Michael Medved's "Uncle John's Cabin"
Like many other conservatives, I spent a few minutes on the radio today deriding Presidential candidate John Edwards over his insanely lavish new home—what a local North Carolina newspaper alliteratively anointed, his “Decadent Digs.”
The yet-to-be-completed mansion, sited on a 102 acre plot (from which the former Senator clear-cut a dense forest), features 29,000 square feet of floor space, including indoor basketball court, racquet ball court, and pool. Valued officially at six million dollars, it is by far the largest and most expensive residential property in the county.
Edwards apologists say that those of us who’ve been mocking “Uncle John’s Cabin” demonstrate the rankest hypocrisy.
Don’t conservatives celebrate the accumulation and indulgence of wealth? Edwards, who began life in humble circumstances, has lived “the American dream,” according to his admirers. Republicans regularly denounce class warfare and the politics of envy. Why encourage such attitudes now when it comes to a mill-worker’s son who made good, but tries in his politics to keep faith with his own disadvantaged past?
In response to these challenges, four points seem pertinent:
1) Edwards made his money as a trial lawyer, not as an industrialist or entrepreneur who built jobs and enriched the economy. Ambulance chasers like Edwards don’t create wealth; they seize wealth from its creators in the name of “suffering victims.” There are also serious questions about his misuse of his own S-type corporation to dodge taxes, and the shady sale of his previous mansion in Georgetown in a sweetheart deal with a supporter who’s currently under government investigation.
No, free market enthusiastics don’t confer equal respect on all accumulations of wealth: a rich pornographer like Larry Flynt, for instance, deserves less admiration than an innovator and job builder like Bill Gates or even a real estate tycoon like Donald Trump. The often idiotic lawsuits on which Edwards built his career damaged the economy and fueled the destructive culture of victimhood, while building nothing at all and benefiting only the lawyer and his clients.
On what basis can Democrats argue that government should cap or actively discourage big salaries for successful corporate heads, but never consider such a limitation for a court-room conniver like Edwards?
2) Edwards has built both his Presidential campaigns on the “Two Americas” theme – claiming that there’s profound danger in the emerging gap between a handful of super-rich, absurdly privileged people and the rest of the populace. It’s revealing that his choice of a domicile for his family places him so emphatically in the master class America of the “stinking” rich.
I hope the media will press Senator Edwards (who four years ago reported his net worth as between $19 million and $69 million) on the nature of his mortgage on his six million dollar home. Does he hold a four million dollar mortgage? Does he write-off the interest on this huge amount as a tax deduction, and how much does that write-off cost the government?
Does he think it’s fair to get a huge tax break because he chooses to live in a huge home? (I don’t, by the way – and one of the appealing aspects of a Fair Tax – that is, a simple consumption tax – is that it gets rid of special breaks for the more fortunate, like the home mortgage deduction).
3) Has Edwards spoken to his pal Al Gore about his lavish, energy soaking plantation? Anyone calculated the “carbon footprint” of a 29,000 square foot home? Can you imagine how much natural gas or electricity or nuclear power (only kidding) it takes to heat that puppy? Consider the huge contribution to Global Warming (identified by Edwards and all other Democrats as a dire threat to civilization) by chopping down a hundred acres of forest and installing this monstrously excessive residence.
4) As for Edwards exemplifying “The American Dream,” do we really want to identify that timeless vision with conspicuous consumption of the tackiest and most irresponsible sort? Aaron Spelling got criticized for his Edwards-like mansion because it seemed like such a selfish, narcissistic, tasteless display.
Does Edwards really want to suggest that the ultimate goal for every striving American should be a house that’s ten times the size of a normal, spacious mansion (twenty times the size of the average family residence). Here in the Northwest, the Seattle community recently celebrated a retired history teacher at a public high school (Ballard High), who invested his money well, lived far below his means in a tiny house, and just donated more than a million dollars to benefit the history department as his Alma Mater, the University of Washington.
I thought liberals cherished the idea that the ultimate goal in life should involve something more than materialistic display. Of course, for Edwards there is something more: the single-minded and ruthless pursuit of power.
The worst part of the story involves the total, absolute disconnect between the way Edwards talks and the way he lives. He says he identifies with “the little guy,” but he chooses to raise his family in vastly more lavish circumstances than the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, or even the Bushes (no, the family homes in Crawford and Kennebunkport don’t come close to the grandeur or sheer size of the Edwards palace.)
He’s proud of the fact that he got rich, but at the same time the candidate wants to make it vastly harder for other Americans to follow his example. The taxation and redistribution policies he advocates would fall most heavily on precisely those upper-middle class creators and producers and strivers who might dream of someday moving from a comfortable suburban home (2,000 square feet? 4,000?) into a baronial manor house in the Edwards style.
Yes, it amounts to shabby double talk for the luxury-loving-lawyer to suggest that once he’s made his pile and built his plaintiff’s-bar-palace, government should raise the drawbridge and block the way from anyone else coming across the moat and into the castle.