John Edwards


John Edwards is the most unabashedly populist candidate (so far…) in the race to November 2008, frequently utilizing class-infused rhetoric in his diagnoses of “two Americas.”

One of Edwards’ loftiest priorities is to eradicate poverty, and ostensibly to that end he founded the now-defunct Center for Promise and Opportunity in 2005.  The group’s rather vague mission statement read:

The Center for Promise and Opportunity (CPO) is dedicated to exploring new ways to expand opportunity and realize the promise of our country for all Americans. CPO’s mission encompasses much more than just proposing ideas — it will lead efforts to build public support for change, and will serve as an incubator for solutions, conducting real-world trials.

CPO has three overarching goals. First, CPO is committed to exploring new ideas to help Americans build a better life. Second, CPO will be an advocate for change, leading efforts to build support for policies and movements that will make America stronger. Third, CPO will work to prove the strength of its ideas, through pilot projects and partnerships.

As The New York Times reports, however, the organization’s day-to-day mission seems to have been sustaining John Edwards’ presidential ambitions.  This inconvenient truth seems to represent a flip-flop from CPO’s supposed purpose, which says nothing about promoting John Edwards.

The organization became a big part of a shadow political apparatus for Mr. Edwards after his defeat as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and before the start of his presidential bid this time around. Its officers were members of his political staff, and it helped pay for his nearly constant travel, including to early primary states.

While Mr. Edwards said the organization’s purpose was “making the eradication of poverty the cause of this generation,” its federal filings say it financed “retreats and seminars” with foreign policy experts on Iraq and national security issues. Unlike the scholarship charity, donations to it were not tax deductible, and, significantly, it did not have to disclose its donors — as political action committees and other political fund-raising vehicles do — and there were no limits on the size of individual donations. […]

Additionally, Edwards has gone a fair bit beyond the usual extent to which politicians funnel cash to their own interests — though it all appears to have been ambiguously legal.

[…] [I]t was his use of a tax-exempt organization to finance his travel and employ people connected to his past and current campaigns that went beyond what most other prospective candidates have done before pursuing national office. And according to experts on nonprofit foundations, Mr. Edwards pushed at the boundaries of how far such organizations can venture into the political realm. Such entities, which are regulated under Section 501C-4 of the tax code, can engage in advocacy but cannot make partisan political activities their primary purpose without risking loss of their tax-exempt status.

Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty.

(more…)

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A Gulf Times article yesterday summed up many of the major inconsistencies of the ’08 campaign thus far.

“…First Romney was in favor of a woman’s right to choose an abortion, but now he is against it….

Besides her stance on Iraq, New York Sen. Clinton is accused of opposing government supports for ethanol, a big issue in the corn-growing and key presidential caucus state of Iowa, before she was for them.

One of her Democratic opponents, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, is accused of having voted for and against storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and believed Americans were safer against terrorists, but now thinks they are not as safe.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who has only been in the Senate for two years, in May voted against a $100bn Iraq war funding bill, saying it was time to change course in the war. But in April he vowed not to cut funding for US troops…”

Candidate authenticity was the subject of New York Times columnist Frank Krugman’s piece this morning. Krugman writes,

“…What does authenticity mean? Supposedly it means not pretending to be who you aren’t. But that definition doesn’t seem to fit the way the term is actually used in political reporting.

For example, the case of F.D.R. shows that there’s nothing inauthentic, in the normal sense of the word, about calling for higher taxes on the rich while being rich yourself. If anything, it’s to your credit if you advocate policies that will hurt your own financial position. But the news media seem to find it deeply disturbing that John Edwards talks about fighting poverty while living in a big house.

On the other hand, consider the case of Fred Thompson. He spent 18 years working as a highly paid lobbyist, wore well-tailored suits and drove a black Lincoln Continental. When he ran for the Senate, however, his campaign reinvented him as a good old boy: it leased a used red pickup truck for him to drive, dressed up in jeans and a work shirt, with a can of Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.

But Mr. Thompson’s strength, says Lanny Davis in The Hill, is that he’s ‘authentic….’

Oh, and as a candidate George W. Bush was praised as being more authentic than Al Gore. As late as November 2005, MSNBC’s chief political correspondent declared that Mr. Bush’s authenticity was his remaining source of strength. But now The A.P. says that Mr. Bush’s lack of credibility is the reason his would-be successors need to seem, yes, authentic.”

In a story a little more lighthearted than most covered by Reality Check comes the latest installation in the AP’s interviews on the candidates’ personal habits and preferences. Indulge yourself in some their bad habits…

“What is your worst habit?

DEMOCRATS:

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden: ‘Too many to list. :)’

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton: Chocolate

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd: ‘Running late, even when my staff does everything in their power to prevent it.’

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards: ‘Drinking soda’

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich: ‘Ask my wife, Elizabeth.’

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama: ‘Checking my Blackberry.’

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: ‘Straying from my diet.’

———

REPUBLICANS:

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback: ‘Being late.’

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani: ‘Talking too much.’

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: ‘Channel surfing on TV or radio.’

California Rep. Duncan Hunter: ‘Not turning off the Outdoor Life Network (now Versus) before I go to sleep.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain: ‘Coffee’

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: ‘Fidgeting”

Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo: ‘Cigar smoking'”

In Tuesday’s Republican debate, Mitt Romney distanced himself from the health plan he helped establish as Governor of Mattachusetts, accusing Democrats of socializing medicine, when, in fact, that is largely what he did. The Web site factcheck.org writes,

“Romney: Every Democrat up there’s talking about a form of socialized medicine, government takeover, massive tax increase…. I’m the guy who actually tackled this issue. We get all of our citizens insured. We get people that were uninsured with private health insurance. We have to stand up and say the market works. Personal responsibility works.  

There are two problems with Romney’s characterization: One, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate to propose a single-payer, wholly government-funded health care plan. And two, Romney’s Massachusetts universal insurance system bears a striking resemblance to the health care proposals of the Democratic front-runners. (more…)

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the importance of authenticity in this year’s presidential race. The Times writes,

“Democrats cast themselves as courageous truth-tellers in their presidential debate Sunday night. Republicans debating Tuesday night might make the same claim. But if recent history is a guide, both fields will be bereft of authentic authenticity…

‘I think we’re living in a post-Bush world where authenticity is going to rule the day,’ said Republican strategist Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. ”Everybody has had it with the whistling, don’t-worry-be-happy song and is looking for some real straight talk and some authenticity. Actions have consequences.”

John McCain learned that lesson. Some of his own advisers say the Arizona senator damaged his straight-talking image by bending over backward to appease conservative interests groups that dominate the GOP nomination fight.”

Today’s Washington Post has an interesting article with a few key flip-flops and the justifications a few other politicans are willing to make for the favored candidates:

‘Flip floppery is everywhere in American politics these days.

‘Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) used to support abortion rights, but now, seeking the votes of conservatives in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he doesn’t. Former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) voted to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but now that the state is hosting an early caucus, he opposes such a plan. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in 2000 that he saw no benefit from ethanol, but now, hoping for a win in corn-crazy Iowa, he sees the alternative fuel as practical, though he’s still opposed to subsidizing it. […] 

‘Charges of flip-flopping are clearly effective, but is it reasonable to expect politicians who have spent years or even decades in political life to never change their minds on a single issue? And are there certain issues on which flip-flopping is okay and others on which it is political poison? […]

‘Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who is supporting Romney in the presidential race, said that he struggled when he arrived in Congress in 1999 with trying to reconcile lessons learned in the private sector with votes he was taking on the floor of the House and, as a result, some of his policy stances evolved over the years.

‘DeMint said Romney had been far more consistent than he had been portrayed by the media. On abortion, DeMint said that Romney’s “values have always been the same” and that when Romney “saw his political position was out of sync with his personal values, he changed it.”

(more…)

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