Teachable Moments

Why we know socialism works for the few, not the many.

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Moveable Feast: From Marbella to Martha’s Vineyard

Is not there some old Harry Truman Democrat still around to advise the new Democratic aristocracy to live it down a bit in these tough times?

After presidential calls for sacrifice in our rough days of recession — and coming on the heels of the Gatsby-like Clinton wedding, the H.M.S. Kerry, the Gore getaway in Montecito, and “John’s Room” — the enormous movable feast of Michelle Obama’s from Marbella to Martha’s Vineyard does not go well with “two nations,” “raise the bar,” downright mean country,” and all the other progressive complaints. What was that about one selfish America living one way and another less fortunate America living quite another? More mundanely, who says a life in government doesn’t pay?

Aristocrats: Raising the Bar on the Costa del Sol

The problem with Michelle Obama’s Marabella-to-Martha’s-Vineyard August is not that the first family doesn’t deserve time off but that Michelle, in the past, has gone on the record that the country’s elite (of which she claimed not to be a part) had created one nation for themselves and quite a different for most others — at least that’s how I interpreted never having been proud of her country until the rise of hope and change.

So the Versailles-like aura around her trips suggests that her prior angst arose not because millions were not able to share the lifestyles of the elite but that she herself had not yet quite partaken in the sort of life she felt she deserved — which she is now apparently enjoying to the fullest. The fact that her Costa del Sol trip coincides with hard times back in the states, comes on the heels of the Kerry yacht and the Clinton wedding, and clashes with her husband’s anti-wealthy rhetoric (e.g., “at some point you’ve made enough money”) makes it all the more weird, both for her adminstration’s equality-of-result politics and for the larger liberal narrative of talking truth to power.

Of course, all this puts a terrible burden on a sycophantic media with a long tradition of trashing the slightest hint of aristocratic enjoyment on the part of first ladies (e.g., Nancy Reagan’s china). So, just as golf, around winter 2009, ceased to be an aristocratic distraction from the nation’s pressing problems, so too luxury on the Mediterranean must be a sort of federal employee’s deserved state vacation.

Technocrats: A Downright Mean Job

Recently, the New York Times had a puff piece on the “exhausting” nature of White House work, pegged to the recent wave of administration departures. The list of grievances: the grueling 12-hour days, the burden of dealing with an inherited recession, two wars, etc. Of course, in the weeks after 9/11, administration employees had to develop an entire protocol to prevent serial terrorist assaults in the wake of the most successful attack on the continental United States in the nation’s history. I don’t recall profiles of Bush people who were “exhausted” dealing with the partisanship and pressures.

Bush aides left over policy disagreements and anger over wrong-headed policies; Obama aides leave due to burnout in service to the Great Cause. (Though I do remember President Bush looking a bit haggard in the dark days of Iraq and Katrina, as an Alfred Knopf novel and an award-winning docudrama imagining his assassination were winning applause.)

Does this serial complaining come from the top, or is it simply characteristic of the urban technocratic class? One protagonist of the Times piece complains about the incessant Blackberrying of the 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. grind, and the sheer exhaustion that required days of restorative long sleep — but landing a job as CEO of a multi-million-dollar publishing company must be some consolation.

The Times wants to draw a sympathetic portrait of the heroic Obama cadre that suffers so much on our behalf. These are six-figure jobs that wear out one’s hands on the Blackberry, true, but serve as valuable stepping-stones to even higher-paying corporate jobs. And this is still a recession. This raise-the-bar griping will not go down well with the coal worker in Montana, the welder on a 30-story scaffold, or the oil worker offshore (e.g., it is not as if a Blackberry is going to blow up in one’s hands, or an acoustical tile is going to fall and crush one in the West Wing). It is all too reminiscent of the various explanations we’ve heard for why Michelle’s Costa del Sol sojourn was an understandable and much-needed refresher before the more arduous odyssey ahead on Martha’s Vineyard.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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