Conspicuous candidate consumption 

Dear Mitt Romney: Please don’t knock down your $12 million beach house in California and replace it with a new one almost four times its size — at least not while you’re running for president and your campaign has yet to catch fire. We know it gets cramped, but a lot of other people are cramped also, what with either being unemployed and having to move in with their relatives, or putting up college grad children who cannot find jobs, or having to downsize from the house they once lived in, but now can’t afford.

Dear Barack Obama: Do go ahead and have a lovely vacation, enjoying life with your wife and adorable children, but not at a 28-acre estate on Martha’s Vineyard that rents for $50,000 a week — not when you’re running for re-election, and your approval ratings are down around 40 percent, when long-term unemployment has become a huge problem, and the country’s credit rating has been downgraded for the first time in history. If you need room to relax, you have three fairly large houses, two of them owned and maintained by the public (the Camp David residence is in a nice rural setting with many amenities).

Dear Newt Gingrich: Close out all accounts outstanding at Tiffany’s, and do not open them ever again. In your case, it is less the money spent than what was bought with it. A house, however extravagant, is a necessity and has a solid aspect. A jewel is the essence of extravagance and uselessness, and is thus nothing more than a frill. Buying jewels by the quart or the carton is not associated with great politicians, statesmen or philosopher kings. Your chances of being rated among them seem to be sinking. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend on various occasions. They are not yours and will never be.

Dear John [Mr. Teresa Heinz] Kerry: Are you having some down time on the Isabel, the yacht you bought for about $7 million just as the recession closed in? We hope you enjoy the varnished teak table, the wine
storage, the wet bar and the customized suites for the help. (And did you get around to paying the $500,000 in taxes that you tried to evade by docking the yacht out of state?) How nice to know you have someplace to go when your five mansions on land will not satisfy. Do you remember that right after your loss in 2004 to George W. Bush, a reporter praised you for being “true to your lifestyle” and exercising your right to revel in money? Did you ever think this might have been one of the reasons you lost?

Dear Rick Perry (or whoever else gets the GOP nomination, or anyone in either party who may contemplate a run for president ever): Please promise to restore a sense of thrift and proportion to the conduct of public affairs — and make sure that is one promise you really keep.

The examples cited above are becoming more and more common, and together suggest a large and bipartisan governing stratum that is completely insulated and immune from the strains that beset normal people. Families such as the Roosevelts, Bushes and Kennedys have been well-to-do, but they never indulged in such orgies of spending.

Some might say it’s the politicians’ money to spend as they like, which is true. But the rest of us are free to watch them doing their spending, and then make our own judgments as to whether overindulgence in the goods of the world may in fact speak to a character weakness. One of the things that injured John Kerry was the sense he conveyed that the wealth he enjoyed was his just desserts, bestowed on him by a wise and beneficent destiny. The first JFK, who had a sense of proportion (and gave much of his earnings to various charities), would never have made that mistake.

Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, where this article appeared.

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