Wealth Porn, Cognitive Dissonance and the Grey Lady

Dick Meyer has an excellent piece up at the CBS website, one of those, “finally-someone-put-into-words-what-I-have-been-thinking” sort of pieces that fling you back into your chair with a satisfied sigh and reassure you that you haven’t been merely imagining things.

Every weekend I meander through the New York Times like a mildly ADHD-afflicted canine in Central Park, one who moves excitedly from plant to tree to park bench because there is just so much to sniff. And every weekend I finally close the paper and think, this is a publication which editorializes on the evils of capitalism while it praises European-style socialism, and foments class resentment between the rich and the poor…and it disdains middle-class Republicans like me…and yet it is chock-full of people so rich I have never heard of them, people who breathe such rarefied air and move in such insulated little conclaves that I would only be likely to encounter them face to face if I rammed into them on the Long Island Expressway as they moved back and forth between Town and Country, between Sotheby’s Manhattan and Sotheby’s Southampton, so to speak. The paper prostrates itself before the public-education devotees who send their children to private schools, buy up and privatize the last beach fronts in Montauk and invite those brown-skinned Catholics onto their property, but only long-enough to erect the high walls of their fortresses or to stain their decks.

This paper, I decide, week after week, postures. Part of the firmly entrenched establishment, it pretends to be counter-cultural, reminding me of nothing so much as those over-40’s of the 1960’s who paraded through their country clubs in love beads and bell bottoms, quoting Leary and flashing peace signs in conspicuous but unconvincing hip-ness. Only now they wear Che Guevara tee shirts as they flash their cash.

The New York Times is a Sunday morning air kiss between people living very elitist and roped-off lives while fancying that they embrace the masses.

But Meyer says it better than I:

The New York Times has been running an impressive, book-length series of articles about class in America. Some of them have been riveting as well as “important.” But I’d bet a Rolex that the most popular of the nine pieces published thus far was the front page story that ran Sunday, June 5, headlined, “Old Nantucket Warily Meets the New.”

It’s all about how the new “hyper-rich” have taken the island over from the old rich. It’s a great and grotesque piece.

Accompanying it is a wonkish but equally impressive look at how these “hyper-rich” people, those earning about $1.6 million a year or more annually, are leaving even the regular rich in the dust. The amount of national treasure consumed by the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers has grown to levels not seen since the Roaring ’20s.

[…]

But cruise around the rest of this Sunday’s Times and what you’ll find is a whole lot of what can only be called wealth porn. There are voyeuristic, detailed, titillating accounts of the doings and digs of the rich and well-groomed all over the paper. It’s like that every Sunday. This week it was jarring because of the stories I just mentioned. I think that’s called cognitive dissonance.

It is precisely the same cognitive dissonance that allowed the Democratic Party to nominate John Kerry and John Edwards – combined net worth, about $1 billion – to bash the rich, bemoan the split of the “two Americas” and beat up on George and Dick for being pals of the rich. When the rich, or those profiting from the rich, condemn other, less enlightened rich people, skin crawls. And many Americans – to the chagrin of Democrats, Marxists and Europeans – tend not to begrudge the rich and hyper-rich their riches.

Quite right. The thing is, I — in my middle class world, with my callused-handed husband and my Eagle Scout sons, and the friends with whom we volunteer at church and in the community — do not begrudge the hyper-rich their riches.

What we do begrudge them is their “superior” disdain for our values, and their hectoring that we are somehow less compassionate, less well-meaning, gosh darn it just LESSER people because we believe in giving a hand, rather than a hand-out.

I mind gazillionaires like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, Jon Corzine and Hillary “we’re going to have to take some things away from you for the common good” Clinton pretending that our yearly income, our solidly middle-class income (and very modest emergency fund) is too, too much for us, unfair to others, undertaxed, greedy, ignoble and selfish. I mind people who are bouncing on fluffy pillows of honest-to-goodness wealth shaking a rhetorical finger at us for daring to try to get comfortable on our foam rubber mats of hard-earned wages.

I mind the New York Times catering to the swells and sniffing at the suburbs, but only because they so ardently pretend to be doing otherwise.

About Elizabeth Scalia

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