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Lifestyles of the Rich and Hypocritical
by Murray Soupcoff, The Iconoclast
18 September 2003Arianna Huffington

The essence of this new lifestyle is being wealthy and living the good life while pretending you're not.

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.

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 world.

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 selfless monk.

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 have.

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 lifestyle toys.

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 the many.

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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