‘Limousine liberal” is an old American term used against those who inherited lots of money and then became “traitors to their class” by embracing populist politics.
The Roosevelts and Kennedys enjoyed the high life quite apart from the multitude that they championed. And they were exempt, by virtue of their inherited riches and armies of accountants and attorneys, from the higher taxes they advocated for others. Few worried about how their original fortunes were made long ago, or that as lifelong government officials they had their needs met by the state. Most were relieved instead that as very rich people they wanted less rich people to pay their fair share to help the poor.
But the new liberal aristocracy is far less discreet than the old. Most are self-made multimillionaires who acquired their money through government service, finance, law, investment, or marriage. If the old-money liberals lived it up tastefully within their walled family compounds, the new liberal aristocrats are unashamed about living openly in a manner quite at odds with their professed populist ideology.
Take former vice president Al Gore. He has made a fortune of nearly a billion dollars warning against global warming — supposedly shrinking glaciers, declining polar-bear populations, and the like — while simultaneously offering timely remedies from his own green corporations, all reminiscent of the methodology of Roman millionaire Marcus Licinius Crassus, who profited from fires and putting them out. Now Nobel laureate Gore has sold his interest in a failing cable-television station for about $100 million — and to the anti-American Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the fossil-fuel-rich royal family of Qatar. Gore rushed to close the deal before the first of the year to avoid the very capital-gains tax hikes that he has advocated for others less well off. That’s a liberal trifecta: enhancing a fossil-fuel consortium, attempting to beat tax hikes, and empowering an anti-American and anti-Semitic media conglomerate run by an authoritarian despot — all from a former vice president of the United States who crusades for ending our reliance on fossil fuels and for raising taxes on the wealthy.
Class warrior Barack Obama spent his winter break in a ritzy rental on a Hawaiian beach. It cost the taxpayers $7 (or is it $20?) million to jet him and his entourage 6,000 miles for their tropical vacation. But whether the first family escapes to Hawaii or Martha’s Vineyard or Costa del Sol, the image of a 1 percent lifestyle seems a bit at odds with the president’s professed disdain for “millionaires and billionaires,” “fat cats,” and “corporate-jet owners” who supposedly can afford such tony retreats only because they have done something suspect. The media used to ridicule grandees like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush for wearing cowboy hats and wasting precious presidential time chopping wood or chain-sawing dry underbrush on their respective overgrown ranches. But for liberal class warriors, golfing and body surfing in the tropical Pacific while staying at a zillionaire’s estate become needed downtime to prepare for the looming battle against 1 percenters. One wonders about the conversation between the Obamas and their landlord. “We will stay here, but only on the condition that you remember that you didn’t build it”?
Multibillionaire Warren Buffett is a tireless advocate of hiking inheritance taxes on small businesses and farms. But he has pledged much of his wealth to the Gates Foundation, a ploy that will cost the federal Treasury billions of dollars in lost revenue. Meanwhile, if inheritance taxes go up, millions of terrified Americans will double up on their life-insurance policies — an industry central to the multibillion-dollar Buffett empire. It never seems to occur to the liberal-minded Buffett that there is something tawdry about advocating a policy that he not only seeks mostly to avoid, but will even profit from.
So tax avoidance is another characteristic of the new aristocracy — ask Jeffrey Immelt, the General Electric CEO and Obama point man on jobs and growth, who endorses the Obama agenda even as he managed to skip taxes altogether on his company’s 2010 profits. What should Immelt say? “Taxes are for the little people whom we try to help”?