Gingrich, Weber, Bourdieu

May 26, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I imagine that Stewart, Colbert, Letterman, and the rest must have had fun with the Gingrich-Tiffany story. (I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been watching much TV lately, and it didn’t come up at all on “Dancing With the Stars.”) Newt had a $500,000 revolving charge account at Tiffany’s. Apparently he was a good customer.

The story was something of an embarrassment, and Gingrich tried to make the best of it.
If the U.S. government was as debt-free as I am, everybody in America would be celebrating. I think I have proven I can manage money.
I don’t know how this is playing out there in America – I haven’t seen any opinion surveys. But the Times went to the heartland for quotes:
But out in Iowa, Mr. Robinson says buying jewelry on credit somehow feels different from buying a refrigerator or a new washing machine. Rich Galen, a former Gingrich aide, agrees.
“It’s not something that normal people do,” Mr. Galen said. “I understand he’s made a lot of money and he’s done very well, and God bless him for it, but that’s sort of a departure from the Newt Gingrich that I knew.”
At first, I thought that this reaction was pure Protestant Ethic. It’s OK to make as much money as you can, and we’ll even tax you less. But don’t spend it for pleasure.

But on second thought, the problem isn’t that Gingrich spent rather than reinvesting or giving to charity. The problem is what he bought – or rather, where he bought, since he refuses to say exactly what his Tiffany purchases were. A $25,000 Tiffany necklace, even for your wife, is too elitist.

What is it OK to spend money on? A ranch, where you can clear brush and ride a horse into the sunset. But probably not a villa. A sports team is probably OK but not a Jackson Pollack. A Hummer (if they were still made) but not a Rolls.

What else should go on the approved list? The trick is to avoid implying that your tastes are better, or even different, from those of the ordinary guy. In America, we may not be egalitarian about wealth and power – hats off to those who have the most. But we are egalitarian about taste. You want to have tastes that do NOT require any special abilities of distinction or any education. You want to your tastes to be the same as what the woman in Iowa calls “normal people.”

It makes me wonder: what if Bourdieu had been American rather than French?

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