by Victor Davis Hanson
Nemesis is always hot on the trail of hubris, across time and space, and the goddess has been particularly busy in destroying the carefully crafted images of Bono, John Edwards, Timothy Geithner, Al Gore, Eliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Anthony Weiner, and a host of others. What do their tax hypocrisies, sexual indulgences, and aristocratic socialist lifestyles all have in common?
Collectively, they represent a self-appointed or elected global elite that oversees, lectures about — in sanctimonious fashion — the ethical responsibilities of the redistributive state. Bono and his ensemble may be the highest paid rock group in the world, the most eager to shake a finger at Western governments on their moral duties to help the less fortunate, a pop icon always ready to fault the consumerist Western lifestyle. But he and his pals are quite determined to avoid Irish tax laws to ensure more of their hard-won capitalist profits so necessary to support their global lifestyles, at a time when their alma mater is broke and unable to fund its once ample entitlements.
Little need be said any more about Al Gore, his homes, his private jetting, his hyping Armageddon on his way to a billion-dollar eco-empire other than he is a totem for a sophisticated, wealthy class of Westerners who find psychological penance for their own lavish lives by making others less fortunate feel miserable about getting up in the morning and driving to work or taking a hot shower. In that regard, his carbon credit/offset schemes were medieval indulgences to the core. “Crazed sex poodle” indeed — or so the masseuse claimed.
John Edwards built a mansion, replete with a 3,000 foot “John’s Room” playhouse in the compound’s inner sanctum, as he oversaw a University of North Carolina Center with the pompous title “The Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.” The more he posed with his cancer-stricken wife, the more he spun lies to hide his tawdry relationship, all subsidized by someone else’s money. The best that can be said of Edwards was that he was a classic parasite, who made millions off the productive state by honing his rhetoric skills before gullible juries. The more I heard him lecture us in 2004 about “two Americas,” the more I expected his mansion to end up in Dr. Zhivago fashion as a collective residence for the poor.
I confess I never understood Timothy Geithner’s tax schemes. As I understand it, the soon-to-be overseer of the IRS pocketed monies given to him specifically to pay his FICA taxes, while claiming his son’s camp as a business expense — all as a requisite to his contemporary lectures on the need for higher taxes to fuel the Obama redistributive state (Note well: that OMD director Peter Ozsag assured us that the soon to be $5 trillion in borrowing was necessary as he entered the revolving door of Citicorp).
All I can say about Eliot Spitzer is that I never have watched his show except twice — when he reported on the sexual misfortunes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn. As another aside, why do elites bombard us with publicly funded messages about “safe sex,” specifically to use a condom and to be sure to know the sexual pedigree of our partners — as if the HIV epidemic is spreading solely among the ignorant and uneducated? It may be; but a better use of such funds would be directed at the nation’s governors: “Arnold, Eliot, please use a condom or do not visit prostitutes, given the danger of sexually related diseases spreading to one’s spouse.”
Arnold, of course, was a strange case; in the midst of his angry pushbacks against his opportunistic opponents in 2003 who were peddling rumors of his serial infidelity and more, he had already fathered a child by his live-in servant. What goes through one’s mind in such scenarios? I leave the possibilities to you the reader.
I wrote a cover story for the current issue of National Review on Strauss-Kahn, a sort of trifecta hypocrite: the socialist in a $3,000 room and $20,000 suit; the Frenchman on the barricades of race, class, gender progressiveness at best sexually using the immigrant, black, single-mom maid from Africa, at worse sexually abusing her; the IMF grandee dispersing someone else’s money to bankrupt socialist states from his itinerant perches at the world’s Sofitels.
Anthony Weiner was known as a sort of Kleon-like demagogue, who shouted down or ridiculed his opponents — haughty, self-righteous, full of hyperbole about the evils of conservatives, currently hot on the trail of Justice Thomas, in efforts to bring down a Supreme Court justice. Again, it is not the sexual weirdness, but the hypocrisy that does them in: the liberal-minded feminist on the sly sending dirty pictures to young women, while ridiculing those who claimed that the evidence suggested that he was sending dirty pictures to young women. Nemesis might have let Weiner be had he not insulted his accusers and claimed his own perversions were his own perversions, but once he took the attack-dog route and lied, she swooped in.
I omit the Obamas, but note only that Michelle Obama and her entourage, in very un-Harry Truman fashion, have a fondness for recession-era Vail, Costa del Sol, and Martha’s Vineyard amid the presidential lectures about spread the wealth, at some point you have made enough money, and the new financial Mason-Dixon line of the noble below $250,000 in salary, the demonized above.
Of course, we witness all these jarring disconnects amid a larger landscape of the collapse of southern European socialism, the tottering of the entire US financial system as the Obamites trumped the Republican deficits and have piled up another $5 trillion in debt, the discrediting of the global warming fundamentalist religion, and the unsustainability of the redistributive welfare state.
What are we left with? The daily struggle to remember sumus homines, non dei — ’we are just humans, not gods.” Whether Strauss-Kahn or Weiner or Gore, the common denominator is arrogance and a sense of exemption from the rules and protocols.
In a word, human nature as we understand it from the earliest observances of the Greeks. Be careful about lecturing others on their moral frailties. If one consumes well beyond what one needs, ensure that one pays one’s own tab and does not indulge on someone else’s money. Beware of Nemesis, an omnipotent, all-seeing deity that marks in her scrolls every pontification, every sermon we make and then collates such professions with our deeds — so eager to note the discrepancy. She is an unforgiving goddess, and perhaps a cruel one as well. I used to give her a prayer for exemption at her temple at Rhamnous.
In the end, we are left with the nobility of hard, physical work, the elemental reality of producing food, fuel, and durable goods, the distrust of fad and cant, the acceptance that we are fallible and age and will not get out alive. In comparison, the media hype, the DC apparchet, the eco cons and the high-life socialism are as nothing. “Know Thyself” and “Nothing Too Much” were written on the architraves of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and for good reason, to remind us where we came from and who we were, and to shun excess — material, emotional, sexual. My grandfather’s (a man who at one time in 1936 housed 27 relatives in my present house) advice of 1970 to a smart-aleck, silly teenager still resonates to me: “Never sell this small piece of land, you may need it some day as a refuge from what you don’t wish to become.”
And then he got serious that July afternoon as we were walking toward the vineyards, and said, “Okay, boys, you run the water down the north 100 rows, and I’ll do the south 100.”
And so out we went…
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson