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Lifestyles of the Rich and Political

Shouldn’t our candidates’ consumption be less conspicuous?

Sep 5, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 47 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Or was it because you and your running mate had assembled more wealth between you​—​not to mention more square feet of real estate, most of it in very good neighborhoods​—​than any ticket before or since? And you, John Edwards, with your 28,000-square-foot compound, to which to repair when you tired yourself from your antipoverty speeches! Too bad you never got much use out of “John’s Lounge.” Perhaps when the verdict comes in from your trial for misappropriation of campaign funds​—​such as shaking down the 100-year-old Mellon heiress for the cash to sequester the girlfriend who was having your baby​—​you may live for a few years in federal housing and get to find out how the Other America lives. A signal event in your campaign was the day in which the two of you and your wives went to a diner to commune with the plain folk, poked away in dismay at one or two of the dishes, and then decamped to a posh yacht club to do your real eating. Perhaps the folks had you both figured out.

Dear Rick Perry (or whoever else gets the GOP nomination, or anyone in either party who may contemplate a run for president ever): Please heed the words of columnist Mark Steyn and promise to restore a sense of thrift and proportion to the conduct of public affairs. 

One by one, the five examples cited above may not seem that damning, but they are becoming more and more common, and together suggest a large and bipartisan governing stratum that is completely insulated and immune from the strains that beset normal people, not to mention addicted to luxury, privilege, and grandeur to a toxic extent. Add private wealth (augmented by book and TV fees) to the perks and the freebies provided by government, and you have a class to whom money​—​its own, or that of the people​—​means little to nothing at all. Obama uses Air Force One more or less as a taxi, taking it to New York for date night (and tying up the whole city with his security retinue), taking it, as Steyn tells us, “from Washington to a Democratic party retreat in Williamsburg, Va., 150 miles away.” He toured the Midwest in a million-dollar-plus bus that looked like a hearse out of Star Wars, trailed through the hinterland by a 40-car motorcade containing more people than some towns. (Air Force One is built to hold 500 people, and costs $200,000 an hour to run.)

Nancy Pelosi, herself a millionaire many times over, commandeered an Army jet during her tenure as speaker to go back and forth from California to Washington. As Steyn says, this reeks more of Latin America than of our early republic, and makes one realize why there was a big run on tumbrils in late 18th-century France.

The excuses made for these acute spendaholics make little or no sense at all. Families such as the Roosevelts, Bushes, and Kennedys have been well-to-do, but they never indulged in such orgies of spending. They lived like exceedingly comfortable upper-middle-class people, not the spoiled darlings of professional sports or Hollywood. Their houses could fit in one wing of the John Edwards homestead. They were land-poor compared with today’s mega-mansion grandees. 

Many conservatives say it’s their money, which they can spend as they like, which is true. But the rest of us are free to watch them doing their spending, and then make our own judgments as to whether overindulgence in the goods of the world may in fact speak to a character weakness, like overindulgence in women and drink. One of the things that injured John Kerry was the sense he conveyed that the wealth he enjoyed (which was about five degrees of separation from the people who had earned it) was his just deserts, bestowed on him as a wonderful person by a wise and benificent Providence. The first JFK, who had a sense of proportion (and gave much of his earnings to various charities), would never have made that mistake.

Because of the crushing burdens of our national debt, today’s political leaders will have to oversee a vast scaling-back of programs and spending, for which they will need a super-sized quotient of moral authority. How can they ask people who do not have much money to accept reductions in benefits when they are supersizing their third house and first seaside mansion, gorging themselves on yachts and diamonds, and taking vacations at $50,000 per week? 

So if you’re contemplating a run for the White House these days, you might want to join Steyn in his call for “restoring the lifestyle of the president to something Calvin Coolidge might recognize.” It might even be a winning strategy.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and a columnist for the Washington Examiner.

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