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L.A.'s car wash outrage

A footbridge spans a completely dry river bed in Porterville, Calif.
Getty Images
A footbridge spans a completely dry river bed in Porterville, Calif.

"One law for me, another for thee."

That's the old line that has encapsulated the privileged lives led by royalty, dictators, and unprincipled religious clergy for centuries. Sadly, it's become an all-too-often accurate way to describe the attitudes of our democratically elected leaders as well.

But what we learned was going on in Los Angeles this week takes the double standard to which we've become accustomed to an entirely more outrageous and infuriating level.

As you probably know, California is suffering under the effects of a four-year drought. After years of lecturing Californians about conserving water, Governor Jerry Brown finally went ahead and imposed a 25% cut in urban water use back in April. The people of California, brow-beaten into compliance by politicians, celebrities, and the general news media, have complied and even exceeded the goals with a 29% cut in water usage in June and a 31% cut in July.

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But here's what you may have missed. It's turns out that most of the Los Angeles County Supervisors haven't just been continuing their pre-cutback water usage, they've increased it. The L.A. Daily News obtained service records that showed most of the county supervisors washed their take-home vehicles at county facilities two to three times a week and they actually increased the frequency of those washes after Governor Brown's edict. The data shows they even use fresh tap water to wash the cars, not recirculated water.

This isn't the first time the L.A. Supervisors have acted like a privileged class. Earlier this year, the same L.A. Daily News reported on the gas-guzzling, pricier cars the Supervisors were driving even after a Los Angeles civil grand jury decried the officials' use of bigger and more expensive cars and strongly recommended keeping the cost of any newly-bought vehicles under $30,000. That recommendation came in 2008 and since then, you guessed it, the number of cars bought by the Supervisors over that $30,000 level has also increased.

One of the officials caught with a more expensive car and was caught washing it more excessively since April, was Supervisor Don Knabe. And now, naturally, it's Knabe who is introducing a once-monthly limit on car washes for all country employees. Even if those new rules are put into effect, there's certainly no guarantee the Supervisors will adhere to them.

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This is where journalists have another responsibility in this story and every similar story. Kudos should go the to the L.A. Daily News for exposing all of this now. But every time a politician calls for cutbacks in water, gas, or any other essential commodity, the first question journalists should ask is whether that politician has cut back him or herself and whether can they prove it. I know that sounds a bit confrontational, but the evidence shows that there's often a better chance that the political class finger waggers are doing exactly the opposite of what they're telling everyone else to do. This is also particularly true among politicians and media pundits calling for gun control who have so often been found to keep and use the very firearms they want to stop the rest of us from having.

I realize that water usage hypocrisy on its own isn't the worst example of political class malfeasance. But what makes this case so egregious is that the politicians didn't just legislate water rules on the rest of us. All to often, conservation was presented as a moral imperative, and they demonized those who disagreed, and even threw out a devilish straw man or two for good measure. Hypocrisy is one thing, sanctimony is another. And too many of our candidates and elected officials are taking sanctimonious rhetoric to new heights. That includes President Obama, who just recently compared Republican opponents of his nuclear deal with Iran to the murderous Ayatollahs themselves.

The news media and the public generally seems to have no trouble pinpointing the hypocrisy when an unelected, unimportant, and marginal celebrity like Josh Duggar is caught having an Ashley Madison account. But there's little or no coverage or national outrage connected to the much more costly hypocrisy and sanctimony coming from our elected leaders and their staffers. And as long as they get away with it, it will continue and increase over time.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.