Poverty chic

I do not know what is more remarkable: the human proclivity to endow every personal tic and trait with psychological and political meaning, or the ease with which rich and powerful liberals assume the garments of righteousness, moral superiority, and defense of the poor. His combination of pedigree and populism, the cookie-cutter liberalism that accompanies his “man of the people” wardrobe, makes de Blasio a representative figure of the age. This is a man on the cutting edge of political fashion.

De Blasio possesses the ineffable quality that Castiglione called sprezzatura: the effortlessness with which a liberal demonstrates his concern for income inequality, his fear of global warming, his support for taxpayer-financed contraception and abortion, his commitment to amnesty and open borders. Here is a skill that cannot be bought at Rothmans, a skill that must be acquired over time. It is a sense of the happening issues, of the clichés du jour, of the rhetoric that fits the moment, and the demeanor that inspires sympathy from the people. It is an instinct for the galvanizing political force, for the subject that suddenly makes you the object of bipartisan embrace.

Today that sense has given us a politics of poverty, inequality, and social justice, and has launched political celebrities such as de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama. But fashion is fickle. Trends vanish. And the next fad might not fit the New York Times’ definition of haute politique.