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.

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