The Moral Asymmetry of Progressivism

From VDH:

Hillary Clinton in recent months has done the following:

She charged UCLA somewhere around $300,000 for reciting some platitudes. That works out to over $165 a second for her 30 minutes on stage — meaning that she made more in one minute than a student barista does in a year.

Ms. Clinton acknowledges that, while secretary of state, she solicited donations from wealthy foreign nationals for her family foundation, whose funds she and her husband have frequently tapped for exclusive travel and other expenses.

Everything Ms. Clinton has said recently seems to be demonstrably untrue: Only one of her grandparents, not all four, was an immigrant. One does not need to have two smartphones to have two e-mail accounts. She did not regularly e-mail her husband. One does not secure a server by having a guard on the premises. A cabinet officer does not communicate exclusively on a private e-mail account via a private unsecured server. High government officials do not themselves adjudicate which e-mails are private and which public — and then wipe clean their accounts to avoid an audit of such decision-making.

The multimillionaire Ms. Clinton, fresh from jabs against hedge funds and inordinate CEO pay, also just bought lunch at a fast-food restaurant and left no tip in the jar, before parking her car in a handicapped zone at another stop. How is all this connected?

Ms. Clinton’s private ethics are, as usual, a mess, both in the sense of failing to follow legal protocols and tell the truth, and in the less formal sense of price-gouging cash-strapped universities, failing to show some tiny generosity to the working classes, and abusing accommodations intended to help the disabled.

But Ms. Clinton’s public ethics are loud and clear: She damns the effects of private money in polluting politics; she is furious about Wall Street profit-making; she is worried about the compensation of the struggling middle class. Indeed, so concerned is Hillary Clinton about the pernicious role of big money and the easy ability of our elites to make huge profits without traditional sweat and toil that she might well have to lecture her own son-in-law, who manages a multimillion-dollar hedge fund. Or better yet, Ms. Clinton’s advisers might warn her that in order to stop the pernicious role of big money in politics, she may be forced to top Barack Obama’s record fund-raising and rake in an anticipated $2.5 billion for the 2016 election.

Is there a pattern here? The more Hillary Clinton sounds cosmically egalitarian and caring, the more she acts privately like a stingy 1 percenter who does not consider that the laws and protocols that apply to other people must apply to herself. This is probably no accident, given that the quest for cosmic justice usually empowers private injustice.

The provost of Stanford University recently wrote a letter to campus faculty and staff to address a perceived epidemic of student cheating. One report had suggested that 20 percent of the students in a large introductory course were suspected of exam misconduct. At about the same time as this new alarm, Stanford students had one of their customarily raucous meetings, in which student-body officials voted to urge the university to divest from many companies doing business with Israel. Does democratic Israel pose a greater moral challenge to Stanford students than their own propensity to lie and cheat in order to promote their careers? Are there more courses taught at Stanford on Aristotle’s Ethics or on race/class/gender -isms and -ologies?

I just received another of the periodic reminders from the university that all faculty and staff who have assistants must complete sexual-harassment training. Indeed, walk across the Stanford plaza or peruse the catalogue of courses, and it is clear that Stanford students are inundated with therapeutic instruction on how to think properly about race, class, gender, and global warming — on how to think correctly about everything in the abstract, but not on how to think about how to take a test honestly. How can such sophisticated moralists be prone to such unsophisticated sins as cheating? In such a postmodern landscape, how can there be vestiges of pre-modern wrongdoing? Anyone who regularly parks a bicycle on the Stanford campus — renowned for its efforts to encourage green energy — with a modest bike cable, rather a heavy steel security system, in due time will have it stolen. Is that called postmodern theft?

As a professor in the California State University system for 21 years, I noted two developments. Therapeutic-studies courses increased at a rapid clip, but even more so did cheating — especially with the advent of new technology. Nothing is more surreal than reading a student’s boilerplate critiques of traditional American culture — and with a brief Google search finding his sentences lifted word for word from the Internet.

I am not suggesting that there is a direct connection between the new political correctness and an epidemic of personal dishonesty — only that at best the former has done nothing to discourage the latter, and at worst PC seems to delude students into thinking that if they are morally correct on universal issues, then they deserve some pass on what they consider minor fudging in their own particular lives. How can one effectively fight racism or global warming if one does not use the tools at one’s disposal to get an influential job upon graduation?

Of course, everyone can be hypocritical at times. But this new epidemic of progressive personal asymmetry is a bit different from what we were accustomed to not so long ago. Bill Clinton can hang with a man convicted of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution, and fly on his private plane, which is customarily stocked with bought pleasure girls — but only if he reassures us that he is a committed feminist. Harvard faculty can lecture us on our ethical shortcomings, while they outsource classes to grad students and adjuncts who are making a fraction of their own compensation per course. They are loud supporters of unionization everywhere but among graduate students and part-timers at Harvard.

Frequent White House guest Al Sharpton is a tax cheat, a homophobe, and an inciter of riot and mayhem, with a long history of racial disparagement. But he knows that all that private sin is contextualized by his loud sermonizing on the supposed racism of white America. Eric Holder can fly his daughters and their boyfriends to the Belmont Stakes on a government jet — but only because he is Eric Holder, who periodically blasts America’s supposed ethical reactionaries. Is progressivism among our elites now mostly a careerist con game? Ask departed cabinet officers like Lisa Jackson or Hilda Solis whether their own ethical lapses were overshadowed by their politically correct politics.

According to the laws of feminism, women should not latch onto ambitious alpha males to enhance their own professional trajectories; certainly they do not put up with chronically two-timing husbands either for the continuance of financial security or because of worries about the viability of their own careers. Yet Hillary seems to think that her loud feminist credentials are a sort of insurance policy, preventing anyone from daring to accuse her of accepting the gender roles of the 1950s.

The danger of the new hard-left progressivism is that the old sins of greed, connivance, and malfeasance are now offset by assertions of cosmic morality. The ostentatiously green Solyndra could hardly be thought of as shaking down operators in the Obama administration to provide a sweetheart loan for the crony-capitalist architects of a money-losing mess. Al Gore is so worried about how corporate culture promotes damage to the planet that he was forced to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for his own green corporations to warn us about other such cynics. He is so shocked about CO2 emissions and the global petroleum culture that he unloaded his underperforming and overpriced cable channel to a carbon-exporting, anti-Jewish autocratic sheikhdom that paid him handsomely with its petrodollars.

Michelle and Barack Obama are so concerned about global warming that not long ago they left two huge carbon footprints, when simultaneously they took separate government jumbo jets to fly out to Los Angeles to appear on separate talk shows. This was worthy of Leonardo DiCaprio, who on his private jet flew to conferences on the carbon excesses of hoi polloi. Elizabeth Warren is so committed to a fair and just society where egalitarianism is the shared goal, and where we assume that no one creates anything without the government, that she and her husband often augmented the generous incomes from their Harvard law professorships with lucrative corporate consulting to achieve 1 percenter status, with nearly $1 million in annual income.

The avatars of modern progressivism are not distinguishable in the lives that they live from the targets of their attack. Those on campus who talk the most loudly of the bane of white privilege at Harvard or Stanford do not live like poor whites in Tulare or El Paso, who have no privilege, racial or financial. The pajama-boy progressives of Cambridge or Menlo Park can enjoy their white privilege freely — but only by damning it in others. (Do such young campus auditors ever drive down to a Bakersfield brake shop to explain to its grease-smeared mechanics in the pit that, being white, they enjoy too much racial advantage?) The Obamas and the progressive black elite have to decry stereotyping, profiling, and the prejudices of low expectations; only by such preemptive doublespeak can they jet to horse races with impunity or put their children in Sidwell Friends rather than in the Washington, D.C., public schools.

The Left created a culture of pajama-boy elites, one that sought cosmic absolution for its own privilege by attacking the less privileged — and then they called this ethical desert progressivism.

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The Asymmetrical Nature of Western Multiculturalism

From Frank Salter:

Now my focus today will be on Western multiculturalism with which I am most familiar. But there is also an Eastern type, and I’m not an expert in that certainly. But as I understand it, multiculturalism as practiced in Singapore and Malaysia, for example, is a different kettle of fish, as we say in Australia. It’s a different matter. One key difference is that Western multiculturalism excludes majorities from the protection of the state. One definition of multiculturalism is that group rights protected by the state, or the state steps in and says, look, we’re going to protect certain groups. And one would imagine they would say all ethnic groups, but it’s not true with multiculturalism.

One authority on American multiculturalism Eric Kaufman observes that it is asymmetrical. So he defines American and Western multiculturalism as asymmetrical. This creed represses majority group ethnic expression. And that is a strong characteristic of Western multiculturalism, that the majority, the core ethnic group of those countries, is not considered to be a protected group.

Now the effect is to leave the ethnic majority vulnerable to subordination. Indeed, Western multiculturalism has as its basis the unilateral demobilization of majorities and the simultaneous mobilization of minority consciousness. It’s asymmetrical. It does different things for minorities and majorities.

A Threat to the Existing Social Order

From Robert Tracinski:

[The controversy about Scott Walker] isn’t really about Scott Walker’s qualifications. It’s about something deeper.

On the surface, of course, it’s certainly about Scott Walker. The left-leaning mainstream media senses that he’s a potential danger. After all, he has won three straight elections in a swing state, while challenging the public employees’ unions head-on and significantly reducing their government privileges. (This is precisely what makes him interesting to those of us on the right.) The mainstream media feel that they need to disqualify him now, so they’re looking for anything they can use against him.

But behind that, there is a more visceral reaction. The real purpose of higher education is to learn the knowledge and skills required for success later in life. So if someone has already become a success, whether or not he went to college is irrelevant. If he has achieved the end, what does it matter that he didn’t do it by way of that specific means? But for the mainstream elites, particularly those at the top level in the media, a college education is not simply a means to an end. It is itself a key attainment that confers a special social status.

There are no real class divisions in America except one: the college-educated versus the non-college educated. It helps to think of this in terms borrowed from the world of a Jane Austen novel: graduating from college is what makes you a “gentleman.” (A degree from an Ivy League school makes you part of the aristocracy.) It qualifies you to marry the right people and hold the right kind of positions. It makes you respectable. And even if you don’t achieve much in the world of work and business, even if you’re still working as a barista ten years later, you still retain that special status. It’s a modern form of “genteel poverty,” which is considered superior to the regular kind of poverty.

If you don’t have a college degree, by contrast, you are looked down upon as a vulgar commoner who is presumptuously attempting to rise above his station. Which is pretty much what they’re saying about Scott Walker. This prejudice is particularly strong when applied to anyone from the right, whose retrograde views are easily attributed to his lack of attendance at the gentleman’s finishing school that is the university.

That brings us to the heart of the matter. I have observed before that left-leaning politics has become “part of the cultural class identity of college-educated people,” a prejudice that lingers long after they have graduated. You can see how this goes the other way, too. If to be college-educated is to have left-leaning views—then to have the “correct” political values, one must be college-educated.

You can see now what is fueling the reaction on the left. If Scott Walker can run for president, he is challenging the basic cultural class identity of the mainstream left. He is more than a threat to the Democrats’ hold on political power. He is a threat to the existing social order.

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Busybodies

From Thomas Sowell:

It is hard to read a newspaper or watch a television newscast without encountering someone who has come up with a new “solution” to society’s “problems.” Sometimes it seems as if there are more solutions than problems. On closer scrutiny, it turns out that many of today’s problems are a result of yesterday’s solutions.

San Francisco and New York are both plagued with large “homeless” populations today, largely as a result of previous housing “reforms” that made housing more expensive and severely limited how much housing, and of what kind, could be built.

The solution? Spend more of the taxpayers’ money making homelessness a viable lifestyle for more people.

Education is a field with endless reforms, creating endless problems, requiring endless solutions. One of the invincible fallacies among educators is that all sorts of children can be educated in the same classroom. Not just children of different races, but children of different abilities, languages, and values. Isn’t it nice to think so? I suspect that even most conservatives would prefer to live in the kind of world conjured up in the liberals’ imagination rather than in the kind of world we are in fact stuck with.

The result is that many very bright children are bored to the point of becoming behavior problems when the schoolwork is slowed to a pace within the range of students who are slower learners.

By federal law, even children with severe mental or emotional problems must be “mainstreamed” into classes for other students — often in disregard of how much this disrupts these classes and sacrifices the education of the other children.

Parents who complain about the effect of these “solutions” on their own children’s education are made to feel guilty for not being more “understanding” about the problems of handicapped students. Nothing is easier for third-party busybodies than being “understanding” and “compassionate” at someone else’s expense — especially if the busybodies have their own children in private schools, as so many public-school educators do.

Whether in housing, education, or innumerable other aspects of life, the key to busybody politics, and its endlessly imposed “solutions,” is that third parties pay no price for being wrong. This not only presents opportunities for the busybodies to engage in moral preening but also to flatter themselves that they know better what is good for other people than these other people know for themselves.

Right now, there are people inside and outside government who are proposing new restrictions on how you may or may not visit the national parks that your taxes support. Among their proposals is doing away with trash cans in these parks, so that visitors have to take their trash out with them. Just how they would enforce this, when millions of people visit places like Yosemite or Yellowstone, is something the busybodies need not bother to think through — much less pay the price when trash simply accumulates in these parks after trash cans are removed.

Obamacare is perhaps the ultimate in busybody politics. People who have never even run a drugstore, much less a hospital, blithely prescribe what must be done by the entire medical system, from doctors to hospitals to producers of pharmaceutical drugs to health-insurance companies.

This includes federal laws requiring the turning over of patients’ confidential medical records to the federal government, where these records can be looked at by politicians, bureaucrats, and whoever can hack into the government’s computers. Neither you nor your doctor has a right to keep this information confidential.

What could lead anyone to believe that he has either the right or the omniscience to dictate to hundreds of millions of other people? Our educational system may have something to do with that, with its constant promotion of “self-esteem” and its emphasis on developing “leaders.”

Our schools and colleges are turning out people who cannot feel fulfilled unless they are telling other people what to do. The price of their self-indulgence is the sacrifice of our freedom. If we don’t defend ourselves against them, who will?

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The Leftist Disconnect

From VDH:

I’ll skip the next half-century, since the tragedy is too well known, and focus instead on the vastly different, contemporary liberal mindset. To be blunt, what strikes us about its recent and most vocal emissaries — politicians such as a Barbara Boxer, John Edwards, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi; or the Hollywood celebrities; or the great fortuned like a Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or George Soros; or the credentialed technocrats who run the foundations and government agencies, or the high-paid media types in the NY-DC corridor — is how vast apart are the circumstances of their own lives from the objects of their concern. In addition, present-day liberalism finds its most numerous adherents among the upper-middle class suburbanites and those who work for government and enjoy de facto tenure (e.g., the public employee unions, teachers, the public professoriate, etc.).

Let Them Eat Steak

Insulation is the common theme here. To the degree that one’s job insulates one from the vagaries of the marketplace — not just the danger of losing a job, but often the petty humiliation so often integral in making a scarce buck, by selling, peddling, hawking, or working for a business — one is now more likely to support the redistributive state and all its satellite philosophies. And to the degree that one has a good salary and capital, and can buy such insulation — where one lives, where one sends one’s children to school, where one vacations — one is most likely to advocate a sort of politics that will not affect directly oneself. The key then is to insulate oneself from the worry over losing a job and livelihood, either by guaranteed employment or ample wealth. (When the London riots started to hit the “better” sections, then suddenly the police appeared in real numbers and the unapologetic public anger increased.)

In other words, if one opposes charters and vouchers, supports teachers’ unions, praises the present-day public schools, and champions the therapeutic curriculum, one is still hardly likely to put one’s child in the L.A. or Fresno school system. If one is a strong advocate for more state subsidies and redistributive policies, one will not live in an East Palo Alto, an Orange Cove, or the wrong side of St. Louis or Baltimore where the money is aimed. Liberalism is, like all politics, self-interested, embraced by those who receive transfer payments and those in charge of administering the redistributive state. But it also provides psychic exemption to a new upper class and asks little concrete in return — no tutoring of the illegal alien, no side-by-side residency in the Section 8 apartment to help create “community,” no hiring in the progressive law firm of a ghetto intern in lieu of the Yale undergraduate. It is the worst sort of petty hypocrisy: an exemption for the guilty soul through support of the redistributive state aimed at the noble but unapproachable poor —and through a clear disdain for the crass and aspiring middle class, which lacks the taste of the elite and the supposedly tragic nobility of the impoverished and victimized.

The Apotheosis of Barack Obama

Some are surprised that Barack Obama – the community organizer, the hard-core leftist, the pal of Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright (compare the homes of each), the totem of the left — would buy a mansion and worry about the price of arugula. Or that when president, he would play golf more in three years than the aristocratic Bush did in eight. Or that in recessionary times, when iconic presidential sacrifice is critical, the First Family would favor Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, and Costa del Sol over the White House grounds or Camp David.

But this disconnect again is logical not aberrant. It is precisely because Obama rails about “fat cats,” “corporate jet owners,” “millionaires and billionaires,” and pontificates about “redistributive change,” “enough money,” “spread the wealth,” and “unneeded income” that he feels spiritually cleansed and so can satisfy his natural appetites for the good rarified life. On Monday swear that corporate jets blew up the budget, on Tuesday feel free to host corporate jet fly-in donors who pay $50,000 to hear you rail about the pernicious culture of corporate jets. Mutatis mutandis, so too an Al Gore or John Kerry.

Human nature argues that contemporary liberalism does not work; but if one is not proximate to human nature in the raw, then one can find psychological penance in promoting something that will never come back to haunt you. Let a flash mob hit Park Avenue or have a group from East Palo Alto swarm the quad at Stanford, or have a Malibu star’s kid shoved about in a downtown L.A. school, or an open borders idealist live in an apartment in Calwa, and then one sees first hand the real-time dividends of a distant elite channeling state money to the less fortunate.

The Wages of Hypocrisy

Barack Obama has hit 39% approval in the Gallup poll. Pundits point to the debt, to the mixed-up foreign policy, to ObamaCare, to his grating sermons on civility, to his blame-Bush fixations, to the serial banality of his inauthentic cadences and his canned Nixonian “make no mistake about it” and “let me be perfectly clear” emphases. All that is true.

But much of our public weariness stems from his loud liberal hypocrisy. Our president lectures about a certain sort of school he never has sent his child to. He talks about “folks” with whom he has never wished to vacation. Unlike a Truman or Humphrey, he sough office not to help those clingers with whom he might have wished to associate, but to feel good about wanting to help from a safe distance from those with whom he most certainly did not wish to mingle.

Golfing or walking the Martha’s Vineyard beach, in the fashion of Kerry’s 7th estate getaway or million-dollar yacht, makes one fret over “why lucky me?” — and requires an antidote of one or two spread-the-wealth sermons a week.

The weird sudden appearance of swarmy, young urban and highly-educated leftist bloggers, with little experience in the physical world or with manual labor, is likewise logical given that most do not raise families in the barrio or shop in the ghetto, or teach school on the wrong side of town or try to buy a house and support three kids on $70,000, or even hit the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. Only such abstract liberal advocacy can square the circle of self-absorbed concerned metrosexuality.

As we saw last week in Britain and in some American cities, liberal redistributionism makes far worse the innate problems it was hailed to solve. But it remains a powerful narcotic to an aberrant elite, one that feels guilty over its apartheid circumstances and is desperately seeking spiritual redemption on the cheap.

Barack Obama was contemporary America’s clearest example of just such an iconic liberalism — both as a purveyor and a recipient. Just as voting for Obama gave a pass to so many, so too for Barack Obama his own rhetoric and advocacy provide a pass for his own preferences. Liberalism has gone from a first-hand concern for equality of opportunity to a psychological condition of very blessed, but equally unhappy, people.

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Why Leftists Love Trains

From George Will:

Generations hence, when the river of time has worn this presidency’s importance to a small, smooth pebble in the stream of history, people will still marvel that its defining trait was a mania for high-speed rail projects. This disorder illuminates the progressive mind.

Remarkably widespread derision has greeted the Obama administration’s damn-the-arithmetic-full-speed-ahead proposal to spend $53 billion more (after the $8 billion in stimulus money and $2.4 billion in enticements to 23 states) in the next six years pursuant to the president’s loopy goal of giving “80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.” “Access” and “high-speed” to be defined later.

Criticism of this optional and irrational spending—meaning: borrowing —during a deficit crisis has been withering. Only an administration blinkered by ideology would persist.

[…]

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

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