The award for hypocrite of the year goes to … |

The award for hypocrite of the year goes to …

Guy Farmer

Ihereby nominate Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards for my first annual Political Hypocrite of the Year Award. He earned it fair and square.

Edwards, a former one-term senator from South Carolina and John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, presents himself as an idealistic defender of the “have nots” and a champion of the underdog as he campaigns on a divisive rich vs. poor platform. So just how poor is the author of a book titled “Ending Poverty in America?” Well, consider the following:

• Edwards and his wife are worth approximately $30 million, more than half of which they have invested in the Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund incorporated in the Cayman Islands, an attractive tax haven for wealthy Americans. Edwards also signed-on with Fortress as a part-time “capital markets” consultant, for which he was paid $480,000. And Fortress employees have already donated nearly $170,000 to his 2008 presidential campaign. Can you say conflict of interest?

• Edwards and his wife built themselves a posh multi-million-dollar mansion in South Carolina complete with basketball courts and swimming pools. That’s OK, of course, as long as the candidate doesn’t go around poor-mouthing on the campaign trail.

• Edwards, dubbed the “Breck Girl” by conservative loudmouth Rush Limbaugh for his perfectly coifed hairdo, is partial to $400 haircuts administered by fashionable Hollywood makeup and hair stylists. The candidate now claims that the hair appointments were scheduled without his knowledge, and says he’s “embarrassed” by the revelation. This episode reminds me of when ex-President Clinton paralyzed Los Angeles area air traffic in order to get an expensive haircut aboard Air Force One. But frankly, Edwards has better hair. The Breck Girl could be his sister.

• Edwards charged the taxpayer-funded University of California/Davis $55,000 last month for a speech on “Poverty, the Great Moral Issue Facing America.” Well, yes it is, and he should know because if anyone is an expert on analyzing poverty from afar, it’s John Edwards. And by the way, he flew in on a private jet. Other than that, he’s just like you and me.

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Just to be fair, I should note that Edwards grew up in modest circumstances as the son of a South Carolina millworker before he became a trial lawyer and amassed a huge fortune by filing class action lawsuits against doctors and insurance companies. Not that there’s anything wrong with trial lawyers (some of my best friends are attorneys), but they file lawsuits that drive up insurance premiums and the cost of just about everything else. A vivid example of what I’m criticizing is the multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by a lady who spilled hot coffee into her lap and sued the restaurant. Remember that one?

My main complaint about Edwards, a poverty expert who’s worth about $30 million, is that he presents himself as a member of the downtrodden masses on the campaign trail. A Republican presidential candidate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, noted the former senator’s blatant hypocrisy in a recent GOP debate when he said that Democrats spend taxpayer money “like John Edwards in a beauty shop.” Ouch!

Playing to the TV cameras last fall, a shirt-sleeved Edwards launched his presidential campaign in a poor New Orleans neighborhood that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, implying that the federal government (taxpayers, that is) should completely rebuild a city that lies below sea-level. My attitude toward that unrealistic proposal is the same that it is toward people who build luxurious homes on barrier islands or in tinder-dry forests. For the most part, they’re on their own when disaster strikes.

The Washington Post recently pointed out the practical difficulties inherent in the noble goal of eliminating poverty in America. “Edwards’ plan to ‘end poverty in 30 years’ underscores the difficulty of tackling poverty in the political arena (and) the intractability of the problem…” the Post observed. For years, the newspaper added, liberals have argued that the poor suffer from underfunded schools, disappearing jobs and inadequate child care, which could be solved by expensive government programs, while conservatives believe that poverty is a cultural problem involving absent fathers, teenage mothers, high school dropouts and gang-bangers.

Edwards proposes doing away with public housing projects and replacing them with rental vouchers designed to move the poor into middle-class neighborhoods and suburbs. “The idea sounds bold,” the Post commented, “but it faces a deflating reality: A major federal experiment conducted for more than a decade has found that dispersing poor families with vouchers doesn’t improve earnings or school performance….”

So in the unlikely event that John Edwards becomes our next president, don’t expect him to eliminate poverty in America. That’s a task well beyond the reach of governments and mere politicians. Meanwhile, one multi-millionaire candidate has certainly eliminated poverty for himself and his family, making him a real American success story.

• Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.