Last week, I made a passing reference to a New York Times op-ed by Kurt Andersen titled "The Downside of Liberty." Andersen says it isn't paradoxical that we've headed leftward in the past few decades in the areas of rights for women, gay people, non-whites, and so on, while our economy has headed rightward -- rights movements and corporate greed emerge from the same source, Andersen argues: "extreme individualism" and "self-indulgence," which he regards as triumphant across the board in our society. That got some negative response in comments -- understandably.
But maybe that's just what you'd expect from Andersen (Harvard '76). Maybe, from his perch, that's really how the country looks.
Today there's a lot of attention being paid to an L.A. Times story about Mitt Romney's weekend fund-raising in the Hamptons. The story contains quotes likes this one:
"It's not helping the economy to pit the people who are the engine of the economy against the people who rely on that engine," Michael Zambrelli said as the couple waited in their SUV for clearance into the Creeks shortly after the candidate's motorcade flew by and entered the pine-tree lined estate. "He's basically been biting the hand that fed him in '08. ... I would bet 25% of the people here were supporters of Obama in '08. And they're here now."Back in 1979, around the tenth anniversary of Woodstock, The New York Times wanted to learn what was up with the "Woodstock Generation." Who did the Times turn to? Not average kids -- the Times turned to people like Harvard alum Michael Zambrelli (click to enlarge):
After earning that "large income," Zambrelli made the real money that got him into the Romney fund-raiser not doing public service ads, but running a firm that bears his name, which created campaigns for the likes of Chuck E. Cheese. (I'm sure that's just what Zambrelli dreamed of doing while he was grooving to Ten Years After in that mud field in Bethel.)
A decade after Woodstock, Zambrelli insisted he still had doubts about The Man:
Except that now the sort of scrutiny Zambrelli does when he looks at potential presidents is apparently "What's in it for people like me?"
As Zandar notes, between 2009 and 2010 -- under that horrible socialist Obama -- 93% of the nation's additional income went to the top 1%. But that's not good enough for the Michael Zambrellis of the world.
Kurt Andersen, in that Times op-ed, asserted that self-indulgence brought us sexual liberation, gay liberation, and so on. He lives through some self-indulgent times; I'm a few years younger than he is, and so did I (though I didn't indulge much).
But here's the thing: I don't care how much public screwing was done in People's Park back in the '60s. I don't care what gay sex was like in 1970s bathhouses. The vast majority of people eventually realized that they simply didn't want to push the limits forever, in terms of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and all the rest.
But the Romneyites in the Hamptons still want everything they ever wanted. They still feel entitled to everything they ever wanted. They want the whole pie -- and then they want more and more and even more pies to be baked and they want all of those pies as well. At the very least, they believe society functions best when they have first dibs on all pies. (Yes, occasionally people like Zambrelli and his wife, Sharon, will bake some charity pies and be photographed with them for the society pages. But apart from that...)
"Extreme individualism"? "Self-indulgence"?
Go look at any random gay couple who got married last weekend -- that's not what they want.
Then look at the Romney crowd in the Hamptons -- that's still what they want.