Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is it really that difficult? -- Part II (Or, more on John Edwards)

A couple of followup notes on Monday's MH post on Sen. Larry Craig's "Toilet-gate" scandal.

First, we would encourage interested readers to review the original post, which in no way defended Craig (quite the opposite,) and which was rather a bit of a primal lament about the seemingly boundless stupidity (let's just leave morals out of it -- that would make it even more complicated) of so many prominent Republicans these days. There are so many that it's getting hard to keep track of them long enough to be angry with them for what they are doing to the GOP.

As a side-note, one of the most valid criticisms of that post was that it gave the impression that Al Gore's mammoth carbon footprint (nothing illegal about that) was on the same level as numerous recent Republican scandals, which have been remarkably consistent in managing to involve illegal activities. That wasn't the intent of the post, but it certainly could be read that way, especially if one approached it expecting a Republican to be making excuses for Sen. Craig.

It turns out that the part of the post that drew a little fire was a brief listing of what we saw as three Democratic hypocrisies regarding things they claim to care about. But before we touch on that further, it should be noted that the context was that MH was (in what regular readers will know is a pretty consistent theme) telling Republicans in advance not to be whiners. Specifically, not to whine about a double standard on sexual stuff -- since Dems don't claim to be the "family values" party to begin with. We're taking a hit on the Craig business, and we need to buck up and take it.

Even the MH comments about Democrats ignoring "private sins against progressiveness" in progressive Democrats put them into an even broader context -- namely that Democrats generally believe that what counts is what politicians do on a systemic level, not how they live out their purported beliefs in their private lives. This is not by any means an irrational position to take.

So again, the note to fellow GOPers was -- don't expect to gain traction with Democrats by pointing out what we may perceive as hypocrisies on the part of Democratic politicians (much as we may ourselves enjoy pointing them out as a sort of parlor-game.)

In his response defending John Edwards, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton (the whipping boys du jour that MH added as an afterthought on Monday,) Matt over at Left in the West pretty much confirms the observations made in our post.

Keep in mind that the MH post implies that the Democrats are more right (or at least more politically effective) in their approach than the GOP is. By basically ignoring and discounting the relevance of personal behavior in their politicians when it conflicts with liberal public policies (as long as said politicians promote said liberal policies zealously,) they avoid a whole host of political problems.

Second, an official MH apology is hereby extended to Ed Kemmick over at City Lights for inadvertently drawing him into the middle of a political disagreement between the partisans at LITW and Montana Headlines, respectively.

In retrospect, we should have recalled one of Ed's more (ahem) popular posts on a mere 10,000 sq. ft. mansion up at Big Sky and others in which he satirizes some of the ways that rich people spend money.

Knowing what a reaction 10,000 sq. ft could get, we should have known that a mere mention of Sen. John Edwards and his 28,000 sq. ft. country cabin would be like waving the proverbial red flag in front of the bull.

There was also probably a bit of a "perfect storm" involved, since these comments happened to coincide with Democratic excitement about John Edwards being the first Dem presidential candidate in forever actually to visit Montana. And one man's perfect storm is rain on another man's parade.

So, if we were going to engage in the child's-play of detailing Edwards phoniness, we really could have chosen better examples of the conflicts between what John Edwards preaches and how he lives -- most of which are pretty well-known by now:

Such as charging $55,000 to give a lecture on a college campus with the topic of "Poverty, the Great Moral Issue Facing America".

Or decrying the Bush administration's purported insensitivities to Katrina victims in New Orleans and sanctimoniously beating up on sub-prime lenders when Edwards is up to his personal financial eyeballs in... well, why not let that crusty old blogger at Captain's Quarters summarize it himself (original reporting was done by the Wall Street Journal):

Bear in mind that this is not a case of a blind-trust investment choice, like the silly meme regarding Mitt Romney and stem-cell research. It's not even about a personal investment choice supposedly made in ignorance. John Edwards worked for the owner of a subprime lender during 2005 and 2006, when Hurricane Katrina hit and the company initiated foreclosures on the victims. In fact, he made almost a half-million dollars advising Fortress while it purchased a second subprime lender during that period.

Nor did he cut all ties to Fortress after he stopped consulting for them. He invested half of his net worth (MH emphasis) in Fortress, according to the WSJ. Fortress employees have contributed $150,000 to his presidential campaign in the first two quarters of this year.

Edwards has conducted a "poverty tour" as part of his campaign this year, emphasizing his Two Americas theme. One of the stops was in Cleveland, where he walked a neighborhood particularly affected by foreclosures. He told reporters, "This is not complicated, this is wrong," as he walked the streets, but the WSJ did some checking afterwards-- and four of the foreclosures came from Fortress Investment lenders.

Apparently it's more complicated than Edwards knows.

Then there was John Edwards in his hypocrisy regarding News Corp (parent company of Fox News.) Edwards was the ringleader in getting Democratic candidates to pull out of the debate co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus and Fox News. He furthermore told his fellow candidates that they should return all donations from News Corp employees.

And yet, Edwards chose to have his book published by another subsidiary of News Corp, HarperCollins -- taking a $500,000 advance and $300,000 in "expenses." While insisting that the money went to charity, it turns out that much (the Edwards camp refuses to reveal how much -- so one suspects that "much" means "pretty much all") of the money went to Edwards's own charity. One that he trumpets on the campaign trail for political points. So much for not touching money tainted by Rupert Murdoch.

And then there's Edwards with his WalMart fetish: Last November, an Edwards staffer worked a local WalMart in Raleigh to make sure that John got a Sony Playstation3 for his family -- but "later that night, Sen. Edwards reportedly re-told a homespun story to participants of a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union-sponsored call about how his son had chided a fellow student for purchasing shoes at Wal-Mart."

And then there was the "oops" when Edwards made a point of doing a book-signing at a Barnes and Noble across from a WalMart, which he decries for their reputed failure to pay employees enough. Except that the NH Union Leader notes that the WalMart's starting pay was higher than that at Barnes and Noble.

To turn from the serious to the gratuitous, there were those $1250 haircuts during the 2004 general-election campaign, "but a spokeswoman reminded The Washington Times that $1,100 of that amount was spent flying his hair stylist from Beverly Hills to Atlanta and paying for his travel time and hotel expenses — a detail that no doubt resonates throughout middle America." So he should be cut a break on that one.

Some of this is hypocrisy, but much of it seems to be part and parcel of a man who can't remember what story he told to whom (cf. Bob Shrum,) or keep track of the current lineup of who he's class-warfaring against.

Good for the Dems that John Edwards is coming to Montana -- maybe he'll drop a few bucks at the local Barnes and Noble and help get those wages up. And we certainly can understand that the guy who throws out the reddest progressive meat is going to get a lot of excitement from many progressives.

Especially since what matters is political action and rhetoric -- not personal behavior and choices. At least to partisan progressive activists. How will it play with the general Democratic electorate? In the unlikely event that Edwards gains serious ground on Hillary Clinton and Obama, we can be sure that that those two campaigns will be sure to provide the general public with enough information to have a chance to decide for themselves.


Anonymous said...

You probably already saw it, but the following piece in a South Caroline paper may be the single best testament to Edwards' phoniness:

Montucky Liberal said...

Edwards' involvement in a company that dealt with sub-prime lending is a far cry from the fact that he owns a large house and is progressive. I know this is a really bizarre concept for right-wingers, but progressives generally are not socialists or communists. We do believe that there is a place in society for wealth. We also think that inequality can get out of hand and that the government should take steps to address it.

In other words, your post on Monday regarding hypocrisy was a load of crap. This time, you actually made some arguments regarding Edwards, leading me to ask you, "Is it really that difficult?"

Giving more thought to the Monday post, you actually accused Bill Clinton of hypocrisy, not for contradicting his words with his actions, but for his supporters allegedly portraying him as one thing when he is another.

My point, I thought, was fairly simple. Namely, that you weren't actually proving any kind of hypocrisy by these people. Bill Clinton has bad ethics when it comes to employer/employee relationships. True. John Edwards lives perhaps too extravagantly. True. Al Gore's personal habits put a lot of carbon into the air. True.

My point was simply this -- none of these are really hypocritical. You note part of the reason for that in your post: progressives tend to differentiate more between public policy and private action. But there's another reason for that as well, which is that no matter who is considering them, public policy and private action are different things.

Larry Craig's hypocrisy problem stems from the fact that he literally wants to use the power of the state to punish those he says are wicked. His words and his actions clearly contradict one another. By means of comparison, Edwards and Gore wish to use the power of the state to change the rules of the game -- and there is every indication they seek to abide by those new rules (this is not applicable to the sub-prime lending stuff, which is another argument entirely).

Anyways, there are some responses to a few of aspersions you cast on Edwards, but they require evidence I don't really have time to muster right now, so I'm keeping my arguments focused on the syntactic and logical. I just do want to emphasize that words mean things -- and a media critic, of all people, should be aware of such a claim.

Montana Headlines said...

Anonymous, the url you gave didn't work. Feel free to check again and repost or gmail it.

ML, there are plenty of wealthy liberals, and they intend to do everything they can to stay that way -- no secret about that. If Republicans have a problem with rich liberals, for most of us it is not because we view them as being traitors. How could we, since the vast majority of us aren't remotely in their income and wealth league?

We see Teresa Heinz Kerry paying an effective 19% tax rate because of the various mechanisms she has at her disposal. We see the Kennedy's having avoided inheritance taxes for generations through off-shore trusts. We see John Edwards using the S-corp technique to make sure he doesn't have to declare the vast majority of his income as regular income (thereby taking advantage of the much-decried Bush tax-cut on dividends and paying only 15%, and not paying Medicare taxes at all on any of it.)

We see John Edwards wanting to raise income taxes sharply on anyone who makes more than $200,000 -- knowing good and well that the people who will really feel that hit will be the folks who make (or aspire to make) $200 - 500K, and not the people making $2 - 5 million or more.

You might say that rich Republicans take the same advantage of the loopholes in the system. True. But the difference is that ultra-rich Republicans tend to be consistent in their beliefs that *everyone* should pay less in taxes, while ultra-rich Democrats tend to advocate tax increases that will greatly affect people who make considerably less than them, but that will hardly affect their own lifestyles at all.

So they win coming and going -- they get the rush of political power by getting votes from the poor because they advocate soaking "the rich," and they get to keep their wealth because they know they will have the tools to get around the changes they propose and because they already have so much money that the tax increases they can't avoid won't affect their lifestyle, comfort, or what they leave their kids.

Same with Gore. Sure, he plans to live by the rules he makes. But they won't change his lifestyle a bit, since he'll be able to afford to buy fancy technologies that will maintain most of his comforts, and afford to purchase indulgences for the rest.

On the other hand, those rules can be sure to take a nice bite out of people who are a lot less wealthy than him.

You get the idea. By your lights, none of this is hypocritical. One wonders, though, if the average Democratic voter would agree.