Blue State Blues: Why Do America's Rich Hate Themselves?

Blue State Blues: Why Do America's Rich Hate Themselves?

President Barack Obama’s fundraising pilgrimage to California included all the liberal stations: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and La Jolla. 

Two patterns stood out: first, that Obama continues to be heckled even by friendly audiences; and second, that America’s richest political donors not only tolerate attacks on wealth but enjoy them, nodding and murmuring their approval when the president tells them they are the nation’s enemies.

First, the heckling. 

In Silicon Valley, the heckler pleaded: “Freedom for Ethiopia!” The president chided the man for having “screwed up” his speech, but added that he agreed with his view. The same happened a year ago, when the president spoke at the National Defense University, and a heckler demanded that he close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. She was “worth listening to,” the president said gravely. After all, she agreed with him.

It is striking that people who agree so fervently with Obama feel the need to interrupt his speeches and to urge him to act on their common goals. 

Initially, it seemed reasonable to speculate that some of the hecklers had in fact been planted by Obama, partly to show how much pressure he is under to carry out his agenda, and partly to show just how reasonable he is being in holding back some of the most radical demands of his political base.

Yet it has become increasingly clear that Obama’s supporters heckle him out of a sincere desire to communicate with him. They know of no other way to ensure that he listens, and that he responds–even superficially. They yell because they are deeply frustrated as they watch the unique opportunity of his presidency fade, as time runs out. 

And Obama knows it: when he says Americans have “lost faith,” he is chiding the sheep of his own flock.

Which leads to the second pattern–namely, elite self-hatred. 

Just as liberals struggle to understand why many “working-class” Americans, whom they imagine would benefit tremendously from Democrats’ redistributionist policies, support Republicans instead, so, too, do conservatives gaze in puzzlement at the wealthiest people in the world and wonder how it is that so many of them want to destroy the system that enabled them to prosper.

Democrats have an answer for “what’s wrong with Kansas.” Not an actual answer, mind you, but a politically convenient and psychologically comforting one: Republicans are racist, and reinforce that racism through subtle signals to their party base. 

But Republicans have not yet settled on a shorthand answer for rich Democrats’ enthusiasm for taxes and their curious indulgence of Obama’s $32,400-per-couple class warfare routine.

The answers are complex, but education is surely one of them. Several successive generations have been taught that profit is evil. Mike Judge laughs when he explains why the characters in his new HBO series Silicon Valley insist that their companies are “making the world a better place.” While some startups really do, Judge says, “what’s interesting to me is it always seems to be this obligatory thing that they have to throw in there.”

If our human condition is inherently sinful, then faith is the remedy. But old-style faith is in retreat, among the elites. 

So they find moral catharsis in public acts of penance. Obama tells them they are sinners, but comforts them with the knowledge that through their good political works, they shall be saved. The burden of self-hatred is lifted and transferred to an external foe. 

They can renew their “faith”–every two years, up to the federal limit.