It was not business acumen that took them there. Blessed by fortune to be Zuckerberg’s sophomore roommate, Hughes’ claim to fame was in inventing the Facebook “poke” button and promoting the site when it was in its infancy. Zuckerberg called him “Prada” after his taste in fashion. He followed his time at Facebook by working on the 2008 Obama campaign. After that, he launched Jumo, a failed website. We’re not talking about Steve Jobs here.
What we are talking about is the ascent of the premier social climber of our age, a man whose every utterance is a cliché, whose every action reflects the structure of power in Barack Obama’s America. The portrait sketched in the New York Times Thursday is of a couple for whom political influence is an entitlement; of liberal plutocrats detached from the people they claim to represent; of an attitude toward money in politics that is breathtaking in its naiveté. When we enter the universe of Hughes and Eldridge, we go beyond the simple conflation of financial and political interests. What they practice is not cronyism. It’s phonyism.
Sean Eldridge’s pursuit of office could not be more contrived. It began in 2010 when he and Hughes donated $250,000 to the pro-same-sex marriage group Freedom to Marry; Eldridge became political director. In 2011, he and Hughes purchased a $5-million estate in the Hudson River Valley. (They already owned a $5 million, 4,000-square-foot loft in Soho.) Their new neighbors included Jacob Weisberg and Roger Ailes. “Their property includes a former farmhouse built in the 1800s that was inhabited a century later by Vanderbilt Webb, a descendant of the industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt, who held lavish society parties there with his wife, Aileen Osborn Webb, a patron of the arts,” a reporter noted last year. Also in 2011, Eldridge founded Hudson River Ventures LLC, a “small business investment fund” that “works to empower entrepreneurs and build thriving businesses throughout the Hudson Valley,” where Eldridge just happened to be thinking of running for Congress.