Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Why the GOP Might Actually Win Next Year, Part 1

James Taranto at OpinionJournal passes along this reader comment on John Edwards from the debate the other night:

Wolf Blitzer: What is a "rich person," Senator Edwards?

The Lovely and Talented John Edwards: I don’t know if I know what a rich person is.

Reader Bart Harmon offers Edwards a little help:

You might be rich person if . . .

You pay 400 bucks for a haircut, and that’s with the ladies’ day discount.

Your house has more square footage than most Central American countries.

You leave a larger carbon footprint than the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Your last three jobs were medical malpractice attorney, U.S. senator and hedge fund manager.

You can talk easily about two Americas because you own at least one of them.

You are paid $55,000 an hour to speak about poverty, and that’s your college rate.

More shallow unseriousness from Democrats like this and even Ron Paul can win in November 2008.

Discussions - 15 Comments

How many of these apply to the good people over at AEI?

Not many. But then, no one at AEI goes around making class warfare the centerpiece of their work, either.

And I'll bet no one at AEI calls for higher taxes on "the rich," and then refuses to say what income level defines "rich."

Okay, I know the objection isn't that Edwards is rich, because all the Republican candidates are rich. It's Edwards talks about helping the poor, this is somehow hypocritical because he himself is not poor. Is that the knock on him? Help me out here.

piker62-

It is very simple. According to many of our friends here, we are all naturally selfish, competitive, ethnocentric organisms. Our illicit impulses are held in check only by some combination of (1) authority, (2) religion, and (3) fear.

Therefore, any candidate who is rich cannot possibly care about anyone who is poor unless forced to by (in Edwards's case) competition with other candidates. The same is true of Whites who pretend to care about non-Whites, men who pretend to care about rights for women, civilians who pretend to care about soldiers and about the victims of war, and about healthy people who pretend to care about the sick.

We can understand behavior that benefits others as long as there is an external justification for it (votes, money, sex, approval, avoidance of Hell) but we know that no one would truthfully care about people who were different without that external justification.

The best part is this: if we can convince others that our view of human nature is true, then we can convince them to strengthen the systems that "force" people to behave prosocially: law enforcement, military, religion, and fascist government! At the same time, we can convince people that any organization that pretends to help those less fortunate is some combination of (a) dishonest, (b) deluded, (c) a complete waste of time.

Fung, it's always a trial to respond to you because it's always unpleasant to visit your mental neighborhood. But here's a try: What conservatives find particularly offensive in Mr. Edwards is his arrogant rhetoric against the rich, while being rich AND living rich himself. Also, the sleazy way in which he became rich.

Steve, "shallow unseriousness" is risky in politics, but depth (e.g., Gingrich) can be even more risky. Shallow unseriousness can also be covered up pretty effectively by the Democratic media. It may be slightly to our advantage in '08 that the Democrats are fundamentally unserious about foreign policy. But their better candidates know how to SEEM serious when it really counts. The Democrats generally don't do our work for us. They're just too damned good at politics, occasional pratfalls notwithstanding. Likewise, Repulicans aren't that good at politics, despite their superior seriousness and character. Without an excellent Republican nominee and Republican campaign, we're not only underdogs but heavy underdogs.

Fung, are you kidding? You really don't see anything wrong with Edwards' answer: "I don’t know if I know what a rich person is"? It's not a matter of his being a rich guy who badmouths rich people--FDR started us out on that well-worn path. What's laughable is his attempt to have it both ways--denounce "the rich" without ever indicating who or what he's talking about. It's empty rhetoric, and nothing more.

Okay, I'm getting it... it's like Mitt Romney cozying up to the NRA vote, even though he's only fired guns once in his life. Or Ronald Regan saying he is for smaller government. Or George Bush calling himself a compassionate conservative while actively stumping for torture. Stuff like that. No wonder you guys don't like Edwards!

I perceive a big difference between attacking the rich and trying to elevate the poor. To acknowledge the gulf between them is not the same as denouncing the people who enjoy being rich. He is after the system that perpetuates poverty, which is not the same as going after rich people. Is it?

And, assuming that the question was after more than a benchmark income level, what could possibly satisfy a silly question like that?

Bottom line: On this blog, anyone who claims to help any group other than their own must be suspect. Unless, of course, they plan to help indirectly by easing the burden on businesses and corporations.

And, assuming that the question was after more than a benchmark income level, what could possibly satisfy a silly question like that?

Why would you assume that, Fung? What more could the question have been looking for? The fact is that everyone's definition of "rich" is basically "anyone who makes more than I do."

In a sense, though, this is all moot. Edwards' campaign isn't going anywhere, and his decision to pander to the far Left by cozying up to Danny Glover isn't going to help.

John - I assume it because it is either a stupid question (which it appears to be) or an interesting one, intended to evoke an interesting response. If you are right, and everyone knows what a "rich person" is, then it is a stupid question, and deserves a dismissive answer.

If it is, instead, intended to evoke some thought, then Edward's initial response strikes me as appropriate. An audience expecting a slogan, or a formulaic response (anyone who earns more than I do, anyone who earns more than 250K, etc.) will be disappointed when Edwards refuses to give one.

I taught a seminar last night, and was abnormally cognizant (because of this thread) of the number of times I responded to questions with phrases like: "There are many ways to respond to your question," or "I don't quite know how to answer that." Such initial responses don't signify that I don't know my topic. In fact, they tend to signify the opposite. Very often, the more we know about a topic, the more we appreciate that many variables influence an outcome, and the more we appreciate that the appearance of simplicity can be used dishonestly to mollify people thirsty for easy answers.

When my leftist friends ask me to characterize this blog, I have a hard time of it, while people with less exposure think they can capture its essence with a word or two.

The same is surely true of the term "rich person."

Fung and Piker are case studies in why many of us on the right consider the left unserious. Rather than addressing the points on their merits, they obfuscate and point to alleged hypocrisy on the other side (e.g., piker on Romney and the NRA. Does it not seem possible that one can agree with the NRA even though he has fired guns only once? If not, how about John Kerry's support for abortion, even though he never had one?). To give credit when due, however, Fung at least approached a substantive answer in his last post.

Ben said:

Rather than addressing the points on their merits, they obfuscate and point to alleged hypocrisy on the other side
Bart Harmon said:
You pay 400 bucks for a haircut, and that’s with the ladies’ day discount.
Your house has more square footage than most Central American countries.
You leave a larger carbon footprint than the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Your last three jobs were medical malpractice attorney, U.S. senator and hedge fund manager.
You can talk easily about two Americas because you own at least one of them.
You are paid $55,000 an hour to speak about poverty, and that’s your college rate.
Who are the leftists who addressed the issue of poverty this way?

Gee, thanks Ben. Maybe, while you are at it, you might address (sans obfuscation) one or two of the points that I introduced in my comments 5 or 10.

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