Although I grew up without money (we lived a very marginal existence, to say the least), my mother came from old, old money. On both parents’ side, the family wealth went back to the late Middle Ages. There was nothing nouveau riche about my mom’s approach to wealth, and she passed the whole notion of old wealth along to me. One of the main things I learned about classy old wealth is that it doesn’t show itself off. (This was sort of moot for us, because we were too poor to show off anything at all except our poverty.)
I got a very good example of the whole “old wealth” approach to life when I went to school in England. My favorite professor there taught 19th Century British history. He had a charming turn of phrase, and just radiated kindness. He always wore slightly ratty sweaters with moth holes in them, and his teeth were very British. He had a posh accent, but that was the only giveaway that he came from what was at least a minimally privileged background.
It was only near the very end of the year that I learned a little more about him. The ancestor from whom he got his surname was an incredibly important courtier during the reign of Elizabeth I. His grandfather was an incredibly important politician during Queen Victoria’s reign. His first cousin was one of the richest Dukes in England. And so on. But one never knew. This was a guy who had humility bred into the bone. He was a true gentleman and, as I said, a delightful teacher.
The nouveau riche, on the other hand, are flashy. They live large, ridiculously large. Kind of like this:
When he at last lost the Florida recount, Al Gore had lived for eight years in the vice president’s mansion, and owned two different houses: a brick Tudor across the Potomac in Arlington that had belonged to his wife Tipper’s family, and his family farm back in -Tennessee. Shortly, he bought a 20-room, 10,000-square-foot house in the Belle Meade section of Nashville, and embarked on a career in the private sector that would balloon his net worth into a substantial fortune, in the $100 million-plus range. At the same time, he began a second career as an anti-global warming crusader that won him a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar, but allowed him to use an endless procession of jet planes and motorcades as he went to a series of Save the Earth rallies, at which he urged people to live in a green and more modest manner, build smaller houses, use less heat and power, and drive and fly less.
In 2008, he acquired a houseboat, a 100-foot custom-built Fantasy Yacht estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1 million. In 2010, he bought a fourth house, a seaside estate in California, spending almost $9 million for a “gated ocean-view villa . . . with a swimming pool, spa, and fountains . . . wine cellar, terraces, six fireplaces, five bedrooms, and nine baths in more than 6,500 square feet.” In 2007, a study by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research revealed that Gore’s house in Nashville “devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt hours in 2006—more than 20 times the national average,” that his monthly gas bill averaged $1,080 and his electric bill $1,359. “Why would anyone need a fourth mansion?” asked the Huffington Post, which called “Gore’s commodity addiction” at odds with his professed belief in “simplicity of living, care for other beings,” and concern for the state of the earth.
All this was true, but at four houses, (two of them mansions), along with one boat, he was still a mansion short of John Kerry, the Democrats’ nominee in the 2004 cycle, who, when he married Teresa Heinz, widow of John Heinz, the Republican senator, fell heir to all this in one swoop. And some swoop it was, consisting of spectacular digs in five first class settings: the Heinz family house in Fox Chapel near Pittsburgh; a mansion in Georgetown; a beach house in Nantucket; a ski lodge in Idaho (shipped over stone by stone from Great Britain); and a $6.9 million town house on Boston’s Beacon Hill. The combined square footage of these spreads is unknown, but they had an aggregate value of almost $30 million when he was running for president in 2004.
To balance his ticket, he tapped John Edwards of North Carolina, who had made nearly $60 million in his prior career as a tear-jerking lawyer, and, while campaigning on behalf of children too poor to afford coats in the winter, was soon to start building a spread in his home state that seemed like four houses in one. The Carolina Journal reported that the main building was 10,400 square feet, connected by a 2,200-square-foot enclosure to a 15,600-square-foot “recreational building,” housing a basketball court, a squash court, two stages, bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a four story tower, and a room called “John’s Lounge.” Edwards, who talked incessantly of the poor, might have served them better if he had just built the main house and given the cost of the rest to a neighborhood charity. That would have bought a whole lot of coats.
In July 2010, as Bill and Hillary Clinton were throwing a $2-3 million-plus wedding for their daughter Chelsea (of which $11,000 went for a gluten-free wedding cake) and Michelle Obama was planning a lavish vacation to Spain’s Costa del Sol, the Boston Herald revealed that John Kerry was the owner of the Isabel, a 76-foot, $7 million yacht custom-made in New Zealand, which he had kept at a dock in Newport, Rhode Island, to avoid paying an estimated $500,000 in Massachusetts state tax. The boat, according to the brochure of the company, had two VIP suites (and one for the help), a wet bar, cold wine storage, and seated six around a custom-made table of Edwardian style ornate varnished teak. Add this to the Heinz-Kerrys’ five land-based places of residence, and they now have in all six luxury “houses,” each estimated at over $4 million, for a total of $36 million.
This is typical behavior for new wealth: tacky display. Absolutely nothing new with those particular carpetbaggers.
What is new, however, about all these new nouveaus is that they espouse redistribution for everyone else. Having amassed their obscene wealth and shown it off for all it’s worth, they’re working as hard as they can to make sure that they’re the last of the breed. When all their redistributionist political policies have gone into play, no one is going to be wealthy any more.
I used to think it was hypocrisy that powered these people’s engines, but I don’t think so anymore. There’s more going on here. Just as the British practice backdoor Communism, these people are practicing backdoor Oligarchy. No wonder revolution — at the ballot box, not in the streets — is in the air.
H/t: Neptunus Lex