The new limousine liberals

Posted: Feb 28, 2003 12:00 AM
The "limousine liberal" is back. The phrase once conjured Manhattanites who championed the poor while getting chauffeured to dinner parties. Now the locus of limousine liberalism has shifted West, and the vehicle of choice has changed. Its new practitioners don't dare get caught in a limousine and, instead, ostentatiously drive the latest hybrid cars. But the dynamic is the same: Just as the old limo liberals in the 1970s made everyone else suffer for their principles -- they lived in neighborhoods too nice to be affected by a soft-on-crime justice system, for instance -- the new ones want to make the rest of America shoulder their fancies. The queen bee of the limo-liberal revival is provocateur Arianna Huffington. "Ask yourself, Which America do you live in?" she writes in her latest pasted-together screed against American society, "Pigs at the Trough." "Do you live in a $90 million mansion in Bel Air like Global Crossing founder and chairman Gary Winnick?" Which America does Huffington live in? According to the Los Angeles Times, the purchase price of her 9,000-square-foot French-style house in Brentwood, Calif., was $4.3 million. It is entirely possible to hate the rich while being rich. But Huffington stretches La Rochefoucauld's famous phrase, "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue," so far that he might have concluded instead that vice was simply getting away with something. In 1994, she ran her then-husband, multimillionaire Michael Huffington, for a California Senate seat on the strength of $30 million of his personal wealth. Arianna was then a Newt Gingrich hanger-on, so her husband ran as a Republican. After his loss, Arianna would eventually renounce the GOP and devote herself to crusading for campaign-finance reform. In other words, her own financially well-lubricated campaign behind her, she sought to choke off sources of funding for candidates who might not have access to a millionaire's bank account. Do as I say, not as I do (especially since you can't afford it). Her latest crusade against SUVs has required personal adjustments. She ditched chauffeured rides in her own Lincoln Navigator. She now drives a Toyota hybrid, and only takes fuel-slurping private jets when someone else is going to the same destination (oh, the sacrifice!). Another Hollywood SUV opponent, Norman Lear, wasn't as nimble, as stories have hit the papers about the tennis court he built above his 21-car garage. It's easy for Huffington to switch cars to make a political point, but she is demanding that Americans make a lifestyle choice not readily available to them. Much of the country is under snow during the winter, conditions that call for big cars. Brentwood doesn't get a lot of snowfall. Families want SUVs to pile kids into. Hollywood is not so family-friendly -- Huffington's fellow anti-SUV crusader Bill Maher's idea of family is whatever model he picks up on a given night. Finally, Americans buy SUVs so they can throw stuff into it -- tools, sports equipment, whatever. In Hollywood, poor Mexicans are available for such grubby tasks. So, limousine liberalism lives on. But the old limo libs at least were idealistic. The new ones, as represented by Huffington and her notional 2000 presidential candidate Warren Beatty, are the opposite of idealists, in the formal sense of thinking that ideas drive the world. They argue that money is behind everything. Huffington considers everyone bought -- conservatives, liberals, hawks, doves. She believes that the purpose of the war in Iraq is to make money for Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm Halliburton -- President Bush is only pretending to want to protect Americans and liberate Iraq. What a noxious allegation, one that rests on the assumption that everyone in America cares only about his or her own advantage, and values the most superficial considerations of money and power over anything else. That assumption might hold in parts of Hollywood, but the new limousine liberals should keep their corrosive cynicism, and their funny cars, to themselves.