Victor Davis Hanson recounts a series of scandals involving family values conservatives and anti-capitalist liberals whose lifestyles are far removed from their rhetoric. His explanation is interesting:
First, the country has changed. Globalization, high technology and billions in borrowed money have made Americans in general materially wealthy beyond our parents’ wildest imagination. All that money and leisure have brought constant temptations for indulgence. For all the rhetoric of “family values” and “two nations,” Americans from all walks of life gobble up everything from video games to luxury cars on nearly unlimited easy credit.
Debt, drink, drugs, gambling, lotteries and sex all happen without much restraint or rebuke – and our most prominent are often the most susceptible to these new appetites. In modern American life, “do you own thing” on a charge card is the new national gospel. Despite the nostalgic rhetoric of morality and populism, few Democrats or Republicans have constituents in bib overalls plowing alone till dusk out on the south 40 acres.
Second, in our world of celebrity sound bites and media saturation, talk, not reality, is what counts. Multimillionaires lecture us about fairness, while sinners rail about sin. In politics, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each election year on campaigning. Image-makers, pollsters and media advisers shape every election. Fluffy candidates are removed enough from the electorate that the old idea that their own actions should match their rhetoric is seen as hopelessly old-fashioned.
The political leaders of this country are essentially too often homogenous. Republicans may represent constituents of traditional values; Democrats may champion the underprivileged. But their similar lifestyles reflect more a political class’s shared privilege than the inherent differences of their respective constituents’ beliefs. National figures may talk conservative or liberal, but they both are more likely to act like libertines.
That’s exactly right, I think. While I’m largely in favor of wealth, money, leisure, drinking, and sex, there’s a powerful disconnect between who we are as a people and who we think we are. People driving $50,000 SUVs and living in gated community mini-mansions think of themselves as part of the middle class. People who observe most of the Ten Commandments only in the breach still think of themselves as God fearing, religious folk. People whose sole contribution to the nation’s security consists of slapping a giant yellow sticker on their Lexus think they’re fighting terrorism. It takes a generation or two to recalibrate our self-conception.
Working class people seem not to mind that the political elites rail against elitism, so long as they use the right words and project empathy. Ronald Reagan did nothing to reverse Roe v. Wade but articulated people’s frustrations with abortion beautifully. Bill Clinton did nothing to make abortion rare, but got credit for at least acknowledging the public’s hopes.