Calif. fires punish the rich for sins we'd like to afford


November 05, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

Let us be honest: There is something about the fires savaging Southern California that does not arouse our sympathy.

We look at the threatened homes on our TV screens, and we do not see homes.

We see mansions.

We see patios and pools and airy architecture set on lavish lawns.

Those in peril live in places whose very names sound lush to us: Malibu, Pacific Palisades and Topanga Canyon. Names associated with Johnny Carson, Ronald Reagan and some victims of Charles Manson. (Manson targeted the rich in 1969 in order to "instill fear into the Establishment.")

And we all know that the rich do not feel loss the way you and I do.

At work, I stand watching the inferno on TV, watching flames leap 10 stories into the air, igniting trees like bombs and raining ash and cinders onto the rooftops.

And perhaps it is because I have just moved into the first house I have ever owned that I make a slip.

Terrible, I say to the people watching with me. God, isn't it terrible?

"They're insured," one snarls. "They have insurance."

Yes, of course, they do. The rich always have tricks up their sleeves.

And if the stuff of their lives burns, too -- the love letters, the wedding pictures, the baby books -- that doesn't mean these people deserve our sympathy.

After all, they are rich. And that should be solace enough for them.

Their horses, well, yes, their horses are different. We can feel sorry for their horses.

But think about: How many normal people do you know who own horses?

Make no mistake, these people are not normal. These are the people who have ruined America. Our president has told us so.

And while, needless to say, I do not blame Bill Clinton for the fires, much of his presidential campaign was based on a naked exploitation of class animosity in America.

Every day for more than a year, Bill Clinton bashed the rich. "While the rich got richer, the forgotten middle class -- the people who work hard and play by the rules -- took it on the chin," he said at each stop.

The rich, by implication, did not work hard. They did not play by the rules.

The "very wealthy" were the reason that our "government doesn't work," Clinton said day after day.

And now we are supposed to feel sorry for them because their multimillion-dollar mansions are ablaze?

In every news account of the fires, the wealth of the victims is emphasized.

"The outlines of paradise can be read in its ruins . . . where the lavish homes of the wealthy and famous lie in cinders," one New York Times story began.

And here was the shell of Sean Penn's $4 million home, where "scorched oranges now add a sweetness to the acrid smell of smoke [and] the idyllic rolling hills that formed Mr. Penn's eastern view are now charred and bare."

Shall we send blankets and canned goods to Mr. Penn?

Or shall we advise him to ask Madonna for a new mansion?

While we have no sympathy for the arsonists who set these fires, which of us cannot understand those people trapped in the gray-yellow smog of Los Angeles looking up at the hills and hating the princes and princesses living high above them?

Princes and princesses forced to flee, the Associated Press noted, in their "Jaguars and Jeeps."

Princes like the 41-year-old owner of an "investment company", interviewed by the Washington Post, who retrieved his child from "private school" and then raced home to try to save his "Porsche and BMW" by putting wet towels on them.

Does that story pluck at our heartstrings? Or does it convince us that God is on our side?

After all, these rich people have had drought, floods, earthquakes, mudslides and now fires visited upon them.

So what is next? Boils? Locusts? The slaying of the firstborn?

That they are being punished is clear even though we may not be able to name their exact sin.

No matter. They are rich. And surely in America today that is sin enough.

It is, however, a sin that most of us covet. Which creates a curious dilemma:

Can we despise that to which we aspire?

Try us. Just try us.

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