Tag Archives: Bill Clinton

Why Don’t These Rich Liberals Act Like the Self-Serving Bastards They Are?

In 1998, Howie Klein was the president of Reprise Records, and had the privilege of attending a dinner Bill Clinton threw to honor Vaclav Havel. The entertainment that evening was Lou Reed. (Havel is a big fan.) Klein was seated at a table with Senator Dick Lugar, the Indiana Republican, and he remembers Lugar’s reaction to Reed’s performance:

Lou Reed sang “Dirty Blvd,” his then-current hit. People kind of recognized the melody or something and they kind of danced in their seats. I remember Lugar could barely contain himself. His big plastic smile never even faded when Lou sang:

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em

That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says

Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death

and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard

No one seems to have noticed but me and my friend Brian.

For that brief moment, it was as if the country had not just gone through the adolescent convulsions of the Lewinsky affair. Vice President Gore’s “chair rocked constantly during Reed’s 35-minute performance,” according to a report in the Washington Post.


“Political leaders rarely listen to lyrics,” writes Klein. Maybe that’s why none of the APEC leaders took much notice the other night when Makana, dressed in an Occupy with Aloha t-shirt, sang his “Occupy” song for 45 minutes to the assembled dignitaries. But I wonder if that’s all there is to it.

Something else might be at work here as well. I am especially intrigued by the Post report of Al Gore rocking back and forth in his chair to Lou Reed. That’s not someone ignoring the music; that’s someone digging it. And from what I have seen and read about Al Gore, it’s pretty safe to assume that he was genuinely enjoying Reed’s performance. And why not? In his mind, he’s no bigot; he’s a friend of the poor and the huddled masses. How could he think otherwise? He and Lou Reed are on the same side; he shares the rocker’s indignation.

I am willing to bet that Gore doesn’t see himself as an oppressor or exploiter, and neither, for that matter, does Dick Lugar. Does that make them delusional, or hypocrites, or is it evidence of false consciousness? Maybe. Gore’s detractors like to put up images of his compound in Tennessee and talk about its huge energy footprint. They calculate how much fossil fuel he burns, flying around in airplanes to educate people about climate change. It’s an easy game to play.

But I wonder what it really proves about Al Gore (or Dick Lugar, or anyone, for that matter). Would Gore be a more credible messenger if he lived in a small solar-powered cabin and cycled to his engagements? Probably. Would you and I have heard of him? Unlikely. Would the world be better off if he just gave up, sank into an oblivious rich man’s hedonism, and cackled with wild delight as he drove a Hummer over the fragile habitats of endangered species? Probably not.

The right has now learned from the politically-correct left to demand ideological and moral purity from the left. There is something ridiculous in the demand. I’d say the same about putting too much emphasis on moral consistency.

Be that as it may, it’s now Michael Moore’s turn to prove his authenticity, or at least disprove his duplicity. While mixing with the Occupy protestors, Moore has had to defend himself, repeatedly, against the charge that he belongs to the 1 percent. And there’s little doubt he does, if you look strictly at the numbers: the top one percent in this country earn around 350,000 dollars a year.

So a CBS reporter in Denver asks Moore whether it’s true that he’s worth 50 million dollars; Moore calls the reporter a punk and tells him to stop lying. A blogger with the same Denver TV station lambasts Moore for his “hypocrisy.”  Fox News and the New York Post have been flashing pictures of Moore’s lavish Torch Lake compound. They were also posted on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood blog.

On CNN, Piers Morgan put the question to Moore this way:

“I need you to admit the bleeding obvious. I need you to sit here and say, ‘I’m in the 1 percent,’ ” Morgan pressed.
“I’m not,” Moore insisted. “I am devoting my life to those who have less and who have been crapped upon by the system.”

His evasive answer caused an uproar. “How Rich is Mr. 99%?” “Hypocrite and Liar.” “Occupy Wall Street Supporter Michael Moore Belongs to the Affluent Class.” But it’s also worth thinking about. Moore is trying, clumsily, to say you can be in a socio-economic class but not of it. He would have a much easier time of it if he would just “admit the bleeding obvious,” but let’s not pretend for a moment that that would silence his critics. Might Michael Moore be acting in his own rational economic self-interest by pretending to be one of, or at least one with, the 99 percent? Sure. But I’m naive enough, or optimistic enough about human nature, to think Moore’s concern for “those who have less” is genuine. Does it amount to more than noblesse oblige dressed down in a baseball cap? That’s hard to say.

It’s mildly amusing to see the American news media peddling class warfare and crude ideas about class-consciousness, but if that’s the game we’re playing, then let’s start looking at the class interests behind the American news media. CNN? Piers Morgan? CBS? Fox News? Andrew Breitbart? Follow the money. Let’s specify the interests behind the American news media’s questioning of Michael Moore’s true allegiances or those asking about his annual income. Let’s look at the rich people they ostracize and those they unthinkingly celebrate. It should be obvious – bleeding obvious — that Michael Moore is not the problem; but there are people determined to make him the problem, and you have to wonder why.

I’m certainly not out to defend Michael Moore. Nor does he need me to defend him. Yes, Michael Moore has gotten very rich from his books and films. Yes, he’s obnoxious. Yes, he shamelessly promotes himself. Would he command more credence if he were not all those things – if he were poor, soft-spoken, and retiring? Maybe, but then most likely his films would never have gotten made or shown, and — more to the point — the TV would just find somebody else to distract us all from the real troubles of the day, or some other way to feed the resentment that keeps ordinary people from acting in their own best interests.

Balancing Innovation with Orientation – An Airport Postscript

Today I was at a business conference in Las Vegas where Bill Clinton and George W. Bush appeared, together, for a wide-ranging, hour-long discussion about the economy, regulation, taxes and education. At one point in the conversation, the two former presidents were asked to talk about how America can do more to encourage innovation. Clinton and W. both agreed that making the research and experimentation tax credit permanent would be a good first step.

This wasn’t terribly surprising, since both presidents had tried (but failed) to make the credit permanent; nor was it surprising that a business audience would greet their comments on this subject with polite applause. I, too, managed to put my hands together and restrained myself from jumping to my feet and exclaiming to the assembly that before we start giving tax credits for research, we need to revisit the idea of “research” embedded in the tax code.

So I did not end up having to explain to the secret service detail or my hosts that I had been agitated on this subject ever since I read Amar Bhidé’s editorial in the Wall Street Journal, and had just yesterday published a blog post on this very subject, where I wondered whether research into the human condition and the social world might not also deserve credit, provide much-needed checks and balances to the scientific and technical research the credit already covers, and yield new ideas of what constitutes true prosperity, real wealth, or sustainable growth.

Now, at the airport, waiting for a redeye back to New York, I am still in the grip of this idea, which, as I admitted in my previous post, probably sounds a little far-fetched. But there is a line of inquiry here I don’t want to lose: that research into culture and society, into language and history, into how people learn and how things change, will balance innovation with – I guess this is the word I would use – orientation: a sense of the right direction, an understanding of limits and where propriety and restraint should be shown, of where judgment needs to be exercised or informed choices need to be made.

Think, to take just a small example, of the concern within business organizations around social media. This goes far beyond the fact that many organizations don’t know what to do about Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn; that barely scratches the itch.

The conversation has turned from the occasional remark on the role of business in society to anxious chatter about the transformational role that society, or the social, can play in business. There is a growing realization that the social matters enormously to the way people collaborate, the way organizations develop and change, the way business goes to market, and to the bottom line. If, as I might put it, every enterprise is already a social enterprise, why would organizations be reluctant to devote some small portion of their R & D dollars to original research into how peering works, or how social networks function, or how individuals surrender, or refuse to surrender, autonomy in exchange for belonging, or how trust is built or won.

Still sound far-fetched? Maybe. I realize I am talking here in very broad terms, off the top of my head, and I’m also aware that some organizations are already taking these matters seriously, even if they don’t, or can’t officially consider them R & D. Still, it’s fair to say the vast majority are not dedicating resources or sufficient resources to these topics, primarily because, unlike scientific and technical research, they don’t promise to yield new wares, and because they seem soft, mushy, hard to define and pin down.

I realize, too, that the broad trend I am describing here may be a manifestation of a much greater anxiety. It may be that we are trying to harness the constructive power of the social now only because we sense a loss, a lack of social cohesion, the demise of traditional social values and the disintegration of traditional human groups, the atomization of social life and the erosion of trust.

Be that as it may, it is undeniable that how seriously organizations deal with these issues will bear on their performance, on their ability to innovate – broadly, as Bhidé would say — and to orient themselves in an increasingly disorienting world.