Scolding Americans for our various sins is proving popular among an elite group of self-appointed moralists.
Take well- meaning environmentalists who warn us that our plush lifestyles pollute the planet. To listen to former Vice President Al Gore or New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, we must curtail our carbon emissions or face planetary destruction.
Yet these influential prophets of doom do not have lives remotely similar to the lesser folk to whom they lecture. Gore hops on a private jet and purchases "carbon offsets" penances for the privilege. His mansion used more energy in a month than the average U.S. home does in a year. Friedman lives on a sprawling estate.
The rest of us would find these environmental scolds more convincing if they lived modestly.
Elite critics in the business of racial grievance offer the same contradictions.
Recently, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates got into a spat with a white police officer who arrested him in his own home for disorderly conduct. Gates cried racism. He argued that his plight was emblematic of the burdens the black underclass endures daily from a racist white America.
But Gates is one of the highest-paid humanities professors in the nation. And Gates — not the middle-class Cambridge, Mass., cop — engaged in shouting and brought up race. Within hours, the black mayor of Cambridge, the black governor of Massachusetts, and the black U.S. president rallied to their chum's side.
The well-connected, well-paid Harvard resident apparently wants us to believe he is living under something like the United States of decades ago.
Citing racial grievance can prove a valuable asset for wealthy celebrities. Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson posed as victims of racial oppression when they found themselves in self-created legal problems. Race-baiter the Rev. Jeremiah Wright simply retreats to his three-story mansion on a golf course after his day job of denouncing whites as exploiters.
Then we have aristocrats railing about economic inequality. Former Sen. John Edwards preached of "two Americas," one poor and abandoned, one wealthy and connected. Edwards should know; he built a multimillion- dollar mansion in which he might contemplate the underprivileged outside his compound.
Sen. Chris Dodd sermonizes about corporate greed and credit companies' near extortion. But Dodd managed to get a low- interest loan, a sweetheart deal for a vacation home in Ireland and thousands in campaign donations.
Ex-Sen. and Cabinet nominee Tom Daschle was a big proponent of hiking taxes to nationalize health care. The problem was he hated paying taxes and loved limousines, so he avoided the former and welcomed the latter.
In the old days, most critics of the "system" were blue-collar workers, underpaid teachers or grass-roots politicians whose rather modest lives matched their rhetoric. Now the most vehement critics of America's purported sins are among the upper classes. Their parlor game has confused Americans about why they are being called polluters, racists and exploiters by those who have fared the best in America.
Do the wealthy and powerful lecture because they know their insider status ensures they are exempt from the medicine they advocate for others? Gore is not much affected by higher taxes for his cap-and-trade crusade.
Do elites hector the crass middle class because it lacks their taste, rare insight and privileged style? Judging from the police report, Gates seemed flabbergasted that the white Cambridge cop did not know who he was "messing" with.
Or is the new hypocrisy a sort of psychological compensation? Perhaps the more Gore rails about carbon emissions, the more he can without guilt enjoy what emits them. The more Gates can cite racism, the more he is paid to spot it. And the more Daschle wants to tax and spend for health care, the less bad he feels about his chauffeur and tax avoidance.
Here's advice for aristocratic critics: a little less hypocrisy, a little more appreciation of your good lives. Then, maybe, the rest of us will listen a little more.
E-mail Hanson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES