Kevin Williamson, writing at NRO, notes that political self-interest is no less selfish than economic self-interest. About Barack Obama, he has this to say:
What could it possibly mean to be lectured on selfishness by a man whose entire career has been dedicated to no cause other than the cause of himself? “Selfishness” has been conflated with materialism and greed, but the literal meaning of the word is excessive devotion to one’s self and one’s interests. To be unselfish is to be ready to give up that which one holds most dear; for some men, that is money, but what is money to a president of the United States, who knows that in retirement he can support himself in ducal style with one day’s work a month at Bill Clinton rates, in princely style with two days’ work, and in imperial style with three? Money is an abstraction to a retired president. But the thing that he really cares about — power — Barack Obama guards in a fashion more miserly than that of any mythical dragon watching his horde. (sic–I think he means “hoard”)
And political power, of course, is always and everywhere convertible into economic wealth. The conversion may be in the form of in-kind benefits…the dachas and special stores made available to the old Soviet elite, the extremely expensive government aircraft made available to Obama’s vacationing family (and even to his dog) as well as to himself…or it may involve the at-least-implicit conversion of influence into money. (Al Gore’s financial net worth in now somewhere around the $200 million level, the Clintons are at roughly the same level. Today’s WSJ mentioned that former Clinton counsel Lanny Davis has been hired by a Chinese company to defend them against charges of violating California law. Lanny Davis may be a good lawyer, but is anyone really so naive as to think that his selection for this job has nothing to do with influence?) And in the celebrity-obsessed culture of 2014 America, the public recognition that comes with political office and power increases still further the ability to turn power into economic wealth. Get the power, the wealth will come…although, of course, for many obsessive power-seekers, the psychic rewards of power itself are the primary motivators.
Obama once remarked “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Has he ever considered the possibility that maybe at a certain point he’s accumulated enough power? I doubt it. To a considerable extent, I think, the Democratic harping on inequalities of wealth and income acts as a smokescreen to avoid discussion of the high and increasing inequalities of power.
And extreme inequalities of power can be damaging and humiliating to individuals in ways that pure economic inequalities are not. For example, no wealthy individual or private business could–absent government intervention–seize this WWII veteran’s store in the way that the resort of Fire Island is planning to do. Governmental compulsion is dangerous in ways that wealth alone is not.
In a Tale of Two Cities, one of the triggers for the French Revolution is the incident in which an arrogant aristocrat, driving his carriage recklessly, runs over a boy and kills him. Protected by his aristocratic status, he merely tosses a few coins to the boy’s father and drives on.
Not very different, if you think about it, from the Ted Kennedy / Mary Jo Kopechne incident.
Hollywood loves making movies, such as The Wolf of Wall Street that show degenerate behavior by wealthy people; they have shown much less interest in making movies that show degenerate behavior by holders of political power. (If you don’t know what a “waitress sandwich” is, try googling the phrase.)
While it is often observed that money has a corrupting influence on politics, the reverse is also true. The drive of politicians and officials to expand their personal power through endless expansion of government power also has a corrupting influence on business…and on other organizations, such as universities.
And, of course, there is no endpoint to the power-seeking, especially by those politicians and officials in the grip of a “transformational” ideology. To quote Rose Wilder Lane again:
If (the leader) wants to do good (as he sees good) to the citizens, he needs more power. If he wants to be re-elected, he needs more power to use for his party. If he wants money, he needs more power; he can always sell it to some eager buyer. If he wants publicity, flattery, more self-importance, he needs more power, to satisfy clamoring reformers who can give him flattering publicity.