Victor Davis Hanson

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.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.