Californians were willing to live with rolling power outages, raging forest fires, water shortages, closed schools and businesses, and every other hallmark of Third-World government. But what finally got them angry was the spectacle of Governor Gavin Newsom eating at one of the most expensive restaurants in the country after he’d forced everyone else to stay home. His recall election is next month.
The coronavirus has given politicians new opportunities to project the power of government, and it has given us new opportunities to observe politicians breaking their own rules. Few things are as vile and contemptible as the hypocrisy of the ruling class.
We recall that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), during the lockdowns, had her hairdresser open up her shop for a private, maskless salon treatment. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was photographed at Dulles airport in September without her mask, shortly before she flew out on her husband’s $50 million Gulfstream jet. John Kerry took his mask off on a plane, and he was flying commercial—first class. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was maskless on the streets of New York City last year, where he was gratifyingly heckled by a fearless New Yorker as his entire entourage and the press corps and even the heckler were wearing their masks. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) wore a mask for the interview in which she tried to explain why she was seen without a mask at a bar after closing bars and telling everyone to wear a mask. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) traveled to visit family in Florida after telling everyone to avoid nonessential travel. Austin, Texas Mayor Steve Adler (D) also told people to stay home—while on vacation in Cabo San Lucas (he apologized, and said he wouldn’t do it again, but there was this wedding he really needed to attend). And over the weekend, photos surfaced of Barack Obama’s lavish, huge, and non-socially distanced birthday celebration on Martha’s Vineyard, as the rest of the country is being threatened with a renewed mask mandate and other restrictions.
International politicians, likewise, have held themselves to the same high standards of behavior: In April 2020, at the first peak of the panic, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to apologize for traveling from Ontario to his vacation home in Quebec, saying he was an essential worker and that the trip was for the benefit of his children. I’m sure everyone who was prevented from traveling last year also thought there would have been some benefit in seeing family.
New Zealand went full-fascist with mandatory internment of COVID patients, but Health Minister David Clark violated the lockdown to take his family to the beach.
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen ignored curfew to take his wife to a late dinner at a fancy restaurant in Vienna. He apologized and said he would pay any fine the restaurant received. Isn’t it great to have so much money that you can render the fines imposed by government meaningless?
All these incidents serve to remind us what an exceptionally luxurious, frivolous, out-of-touch, one-percent-of-the-one-percent life is led by the politicians who tell us to be patient with losing our businesses or being forced to stay home from work. Their hypocrisy, their abuse of political power, should be a crime. Perhaps not a capital crime. But it does deserve something beyond a fine.
Politicians who abuse their power should be put in the stocks. Money means nothing to the super-rich and super-powerful, and they will never serve jail time. But Nancy Pelosi would long remember being forced to sit in the stocks for a day outside the hair salon she had opened just for her. Gavin Newsom might learn a thing or two from having to look up at the people who walk by him while he has his feet up outside the French Laundry.
The point of the stocks was to humiliate people—not as an end, but with the intention of reforming their behavior. In 2004, a mail thief was ordered to stand outside the San Francisco Post Office for eight hours wearing a sign that read: “I stole mail. This is my punishment.” The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this sentence, inasmuch as the humiliation served the purpose of making the culprit a better citizen.
Nothing else would be so effective or work so quickly in cutting these political big shots down to the size of ordinary people. It would force power-abusing politicians to do what they hate most—be confronted by their voters. Perhaps any politician who serves more than two terms should be put in the stocks for one day every year as a reminder of the basic loathsomeness of his profession. It might be easier than passing national term limits.
Traditionally, when a criminal is in the stocks, the public is allowed to make the victim as uncomfortable as they choose with taunts and insults, anything short of physical abuse—though tickling the feet was regarded as acceptable. Maybe New York Mayor Bill de Blasio would think twice about violating his lockdown rules if he had his feet tickled for eight hours outside the Trump building, where he illegally painted a huge Black Lives Matter mural on Fifth Avenue. And I’m certain he would be a popular tourist attraction.
Political hypocrisy is not limited to COVID, of course. A socialist member of congress shouldn’t earn five times the average per capita income. A socialist senator shouldn’t own three homes. A politician who hates guns shouldn’t be protected by them. An advocate of public schools should be forced to send his children to the worst public school in his area. All politicians should be forced to use public transit and fly commercial—economy class. All politicians should be forced to buy, and pay for, the typical, median health insurance plan in their area.
Politicians should be compelled in every respect, as much as possible, to live like ordinary, average, people. When they abuse their power, they should be treated far worse than average people, because their power and responsibility is so much greater. Politicians seem to think they deserve special treatment—and they do: Set them in the stocks. Not for long. Just for as long as it takes for them to learn their lessons.