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The Bleating of the Cushioned Classes

Bourgeois bohemians need not fear the GOP.

November 14, 2002|Norah Vincent | Norah Vincent is a writer and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank that studies terrorism. Web site: www.norah vincent.com.

"My husband woke up this morning singing 'O Canada,' " said the well-to-do woman sitting on my left in the theater last week. "What a terrible night," she added ruefully.

This caught me short. What was she talking about? Had I missed some late-breaking news about the death of Prime Minister Jean Chretien? Had terrorists attacked Toronto?

Then I realized. She meant the previous day's midterm elections in the United States.

Apparently the specter of jackbooted Republicans banging home their belligerent agenda in Congress untrammeled by sensible dissent had turned her husband into an expatriate overnight. To survive the coming coup d'etat, he would have to emigrate. Or joke about it, as would his wife, who would be dining out on that gibe for months.

I know this woman. She is a solidly upper-middle-class, stay-at-home mother of two whose husband has a cushy job in the arts. They own a large, well- appointed Victorian home on a pricey chunk of real estate in the quaint suburbs. They are living the American dream, but their politics haven't caught up yet.

You know the type: hippies come of age who are, alas, emblematic of our age. And, courtesy of journalist David Brooks, they have a name: bobos, or bourgeois bohemians. Their political peacockery also has a name; Tom Wolfe called it radical chic. They are a less stratospheric, though no less mouthy, version of certain Hollywood celebrities whose hyperbolic and deeply hypocritical criticisms of "Amerika" under the Bush administration seem to grow more shrill and ridiculous every day.

Remember, for example, Tom Cruise's recent assertion that the U.S. is a "frightening" place to live or Alec Baldwin's purported promise (as yet unfulfilled) to leave the country if Bush won in 2000 or Woody Harrelson's claim that taking military action against Iraq would be imperialist? This from men who live like gods off the fruits of the greedy, oppressive empire they impugn.

The quip of my fellow theatergoer was hardly less absurd or irritating. Had it come from a convenience store clerk, a ditch digger or another practitioner of thankless labor who could make a more plausible case for having been shafted by the supposedly Republican-run capitalist, classist hegemony, I might have accepted it as legitimate. But such extremist cries seem to emanate less often or noticeably from day laborers than from the comfy berths of "progressives."

An inverse relationship seems to exist between how good this country has been to certain people and the flimsiness of the pretexts on which they not only disparage but also betray it -- in spirit and careless words, if not in deeds.

The trifling outrage of the cushioned classes rings hollow when you consider that their rarified lives are predicated on many of the conservative policies they bewail most loudly. They consume -- often guzzle -- the same oil and gas that they demand we should never do anything environmentally or politically compromising to procure. They float as surely as the rest of us on an economy made viable by corporations to whose plundering interests (apparently) Republicans alone cater.

They relish the peace and quiet their McMansions afford but pooh-pooh the military spending and realpolitik that preserve them in a post-Sept. 11 world. Like spoiled Hamlets, they whine that "Denmark's a prison," yet never make good on their peevish threats to flee.

And why? Because, of course, their blather is just another form of decadence.

In their milder moments, they know that their lives presuppose and sustain the fiscal, environmental and foreign policies that this country has embraced to only nominally different degrees under both Democrats and Republicans for generations. That's why Gore Vidal was right for once when he said that America's political system has just one party with two right wings.

Society firebrands have nothing to fear from a Republican sweep, except maybe a reality check.

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