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Lifestyles of the Rich and Liberal

The conspicuous consumption of today’s Democratic pols.

Sep 20, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 01 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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To balance his ticket, he tapped John Edwards of North Carolina, who had made nearly $60 million in his prior career as a tear-jerking lawyer, and, while campaigning on behalf of children too poor to afford coats in the winter, was soon to start building a spread in his home state that seemed like four houses in one. The Carolina Journal reported that the main building was 10,400 square feet, connected by a 2,200-square-foot enclosure to a 15,600-square-foot “recreational building,” housing a basketball court, a squash court, two stages, bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a four story tower, and a room called “John’s Lounge.” Edwards, who talked incessantly of the poor, might have served them better if he had just built the main house and given the cost of the rest to a neighborhood charity. That would have bought a whole lot of coats.

In July 2010, as Bill and Hillary Clinton were throwing a $2-3 million-plus wedding for their daughter Chelsea (of which $11,000 went for a gluten-free wedding cake) and Michelle Obama was planning a lavish vacation to Spain’s Costa del Sol, the Boston Herald revealed that John Kerry was the owner of the Isabel, a 76-foot, $7 million yacht custom-made in New Zealand, which he had kept at a dock in Newport, Rhode Island, to avoid paying an estimated $500,000 in Massachusetts state tax. The boat, according to the brochure of the company, had two VIP suites (and one for the help), a wet bar, cold wine storage, and seated six around a custom-made table of Edwardian style ornate varnished teak. Add this to the Heinz-Kerrys’ five land-based places of residence, and they now have in all six luxury “houses,” each estimated at over $4 million, for a total of $36 million.
 

If “$300 will put you on the briny in a fine sit-on kayak, Kerry’s tax bill alone could guarantee summer fun for 1,666 Bay State households,” the Boston Herald reported, adding that if this was too primitive, a 10-year-old 24-foot Bayliner could be had for $30,000. Kerry “might not want to be seen in one,” the paper conceded, “but for what he’s been shelling out in taxes, he could be the proud owner of 16 of them, and still have about six months of his average constituent’s take-home pay.”

As all this played out against the recession, Michelle Obama, who has the use of the White House, Camp David, and the family manse in Chicago, took off for Spain on Air Force Two with her daughter, a few pals, and several dozen members of the Secret Service, blocking off 60 to 70 rooms in a hotel described as a “millionaire’s playground” where rooms went for between $400 and $6,500 a night. For the next five or so days, people in the Gulf states and elsewhere were treated to film of her enjoying the oil-free beaches and waters, seeing the sights in Jackie-O sunglasses, being ferried by plane to Majorca for lunch with Spain’s royal family, and taking the waters on a beach near the ocean, which had been specially cleared by police. The cost to the public was estimated at close to $375,000. Once, as National Review’s Jim Geraghty notes, the Obamas had seemed a refreshing and sensible couple, “comparably normal by .  .  . candidate standards, a successful couple with adorable children .  .  .[who] talked about paying off student loans.” This was before “vacations so frequent they .  .  . blur together,” and “entertaining with $59 per pound Wagyu steak, [and] fundraisers with quail egg and caviar and salmon ceviche.”

Al Gore owns four homes, one boat, and gorges on kilowatts while urging the world to make small carbon footprints. John Edwards crusades for the destitute while building a palace. John Kerry promotes higher taxes while dodging those on a $7 million yacht he bought in a recession. Michelle Obama urges young people to reject high-paying jobs in the business world for nonprofits and community service, while indulging a taste for designer couture, expensive vacations, and designer sports sneakers, which she wore while feeding the poor. 

What’s wrong with these pictures? Two things. First, the hypocrisy undercuts the moral authority, and makes it ridiculous. Second, it’s a mega leap up from what looks from the outside to be not that much more than upper-middle-class comfort—nice house in town, nice country house, nice small sailboats, nice American cars—to the mega-rich level of yachts and multiple mansions, available to only a very small fraction of the upper crust: rock stars, sports stars, film stars, nouveau-riche captains of industry, and others not known for their modesty, balance, and sense of restraint. Live on a level accessible to some of the people you govern, and you send the message that you are a citizen. Live like a king, and you send the message that you think you are one, that you see nothing amiss in appropriating far more than what your politics say is your share of the universe; that you are entitled because you are worth more than others, that this is your due. Someday, Democrats should sit down and ask themselves how they came in such a short space of time to produce so many marquee figures who wanted to talk like French revolutionaries while living like French royalty. Ask Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, or the Bushes to spend $7 million on anything, and they would have had heart attacks. Ask them to buy a yacht during a recession, and they would have been aghast. 

Fitzgerald said the rich were soft where others were hard (and vice-versa), and he may have been accurate. But these rich are soft in the head in a way that is nothing but hard on their party, which needs to restore a previous model. There was, after all, no “Jack’s Lounge” at Hyannis and no “FDR’s Lounge” at Hyde Park.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.


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