Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rich White Guy Runs for President!!!

Guardian (in full):
" In defence of the rich, sort of

Criticising candidates who fight for the poor while enjoying a life of personal excess misses the reality of American politics.

Last week, most of the candidates running for president filed a statement of their 2006 financial assets, which led to one of the most monumentally unsurprising discoveries of the race: the candidates are extremely rich. Rudy Giuliani reported assets between $18.1m and $70.4m, and John Edwards disclosed $29.5m. Barack Obama and his wife reported earning just under $1m in 2006. And Mitt Romney's mountainous riches overshadow them all: his campaign estimates that he's worth between $190m and $250m.

Lots of people have a general (and justifiable) discomfort with the amount of money in American politics. But rich Democrats are subject to a second strain of criticism: hypocrisy. They claim to fight for the working class, so what's with the eight-figure incomes? And so, when the San Francisco Chronicle parsed the figures and found that John Edwards had received $55,000 for giving a speech about - relish the irony - poverty, it poured fuel on a fire already created by his $400 haircuts. How can John Edwards speak about the plight of the oppressed, critics from both the right and left asked, when he leads of lifestyle of such apparent excess?

There are three reasons why I think this is a bad question. The first is selfish and practical: You can almost never ask it of a Republican. This isn't because they don't lead lives of fabulous excess; it's because they don't claim to fight on behalf of the working class. More often than not, making boatloads of money is a GOP asset. It shows that a candidate is a good manager, or understands finance, or has the right pro-business bona fides. You don't see Rudy Giuliani being criticised for his $100,000 speaking fees. Rich Democrats, on the other hand, will always reek of insincerity.

But a bigger problem is that this charge buys into the cheapest brand of identity politics. The basic thought behind the criticism is that if you talk the talk, you should walk the walk - but I don't think that's a political principle you can extend very far. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean that you can't possibly speak on behalf of a constituency unless you share its defining characteristic. Worried about rising pharmaceutical prices for the elderly? Sorry, not till you hit 65. Want to debate agricultural price supports? Better grab that pitchfork first. And don't even think about crossing lines of race and gender.

Sure, identity can and often does inform one's politics. But there's never a necessary relationship between the two. That's why you find the supreme court's Clarence Thomas opposing racial preferences - despite having been a lifelong beneficiary of them - and the Log Cabin Republicans supporting the party that backs a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I doubt their sanity, but I'm not really sceptical of their sincerity - mostly because they're under no obligation to have a single aspect of identity determine their beliefs.

By the same token, I question the sanity of the campaign staffer who accepted the bill for a $400 haircut, or the adviser who gave the green light to a speech on poverty for 50 grand. These things certainly look strange. But there's almost always a better indicator of a politician's beliefs than his bank statement. There are, for example, these things called voting records.

Of course, it seems perfectly natural that, in a country where the average net worth is $93,000 and the average yearly income is $46,000, voters would look askance at politicians with bulging wallets. (As someone who does not, tragically, draw $55,000 speaking fees or enjoy $400 haircuts, let me say that I feel this too.) But the reasons for the disparity are systemic, not individual - a third reason for being wary of criticising the likes of John Edwards.

Rich people tend to know other rich people and, unless America wants to hop on the public financing bandwagon, it takes riches to run a campaign. And let's never forget that most annoying of campaign finance quirks: individual donations are capped at $2,300, but the candidate himself is allowed to donate an unlimited amount of money to his own campaign.

That's not a state of affairs that most liberals like. But there's irony here, too: for the past 35 years, the right to unlimited personal campaign spending has been upheld for free speech reasons. It's not something new campaign finance legislation could change. So the lesson is clear: don't blame John Edwards - he's no hypocrite. Just blame the rich white guys who wrote the constitution."

there's a lot of good stuff in here - and it reminds me of one of my favourite Onion headlines "Rich White Guy Runs for President!!!" - but the point that I wanted to mention here is not about wealth/poverty - but the other issues the repuglicans face. I'm certainly not the first to mention this, but Repugs with junkie kids tend to be those who oppose mandatory sentencing, etc, or if their mothers have cancer and need a hit for the bong, then all of a sudden they're for medical marijuana etc. Of course, when their daughters/wives need an abortion, they never extend that logic to others, it's just an 'aberation' that can be resolved quietly...

That's the thing that Edwards' wealth highlights - the Dems (can) have empathy. You never see that with the repugs unless they are forced, first hand, to acknowledge that people have problems.

There's a messaging message in there somewhere.

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