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(by Victor Davis Hanson, NationalReview.com) – … [Last month,] 28-year-old, $17 billion-rich, jeans-clad Mark Zuckerberg took Wall Street for a multibillion-dollar ride, making his original buddies instant billionaires and his loyal larger circle millionaires. Note that there is no Occupy Wall Street protest at Facebook headquarters. Just as there are none at Oprah’s house or the residence of Leonardo DiCaprio, despite their take each year of between $50 and $100 million.
No one has suggested that Hollywood lower movie-ticket prices by asking Johnny Depp or Jennifer Lopez to walk away with $10 or $20 million less a year. Steve Jobs found ways to dodge taxes comparable to those deployed by any Wall Street fatcat, but he was iPad cool, and so his iPhone billions were exempt from the Occupy nonsense. Cool capitalists are immune from the neo-Marxist critique of capitalism — a racket that $40 billion–rich Warren Buffett learned late in life, but well enough, with the “Buffett Rule.”
We simply don’t mind that Google and Amazon rake in billions, but we despise Exxon and Archer Daniels Midland for doing the same. It is not that we need social networking and Internet searches more than food and fuel, but rather that we have the impression that cool zillionaires in flipflops are good while uncool ones in wingtips are quite bad.
I am sure that the tax lawyers who help Richard Branson and Mick Jagger are no less skilled at shorting the Treasury than those who work for Rush Limbaugh, but the profits of the former are okay while the latter’s are obscene. …
The power of cool is evident also in politics. State quite correctly that you can see Russia from parts of Alaska, and you are ditzy white-trash Sarah from Wasilla; state falsely that Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation on television in 1929, and you are just “good ol’ Joe Biden.”
John Kerry’s second married-into fortune probably dwarfs the one that Mitt Romney made himself, perhaps by a factor of ten. While we heard in 2012 that Romney wanted a car elevator in one of his many houses, we never heard much in 2004 of presidential candidate Kerry’s various mansions, boats, or assorted playthings, or how he proved to be a keen investor as a senator helping to set U.S. financial policy.
Kerry, you see, was cool. He windsurfed and wore spandex as he cycled, and found his exemption by championing the poor he rarely saw. The same was true of John Edwards of “Two Americas” fame. Do we now recall how he ran to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, despite the $500 haircuts and the self-indulgent mansion, replete with “John’s room,” a hideaway with all sorts of adolescent toys? Edwards, remember, earned those spoils by charming juries in his smarmy style, and nearly destroyed the practice of obstetrics in North Carolina through his flurry of malpractice suits. No matter, Edwards was liberal, Kennedyesque, and cool. …
What, then, exactly, is this cool that allows you to earn whatever you like without censure, and then to spend it as you please without fear of public scorn?
It would seem that the disconnect is liberal politics, the coin by which one buys a sort of medieval indulgence from liberal gatekeepers in the media, academia, the arts, and the foundations that permits one to continue the pursuit and enjoyment of lucre and to indulge the baser appetites without harassment — in the manner that the medieval moneylender or sexual zealot still got to heaven by buying marble for the cash-strapped cathedral. That $20 billion–rich George Soros was a money speculator who almost destroyed the small depositors of the Bank of England and was convicted in France of insider trading matters not at all: Without his roulette-wheel billions we would not have Media Matters. Jon Corzine of MF Global cannot explain what he did with $1.2 billion of other people’s money. But there will never be a “Corzine Law.”
Who cares what George Clooney makes an hour, or how exactly his close friends can afford to pony up for a $40,000-a-plate dinner — when the takings will help Barack Obama feed the children? If Halliburton were wise, it would buy the shut-down Solyndra plant, make solar panels at a loss, and write the cost off as a lobbying and public-relations expense.
So cool is not obtained just through liberal politics. Images and intent are critical too. The stuffy tea-party crowd looks like the plain suburban guys and gals who sell us houses, cars, and insurance. And so, of course, they must be racist, even though their demonstrations give no proof of any such fetish. Their only oddity would seem to be a certain desire to ensure that they leave no litter in their wake for poorer custodians to clean up.
But Occupy Wall Street? That movement has produced thugs, thieves, rapists, would-be bombers, rioters, and street urchins who pollute their surroundings and cause mayhem. They act pre-modern but earn no scorn because they are cool – they sport a sort of elite grunge that suggests that the environmental-studies major at Brown [University] empathizes with those poor for whom grime is not makeup.
Identity is key here. In general, to win exemption from the left-wing critique of America, the affluent must construct cool identities as far distant as possible from the white Christian heterosexual male, who is most culpable for creating our present affluence from ill-gotten gains.
Network news anchors anguished over whether George W. Bush had tried coke while thousands of African-Americans languished in jail for doing the same – but they snored when Barack Obama boasted that he had done that and much more. Push down a gay student [almost] 50 years ago as a teen, and if you are straitlaced Mitt Romney then you always were a homophobe; push away a little girl decades ago, and if you are Barack Hussein Obama, then you were struggling with identity and coming of age.
In short, millions of well-off Americans, from the entering college student to the full professor of law, from the billionaire thief to the president of the United States himself, endlessly chase cool.
And why would they not? Cool is now America’s holy grail that allows the elite and the rich not just to pursue and enjoy nice things, but to [criticize] others who do the same.
– NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.
Originally published May 23, 2012. Reprinted here on June 7, 2012, for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from National Review. Visit the website at NationalReview.com.