the pristine, undisturbed tundra of Northern
Alaska, nor burn an ounce of pollutant-generating coal, or depend upon the
alleged risky technology of nuclear power. The hypocritical Martha's Vineyard
liberal elite have suddenly dropped their fascination with environmentally-clean
wind power and are selfishly defending their yachting turf with the militant
abandon of a riled-up Navy Seal veteran. After all, when it comes down to
what counts most for the progressive Cape Cod yachting crowd, happy sailing
for the few rates higher than eliminating air-borne pollutants that damage
In the past, hypocritical Martha's Vineyard liberals like Walter Cronkite
were happy to righteously vocalize their support for the concept of clean
power. It just never occurred to them that some interloper would have the
chutzpah to plunk his environmentally-friendly windmills
down in the exclusive waters in which Walter Cronkite and his privileged
friends like to sail.
But this, sadly, is the stuff of today's lifestyles of the rich and hypocritical.
The emergent new privileged liberal sensibility has one primary function--to
mask the selfish elitism of its affluent proponents. But as soon as one pokes
beneath the surface caring and righteousness of this "socially-responsible"
subculture, one finds the very same self-indulgent and self-serving 'me-first'
consumerism that these righteous advocates of progressive taste are constantly
criticizing and sneering at.
Murray Soupcoff is the author of Canada 1984 and a former radio and television producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He is the Managing Editor of The Iconoclast.
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