His opponents and a lot of media people who’d know better if they’d studied a little harder in school will be countering with the even higher profile Idiots and Liars Tour, so brace yourself for all kinds of stupid. You’re going to keep hearing about $400 haircuts. You’re going to hear about new mansions. You’ll hear about “lavish spending.” You’re going to hear lots of talk where the words “slick” and “lawyer” are used in close proximity.
Pay attention: every time you do, somebody is lying to you.
In case you missed it, Democratic Presidential hopeful Edwards, a North Carolinian who’s behind Obama and Clinton in both the polls and fund-raising, is building his campaign around the theme of ending poverty (or at least putting a dent in it), a theme that seems to piss off just about everybody except the extremely impoverished. All’s fair in love and war and politics, of course, and we can expect Hillary (whose campaign has reportedly been testing the “$400 haircut” message with potential voters) and even Obama to take the cheap shot if they feel they need to, and if Sunshine Johnny somehow wins the nomination the gods only know what his GOP opponents will manufacture. Whatever it takes to win.
But in the interest of making sure that we understand what’s really going on, I want to make a few points.
First, about those haircuts. Presidential candidates can’t just waltz into Fantastic Sam’s like the rest of us (well, the rest of you – I don’t have any hair left to cut). They walk around with sizeable staffs and significant Secret Service contingents, which means that they either have to bring a barber in or shut down the shop for a couple hours. You can’t do either for $20. If you knew the truth about haute political coiffeur, you’d discover that John’s haircut probably cost no more than any other candidate’s.
Also, what precisely is wrong with a rich guy paying large for a service? The person cutting the hair is probably not rich, so that $400 is likely going to somebody who needs it more than John does. This is a good thing. From where I stand, it would be a tremendous thing if all rich people started getting more expensive haircuts. Going into restaurants and overtipping. Buying the most expensive bicycle in the shop when they they really only need one of the cheap ones. Hiring employees and paying them twice their market value.
No, you’re a bad person when you have all the money in the world and cheap those around you to death. So when people start laying that haircut shizzle on you, look hard at what they stand to gain from the lie.
Second, let’s look at the “slick lawyer” lie. I hate litigious ambulance chasers as bad as the next guy, but who exactly stands to profit by a smackdown on lawyers like John Boy? Well, he made a lot of money suing corporations. And while nobody talks about it, every goddamned one of those corps was represented by an army of slick lawyers of their own. Those slick lawyers acted in service to who? Ah – the have-mores. The corporate elites. Edwards and lawyers like him represent people who often (not always, to be sure, but often) have legitimate grievances against large corporate interests who have done them serious harm.
Put it this way – would you really want to face a world where there weren’t guys like John Edwards but there were companies like Halliburton, Enron, Adelphia, Qwest, WorldCom and Tyco being run by robbers and pillagers like Dick Cheney, Joe Nacchio, the Rigas crime family, Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Dennis Koslowski and Andrew Fastow?
When you hear one of Edwards’ detractors framing him as a slick lawyer, stop and ask yourself the real question – what does this person stand to gain by disempowering non-corporate litigators while doing nothing about the corporate side?
Third, about that “lavish” lifestyle. So Hillary and Barack and Rudy and Mitt and Lobbyin’ Fred live like sharecroppers? Are you stupid?
Oh, wait – it’s not that he’s rich, it’s that he’s a hypocrite. Because he’s rich but he wants to run on helping the poor. I get it. So let’s be clear about some basic realities here.
- Class disparity is an inherent function of human civilization. You have a nation, you’re going to have powerful and powerless, rich and poor, haves and have-nots, upperclass and underclass, etc.
- In America, only the rich get to run for President. Well, only the rich get anywhere near the point where they have a chance – put it that way. There are probably no more than five or six people who have a legit shot at the White House right now, and all of them are doing okay for themselves.
- Short of a shooting revolution, the poor are not going to overcome their poverty without the help of folks up the economic food chain. And frankly, they can’t even afford the hardware to win the shooting war, either.
- All this adds up to a basic fact: this election will be contested by rich people who care about poverty and rich people who don’t. Which is worse – using your resources and influence to work for the poor or living well and telling the poor to fuck themselves?
But wait – do we really believe that Edwards cares about the poor? That’s a better question, but again, let’s consider some facts.
Edwards wasn’t born with cash – “his father was a mill worker and he was the first child in his family to go to college.” I was raised by a mechanic and was the first person in my family to get a college degree, too, so I have a little insight into what this might mean. Having parents who worked in a mill in NC (and I’ll gladly defer to my S&R colleague Jim Booth, who was a mill worker’s son in NC, for a more informed perspective on this issue) meant not only that you didn’t have a lot of money, it meant that you didn’t have connections. You weren’t part of the old boy network and you were on the outside of the “good old American know-who” dynamic that determines who gets a shot and who doesn’t, especially in the South. I know this world, I know the invisible class barriers that working class whites face in North Carolina because I grew up working class there, too.
Edwards is that most cherished of American mythological creatures, the self-made man. He actually did work his way up from modest means. Rags-to-riches. American Dream. All those things we say make us great.
But when push comes to shove, those with power, money and influence tend to keep it close – they do not generally benefit from sharing with the previously unempowered. A significant number of our fellow citizens with money made it the old-fashioned way – they inherited it. And while creating opportunity for all makes for great campaign rhetoric, it’s not the sort of thing you see the hereditary have-mores throwing themselves into with a lot of verve.
Edwards is an outsider, and there’s not much the establishment likes less than uppity lower-class trash trying to shoehorn their way into the country club. Why? Well, you can trust people like you. If another guy grew up a fortunate son just like you did you have things in common. You share cultural experiences. He’s one of you. But if he’s one of them, you have to deal with something you don’t understand and can’t count on. Hell, what if the crazy bastard wants to, you know, start helping the poor? How is that good for you, exactly?
Am I being inflammatory? Maybe. Am I painting with an awfully broad brush? No doubt – you can’t talk about class factors house to house. But tell you what – prove me wrong. And you won’t do that by providing me with a couple nice exceptions, because for every Horatio Alger story you show me I’m going to respond with a few million hard examples of folks who didn’t manage to overcome their modest means. Life is a 100-yard dash and your chances of crossing the finish line first are greatly enhanced if you begin the race with a 90-yard head start. You may like the rhetorical flourish of the stirring example, but I’m a lot more persuaded by the 99.9% rule than I am the .1% exception.
I take a lot of this cynical rhetoric about Edwards for what it is, and yeah, I take it personally. Unless you were born rich, powerful and amoral you might ought to think about what this means for you, too.
Categories: United States