Social Issues


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.

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An article published yesterday discusses Hillary Clinton’s shifting position on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law signed by her husband, which permits states to ignore same sex marriages or civil unions granted in other states.

“Clinton’s change on DOMA came to light when her advisers released the text of her candidate questionnaire for the Human Rights Campaign.

Her new stance may be an attempt to establish a separate identity from that of Bill Clinton, whose presidency was somewhat of a best-of-times, worst-of-times for LGBT Americans….

DOMA contains two provisions — one that gives states autonomy on marriage and one that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

With the precision of a neurosurgeon, Clinton cut herself free of the second plank of the law while continuing to embrace the first plank, essentially saying that she would let states decide their own destiny on marriage but leave the door open for federal recognition of same-sex unions.

‘Sen. Clinton believes that each state should make its own decisions regarding marriage or civil unions, but once a state legalizes such relationships, these relationships should receive full federal recognition and benefits,’ Ethan Geto, Clinton’s senior national adviser on LGBT issues, wrote in an email to The Advocate.

‘As several states have legalized gay marriage or civil unions, Sen. Clinton has come to believe that the restrictions imposed by DOMA on federal government recognition of same-sex relationships are unfair.’

The position represents a marked departure from her comments to a group of about 40 LGBT leaders in New York in October during her Senate reelection campaign, in which she stood firm on the strategic importance of DOMA in helping to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have constitutionally denied the right of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

‘One of the strongest arguments we had against the constitutional amendment, which kept Democrats and even some Republicans from voting for it, was DOMA — that (the Federal Marriage Amendment) was not necessary; marriage has always been the province of states,’ Clinton said during that meeting.

‘I feel very good about the strategy we took on DOMA,’ she added.

While cynics may roll their eyes at ‘strategy,’ and while many LGBT activists criticized Clinton for not being more supportive during the federal marriage debate, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, has credited her as a strategic force in defeating the amendment in 2006.”

After criticizing Mitt Romney’s abortion flip-flop last week, John McCain has struck again.  A blog entry at the New York Times discusses the McCain campaign’s latest allegations that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on the hot-button issue of public funding for embryonic stem cell research.

On abortion, Romney has clearly switched his position — it’s up to the individual voter to decide if he flip-flopped or if he changed his mind for non-political reasons.  But do these stem cell charges hold water?

The McCain campaign’s charge relies on this video of a March 2005 press conference:

Then-Governor Romney repeatedly states that he supports stem cell research within “ethical boundaries” and that (in Massachusetts at least) it should be researched as part of a broader approach:

ROMNEY: I’m looking forward to seeing what bill comes forward, I believe that stem cell research is important for our state and for our nation, and I also believe that there should be ethical lines drawn around the appropriate research, but stem cell research is important, and I’ll support it, and I’m gonna continue to encourage ethical lines to be drawn in a way that respects human life.

Asked whether both public and private funding should go to stem cell research, Romney responded with a focus on economics rather than the usual social politics:

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Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is one of this campaign season’s biggest wild cards.  It could affect evangelical turnout and even might discourage those others for whom the Mormon church and the state of Utah retain a certain cultish stigma.

From an L.A. Times Op/Ed by author Sally Denton:

“MITT ROMNEY’S Mormonism threatens his presidential candidacy in the same way that John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism did when he ran for president in 1960. Overt and covert references to Romney’s religion — subtle whispering as well as unabashed inquiries about the controversial sect he belongs to — plague his campaign. None of his responses so far have silenced the skeptics.

Recent polls indicate that from 25% to 35% of registered voters have said they would not consider voting for a Mormon for president, and conventional wisdom from the pundits suggests that Romney’s biggest hurdle is his faith. Everyone seems eager to make his Mormonism an issue, from blue state secularists to red state evangelicals who view the religion as a non-Christian cult.”

Mitt Romney has been at pains to demonstrate that his religion is in line with the American mainstream, though last month he raised eyebrows by citing Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth as his favorite novel.  The title is better known, of course, as the infamous 2001 John Travolta movie adaptation that bombed at the box office and is currently ranked 64th in the Internet Movie Database’s “Bottom 100” films category.

Still, Romney has persisted in efforts to reach out to evangelicals and more mainline protestant denominations without distancing themselves from Mormonism.  The question is whether respondents are willing to admit politically incorrect beliefs to those administering polls.  Romney is in a fairly healthy position in the race right now, which could change if Fred Thompson formally enters the election.  But if people who reject his Mormonism are unwilling to admit it publicly, Romney’s poll numbers may show a variant of the “Bradley Effect” — the phenomenon which often gives black candidates a phantom several points in opinion polls that do not translate into votes on election day.

To most outsiders, Romney seems unwavering and fully dedicated to to his faith.  But some Mormons are suggesting that the former governor is showing insufficient fealty to his religion’s history and scripture.

From The New York Times:

‘Some Mormons have watched with concern how Mr. Romney has responded to grilling by interviewers about his church’s distinctive doctrines. […]

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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.”

The New York Times ran a piece the other day about how all the ’08 presidential candidates have been “white-washing” their personal histories, ignoring or obfuscating whole sections of their biographies. Campaigns have always told selective truths and emphasized some things above others but this batch of candidates has a surprising number of elephants in the room.

“There’s always a tension between what can be said, what should be said and what must be said,” said Edward Widmer, a historian at Brown University who worked as a speechwriter for Mr. Clinton (and also, incidentally endorsed our website). “The first candidate to calibrate this tension may move to the head of the pack.”

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Does John Edwards’ work for a hedge fund contradict his populist fight for the Middle Class? I’m not sure, but John Edwards’ wealth has made a lot of people skeptical. Whether it’s the $400 haircut or the $1.25 million income this past year, most of which came from a hedge fund, many pundits would argue that John Edwards’ lavish lifestyle makes him a hypocrite when advocating for the poor. One particular comment from the MSNBC Political Blog said:

 Oh, I see what’s going on, Edwards is buying “capitalism offsets” he makes lots of money being a trial lawyer and now an undisclosed amount at a hedge fund, but, since he also helped to raise minimum wage and organize unions, etc. he’s not really a “dirty” capitalist. This way he doesn’t have to change his lavish lifestyle, that was afforded to him largely due to our capitalism based economy, in order to rail against the horrors of capitalism. He just has to buy “capitalism offset credits”. This is genius. I should start a company offering capitialism credits. I could make a fortune! Oh, wait, then I guess I would have to buy capitalism credits from myself. Oh, well its been done before.

I think its unhelpful to criticize the rich for helping the poor, but I understand the impulse. MSNBC’s First Read quoted Edwards’ talking about his financial dealings:

On Friday, in what seemed to be his most extensive comments on camera on the subject, Edwards dodged questions about his involvement with the hedge fund. When asked to reiterate his position, Edwards responded, “Sure. Well, basically, what I have been doing since the last election is a group of things. One of them is, I did consulting work for Fortress, which is a hedge fund in New York.” After a pause, Edwards listed his other activities during this time — running the poverty center at the University of North Carolina; helping to raise the minimum wage in six states and organize workers into unions; starting a college program for poor students in North Carolina; and doing humanitarian work in Africa. Edwards stated these experiences outweighed his work at Fortress. “So it is one of a group of things I have been involved in and I think that certainly if you look at all those things in totality, it is pretty clear where my commitment is.”

I’m not sure if this is Edwards dodging the question or not, it’s clear he was nervous or at least uncomfortable with his work at Fortress. This could be fear borne out of being caught in a hypocrisy, or a legitimate discomfort with his own privileged position within the anti-poverty fight. His conversation with MSNBC sought to answer the allegations a bit:

Asked if his work at the hedge fund conflicts with the idea Edwards is the candidate for the middle class, he reiterated the benefits from his consulting work. “I do think it’s important for the president of the United States to have a good understanding of our financial markets, how they operate, where the incentives are, where the incentives aren’t.”

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