“They want to shut me up,” says John Edwards, who apparently thinks jokes about his $400 haircuts are part of a plot to keep him quiet. I am on his side. Leave the man alone. Let his jaw keep flapping at 100 mph.
With every word the Democratic candidate for president utters, the public learns that much more about his demagogic, hypocritical phoniness. Even in a recent Creston, Iowa, tantrum about scary forces spouting trivia to drown out his seriousness, he was busily providing evidence that bunkum is his specialty.
“This stuff is not an accident,” he said, seemingly making the same point as his recent TV commercial contrasting emphasis on hair with emphasis on tragedy. “Nobody in this room should think this is an accident. You know, I’m out there speaking up for universal health care, ending this war in Iraq, speaking up for the poor. They want to shut me up. That’s what this is about. ‘Let’s distract from people who don’t have health-care coverage. Let’s distract from people who can’t feed their children … Let’s talk about this little silly frivolous nothing stuff so that America won’t pay attention.’ ”
There was more about some unidentified, evil souls who are “going to control the media … everything that’s being said,” and you find reason to worry. What if these figments of his feigned fright really did get him to quit yapping? Among other minuses, we wouldn’t know he thinks conspirators are at work in all those snide comments about his haircuts.
So, you handful of right-wing phantoms in charge of America’s comedians, blog sites, radio talk shows, cable TV shows, newspapers, magazines, backyard gossipers and people in the streets, please let Edwards continue to substitute an absurdity for a commonsense perception that goes like this: Spending that much on one’s looks is a signal of a rich man’s superficial vanity, worth noting, in part, because this particular rich man hops around the country talking about “two Americas,” an America of the conniving superrich on the one hand, and on the other, of the poor and the middle class.
Edwards himself was able to join up with the first of those two Americas mainly as a lawyer filing medical-malpractice suits. The same kinds of ornery folks who mock his spendthrift infatuation with his wavy locks might characterize these suits as piratical raids on the legitimate holdings of doctors, hospitals and insurance companies and observe that a consequence has been to send health costs higher for everyone in his home state of North Carolina. Never mind, because here he comes with plans to raid the wealth of others again, this time in a universal-health-insurance program that would likely be a redistributionist mess.
The candidate could better help the situation by donating his hair-care costs to public clinics and reminding himself, despite irresistible glances in the mirror, that most of the rich become rich honestly. It’s an easy if despicable game to appeal to envy through castigating the best off among us and wooing the resentful with schemes that take lots from some to give to many. The historically demonstrated end of putting such exaggerated rhetoric into practice is to make everyone poorer. And Edwards is right that we already have more than enough poor people.
His mistake is in failing to understand that poverty is not an issue of systemic unfairness or neglect. Even if we need to redirect some expenditures or consider new programs, we do assist the poor and near poor in a host of ways while simultaneously enforcing an income tax that remains steeply progressive. The basic causes of poverty in our affluence-generating, free enterprise economy are cultural, such as unwed motherhood. The increases in poverty are a result of the legal and illegal immigration of people without the tools that allow immediate entrance into a middle class that happens to be doing better than anytime in history, despite ever-present difficulties.
So, John, I am with you. It is crucial to the republic that your garrulousness runs rampant to the point where your standing in the polls is lower than that of that standup comedian, the hilarious Dennis Kucinich. Talk it up, John, and, by the way, keep getting those revealingly expensive haircuts. Don’t let the conspirators nab the scissors.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)