On Thursday, Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig took on the problem of limousine liberalism — by defending it. Rushing to the aid of new socialist darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Breunig suggested that the only plausible rationale for conservatives attacking Ocasio-Cortez’s middle-class upbringing was their fear of her supremely moral message:
As more left-flank challengers face off with center-left incumbents and more democratic socialists begin looking toward public office, beware: You will all be called champagne socialists or yacht communists, the ritzier and more radical counterparts of limousine liberals. It doesn’t matter how comparatively humble your background is, or how relatively modest your means in the context of the political class at-large — it’ll always be news if Bernie Sanders wears a $700 coat or buys a house by a lake, because his political position on inequality is so obviously moral that the only way to impeach it is to make him seem dishonest about it. The same goes, and will continue to go, for every other candidate who attempts to advance material equality. This stance is hard to supply a persuasive democratic alternative to, so critics instead claim that its standard-bearers don’t really mean it.
Well, actually, some of us oppose the hypocrisy of socialists because we think their moral standard is itself skewed. I myself am not a big fan of the hypocrisy argument, because it’s not an argument against the standard that someone is failing to uphold. So, for example, I don’t think that it’s an argument in favor of pornography if a priest who advocates against pornography turns out to be looking at it in his spare time. That’s an argument against the morality of the priest.
The problem is that Breunig and her colleagues won’t make the argument against Sanders. If Sanders truly practiced what he preached, he wouldn’t have three houses. It would be one thing for Breunig to suggest that yes, in the best of all worlds, Bernie would abide by his principles. But she doesn’t. She sees nothing wrong with Bernie owning three houses so long as he says the right words about redistributing everybody else’s wealth. As Breunig puts it:
Lives are infinitely complicated and nuanced, and if yours brought you to a good political agenda you’re ready to work hard for, then that’s good enough.
Oddly enough, though, the Left never feels the same way about abortion or sexual infidelity or pornography or drug use or any other myriad sins. If someone engages in any of these shortcomings but believes that they are indeed shortcomings, the Left immediately suggests that hypocrisy is at play, and that the standard itself should be removed. The Right suggests that the standard is correct, and we’re not all living up to it.
When it comes to socialism, however, all bets are off. Then it’s fine to be wealthy — because after all, guys, poor people can’t be elected to Congress (talk to Ocasio-Cortez, who was working as a bartender until five minutes ago). It’s fine to have a white-collar upbringing so long as you mouth the blue-collar platitudes; if, however, you’re a Republican, then it’s bad to grow up rich.
If something seems disingenuous about this, that’s because it’s totally disingenuous.
Socialism is all fun and games when it’s pointing the government’s gun in someone else’s face — but the real test of its moral draw comes when it’s time for you to pony up the checkbook.