Wednesday, May 23, 2007

John Edwards and this notion of hypocrisy

Cross-posted at DailyKos

I haven't totally made up my mind on who I will support in the Democratic Primary, but at this point I'm leaning heavily toward John Edwards. My reasons are numerous, but they revolve around 2 overarching ideas: 1) his policies are specific and lead the country in a direction that I would like to see and 2) he's been in a presidential campaign before, and he's fought through all the way to election day, meaning that he would know the mistakes of Kerry/Edwards from '04 and has learned them. Add to this 2nd reason the fact that he's already been through the ringer the first time, so there isn't much that the GOP can throw at him that isn't either old hat or something he can easily refute...which brings us to the point of my post. The main argument against Edwards goes something like this: "He talks a good game on poverty but he gets expensive haircuts and makes a lot of money; ergo, he's a hyprocrite." The media, rather than focusing on his issues, has decided that his appearance and bank account are more important things to discuss. Let's go through the main three charges:

1) he got $400 haircuts

Yeah, so? Edwards' explanation is plausible. He's a popular guy who has to travel a lot and speak to many different places. They don't have time for him to go to his hometown barber, and they have someone cut his hair at hotels. The hairdresser people overcharged him, and he said himself that the fee is outrageous. Who hasn't gotten a bill for something and realized that they got overcharged?

2) he worked at a hedge fund and made money

Again, so? I'm not concerned about the $400,000+ that he made there because, as I will discuss below, he gave most of his earnings to charity. I'm not impressed by his "I took the job to learn about how markets work" excuse, but ultimately I'm not concerned. This is because he has not changed his stance on the taxation of such hedge funds. It would ONLY be hypocritical if he said that these organizations should still at as tax shelters and enjoy loopholes. He doesn't. Not hypocritical. Some tension maybe, but ultimately not enough to undercut credibility. Besides, I'll happily stack his few months of consulting work with a hedge fund against years of work fighting poverty both as an attorney and as the founder of UNC's poverty center. This objection does not give any credence to the idea that Edwards is hypocritical or doesn't really care about poverty.

3) he got $55,000 for a speech about poverty

This one has the potential to do the most superficial damage, not because of the facts of the case but more because of the way that the right-wing can spin it. In doing so, though, the right exposes its own stupidity and inability to make basic logical connections. In the link above, Carla Marinucci examines every speaking fee that John Edwards charged and found this one to be the most expensive one. The irony of asking for money to give a speech about poverty notwithstanding, the message here is that Edwards is hypocritical for taking money when he says that we should work to alleviate poverty in this country. Of course, FOX Noise Channel has picked up the story and run with it as ammunition for non-stop Edwards attacks, As News Hounds notes, quite well I might add, this just is not hypocrisy. I'll quote them: "If Edwards was going around advocating in favor of poverty, saying we should all strive for it and live simple, non-material lives as he lived the good life, THEN he would be a hypocrite. But what he does is advocate success and tries to show people how to achieve it, as he did." Even a junior varsity high school debater could see that. Edwards wants to fight to alleviate poverty, and his willingness to (cue dramatic music) get paid for working does not make him a hypocrite. It makes him human, like all of us.

Ultimately, these attacks are inconsequential for three main reasons.
1) Attackers focusing on how much money Edwards has made ignores how much money other candidates have made. This is particularly true if you look at the fact that Rudy Giuliani has made $9 million in speaking fees last year, charging over $100,000 per speech and even asking for a $47,000 private jet ride for one speaking engagement. Focus on Edwards' income is more hypocritical if you don't scrutinize that of other candidates.
2) Focus on how much Edwards has made is pointless if you fail to see that he gave almost $700,000 of his earnings to charity last year, including every cent he made from his book. That means even if you take all the money that he made from the hedge fund and speeches, he gave a majority of his earnings to charity last year. I'd say that works in his favor at least as much as (if not more than) the other things that the news media believe cut against him.
3) Finally, there is a more basic logical flaw here: that you have to be poor to care about or fight poverty. This is the most ridiculous of all the assumptions that people make. Edwards has used his position as a wealthy individual (who worked his way up from poverty and, as he's said himself, hasn't forgotten where he came from) to help those who need more help. In fact, he's in a better position to work to fight poverty if he has the resources to devote to it than he would be if he didn't have them. Being rich does not inherently mean that you don't care about poverty. Would we not believe Robert Kennedy for wanting to make poverty an issue in his Presidential campaign because he was a Kennedy? Of course not. It's ludicrous to think that Robert Kennedy didn't care about poor people because of his wealthy family.

Judge Edwards by his issues and how his actions actually effect them rather than trying to create a link between the two that is tenuous at best.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Great article on the Paul vs. Giuliani

Roland Martin, radio talk show host and occasional CNN commentator has a great comment on the surreal back-and-forth between Rep. Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani over the impetus for 9/11 in the 2nd Republican debate. Basically, the gist of the article is that, despite the "Rudy sure showed him" attitude that most have taken toward the exchange, we should be willing to consider what Paul said. Doing so doesn't mean that we love terrorists or we hate America. It actually shows a maturity that we need as a country. It's below.
Martin: Paul's 9/11 explanation deserves to be debated
POSTED: 9:26 p.m. EDT, May 18, 2007
By Roland S. Martin
CNN contributor

(CNN) -- Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was declared the winner of Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, largely for his smack down of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who suggested that America's foreign policy contributed to the destruction on September 11, 2001.
Paul, who is more of a libertarian than a Republican, was trying to offer some perspective on the pitfalls of an interventionist policy by the American government in the affairs of the Middle East and other countries.
"Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years," he said.
That set Giuliani off.
"That's really an extraordinary statement," said Giuliani. "As someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq; I don't think I've ever heard that before and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11."
As the crowd applauded wildly, Giuliani demanded that Paul retract his statements.
Paul tried to explain the process known as "blowback" -- which is the result of someone else's action coming back to afflict you -- but the audience drowned him out as the other candidates tried to pounce on him.
After watching all the network pundits laud Giuliani, it struck me that they must be the most clueless folks in the world.
First, Giuliani must be an idiot to not have heard Paul's rationale before. That issue has been raised countless times in the last six years by any number of experts.
Second, when we finish with our emotional response, it would behoove us to actually think about what Paul said and make the effort to understand his rationale.
Granted, Americans were severely damaged by the hijacking of U.S. planes, and it has resulted in a worldwide fight against terror. Was it proper for the United States to respond to the attack? Of course! But should we, as a matter of policy, and moral decency, learn to think and comprehend that our actions in one part of the world could very well come back to hurt us, or, as Paul would say, blow back in our face? Absolutely. His real problem wasn't his analysis, but how it came out of his mouth.
What has been overlooked is that Paul based his position on the effects of the 1953 ouster by the CIA of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
An excellent account of this story is revealed in Stephen Kinzer's alarming and revealing book, "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq," where he writes that Iran was establishing a government close to a democracy. But Mossadegh wasn't happy that the profit from the country's primary resource -- oil -- was not staying in the country.
Instead, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now known British Petroleum, or BP) was getting 93 percent of the profits. Mossadegh didn't like that, and wanted a 50-50 split. Kinzer writes that that didn't sit too well with the British government, but it didn't want to use force to protect its interests. But their biggest friend, the United States, didn't mind, and sought to undermine Mossadegh's tenure as president. After all kinds of measures that disrupted the nation, a coup was financed and led by President Dwight Eisenhower's CIA, and the Shah of Iran was installed as the leader. We trained his goon squads, thus angering generations of Iranians for meddling in that nation's affairs.
As Paul noted, what happened in 1953 had a direct relationship to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in 1979. We viewed that as terrorists who dared attack America. They saw it as ending years of oppression at the hands of the ruthless U.S.-backed Shah regime.
As Americans, we believe in forgiving and forgetting, and are terrible at understanding how history affects us today. We are arrogant in not recognizing that when we benefit, someone else may suffer. That will lead to resentment and anger, and if suppressed, will boil over one day.
Does that provide a moral justification for what the terrorists did on September 11?
Of course not. But we should at least attempt to understand why.
Think about it. Do we have the moral justification to explain the killings of more than 100,000 Iraqis as a result of this war? Can we defend the efforts to overthrow other governments whose actions we perceived would jeopardize American business interests?
The debate format didn't give Paul the time to explain all of this. But I'm confident this is what he was saying. And yes, we need to understand history and how it plays a vital role in determining matters today.
At some point we have to accept the reality that playing big brother to the world -- and yes, sometimes acting as a bully by wrongly asserting our military might -- means that Americans alive at the time may not feel the effects of our foreign policy, but their innocent children will.
Even the Bible says that the children will pay for the sins of their fathers.