It’s John Edwards’ party

Nice piece by Peter Beinart tracing the current Democratic campaign themes to John Edwards 2004 presidential “Two Americas” campaign theme.  At this point, it’s easy to think of John Edwards as a sad and funny historical footnote, but interesting to see Beinart suggest he’s left a lasting impact and how Democrats think about and frame political issues:

Edwards, of course, was not the first national politician to decry the gap between rich and poor. As Garance Franke-Ruta noted last September, de Blasio’s “two cities” theme echoes Mario Cuomo’s 1984 Democratic convention keynote and, almost a century before that, William Jennings Bryan’s legendary “Cross of Gold” speech. But after Cuomo, the balance of power inside the Democratic Partyshifted toward New Democratic politicians like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Evan Bayh, and Chuck Robb and centrist strategists like Mark Penn and Bruce Reed, who generally avoided the language of class and instead focused on proving that Democrats could foster economic growth.

It was Edwards, during his 2004 presidential run, who returned the focus to inequality by flipping Clintonism on its head. In his 1992 campaign, Clinton had talked a lot about “rewarding work.” Democrats, he insisted, would help people who “played by the rules”—for instance, via an expanded earned income tax credit for the working poor—but they would stop coddling welfare recipients. In 2004, Edwards took that judgmental tone but redirected it. In his narrative, the people disrespecting work were not welfare mothers but trust funders, people who lived off their investments rather than the sweat of their brow…

From this new moralism—directed not against the undeserving poor but the undeserving rich—Edwards built the “Two Americas” theme that dominated his campaign…

Under pressure from Edwards, Obama in 2007 went to Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood to unveil a series of anti-poverty proposals and, in an anti-Edwards jab, declared that, “This kind of poverty is not an issue I just discovered for the purposes of a campaign. It is the cause that led me to a life of public service almost 25 years ago.” But neither poverty nor class unfairness enjoyed the prominence in Obama’s campaign that it did in Edwards’. Indeed, Obama never uttered the words “inequality” or “unequal” in his 2008 convention speech. And while Obama used Mitt Romney’s wealth against him in 2012, herarely discussed poverty on the stump.

Now, of course, in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, Elizabeth Warren, and Pope Francis, economic inequality has become motherhood and apple pie for Democrats.

Obviously, we cannot contribute this all to John Edwards, but I do think it is fair to say he got the ball rolling in a major way, and more importantly, substantially helped to re-cast the issue of inequality and class in ways that will continue to redound to the benefit of the Democratic party.

The Edwards verdict

Well, I was definitely right to predict a hung jury.  Not that I’m all surprised that the acquitted on the charge on an illegal donation to his campaign after the campaign was already over.  I’ve long thought that on a legal basis, this case was ridiculous.  The very fact that the prosecution tried to make this case all about sex and tawdry cover-ups and not campaign finance law tells you about the weakness of their case.

That said, I figured, given the ambiguity of campaign finance law– of course not having your affair exposed makes it more likely you can win an election, and of course money to cover up an affair is not a campaign contribution– and the fact that the point of the prosecution was to make Edwards look like a horrible cad would convince at least some jurors that he was guilty on some charges.  And that was obviously the case.  But I certainly did not think you could get 12 people to agree that this was a campaign finance violation because there’s absolutely no way it is a campaign finance violation beyond a reasonable doubt.  As if the fact that two former Federal Elections Chairmen said this wasn’t a violation is not enough.  Honestly, I still feel the judge made a mistake in allowing the case to go forward.  Just a massive waste of government resources.

Obviously, John Edwards’ public life is ruined.  But it already was.  I certainly cannot imagine a re-trial here and what people will remember is the one acquittal.  The whole thing is a sorry mess and prosecutorial over-reach really didn’t help.

Hung Jury in the Edwards case?

So, a local news station has decided they are going to have a 30 minute live special the evening John Edwards’ verdict comes in and yours truly will be the political “expert.”  I’ve been mentally mulling over potential lines of commentary for days, and I’ve definitely been ready for the hung jury verdict.  As a matter of law, I really don’t think he’s guilty and I don’t think it’s particularly close.  Please, the FEC has not even accused him of a violation.  However, I also think the matter is grey enough that surely at least some of the jurors will be happy enough to punish him for being such a complete cad (which, apparently, was a main focus of the prosecution’s case).  Anyway, since the jury has been out since Friday, there’s increasing speculation that we may be seeing a hung jury:

“It’s starting feel a little more like a marathon than a sprint,” said Raleigh lawyer Kieran Shanahan, a former federal prosecutor who attended most of the trial. “Either they’re the most thorough, meticulous, I’m-going-to-look-at-every-document jurors ever to come down the pike, or there’s a little bit of dissension among the group.”

Shanahan said the details of Edwards’ affair with Hunter and their illegitimate child might be clouding the campaign finance issue for some jurors.

“There was much more (testimony) about the salacious details of the affair, and in particular of lying to cover up the affair. It’s just sort of hard for an average person to think about John Edwards and not think about those things,” he said. “When they did start to talk about campaign finance law (during the trial), it almost put you to sleep. It’s just like looking at a tax return.”

Then again, maybe a hung jury just makes a nice story hook:

Federal court juries have deliberated for weeks in other high-profile cases, Shanahan said, so it’s too early to “push the panic button” over a hung jury in the Edwards case.

Still, if I were a betting man (and I would be if not for my wife’s objections) and bet on the hung jury.

Edwards and Ensign

So, I was interviewed by a reporter for Politico the other day about John Edwards attempts to get the ridiculous campaign finance charges against him dismissed on the basis that the original US Attorney on the case, George Holding, was making the prosecution for politically-motivated reasons.  My basic response: of course he was, welcome to life.  Spent at least 10 minutes on the phone with the guy and not one single quote in a 3 on-line page article.  As if I didn’t have enough reason to dislike Politico.  I’m quotable, damnit!

Anyway, yesterday the judge decided that a trial will proceed.  Just seems like a huge waste of the government’s time and money.  Edwards is a cad, not a crook.   I had not thought, though, of the most obvious reason the government should not be prosecuting Edwards: John Ensign.  Via TPM:

Lawyers for former Democratic presidential candidate and Senator John Edwards have a question for the Justice Department officials prosecuting his case: what ever happened with that whole John Ensign thing?

During a hearing in federal court in North Carolina Edwards lawyer Abbe Lowell cited the $96,000 check that Ensign’s parents gave to his mistress as a severance payment, the Associated Press reports. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismissed the case against Ensign against the recommendation of its general counsel because they found the payment was just a gift.

Does seem like quite a precedent.  Alas, we’ll be hearing more about this in the Spring.

A little more on Edwards

Good article in the Times about the difficulty of the government’s case.  The crux of it, comes down to this:

Proving a criminal case against an individual is much more difficult than pursuing a civil action against a campaign, he noted, and “the main question is whether the money from Mellon and Baron is given to benefit the campaign or to help save John Edwards’s marriage and personal reputation. If it’s the latter,” he said, “that’s not a crime.”

What’s so absurd about this is that of course saving Edwards’ marriage and personal reputation benefit the campaign.  Every campaign depends upon the personal reputation of the candidate.  And, for married candidates, their personal reputation depends, in part, upon their marriage.  If you follow DOJ’s logic though to its necessary conclusion, somebody paying for the Edwards to have marriage counseling would be an illegal campaign contribution.  I’m also bothered by this at the end:

If the case is not struck down before trial, Mr. Hasen said, jurors might find themselves eager to punish Mr. Edwards. “The fact that Edwards’s conduct seems morally reprehensible will make it easier for prosecutors to win their case no matter what the law is,” he said.

Lets hope jurors go by the law, not how much of a bad guy they think Edwards is.  Of course, I’m sure that’s a problem in many a case.

Everything is polarized (gun control edition)

In this case, I’m definitely happy to see some polarization because it means Democrats are no longer to scared of the NRA to actually take sensible positions on gun control.

Nice Pacific Standard post from Seth Masket:

This agreement on gun-control issues marks a remarkable shift for the party. A little over a decade ago, most national Democratic candidates didn’t want to bring up gun control on the stump. Democrats were largely convinced that their support for gun control had cost them control of the Congress in the 1990s and the presidency in 2000, and they radically retreated on the issue, while the NRA became far more aggressive and more explicitly partisan in its support and its messaging.

The Democrats in the early 2000s who were willing to speak on gun control espoused a wide range of viewpoints. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry was largely supportive of gun-control reforms. Yet one of his top competitors in the primaries, Howard Dean, had been endorsed eight times for governor of Vermont by the NRA. Joe Lieberman, another contender that year, supported some gun control reforms, but he had opposed mandatory gun registration and voted to shield gun manufacturers from lawsuits. John Edwards voted to require background checks on all firearm sales at gun shows, but ran his campaign as a staunch Second Amendment advocate

Since then, gun control has become an issue that sharply divides the major political parties. In 2004, 52 percent of Republicans supported gun rights, versus 25 percent of Democrats, according to polling from the Pew Research Center; in 2017, 79 percent of Republicans did, versus 20 percent of Democrats…

To a remarkable degree in 2020, the Democratic presidential candidates are singing a very similar tune on gun control, mainly because someone with a more pro-gun record would have a hard time coming close to the nomination today.


Quick hits (part II)

1) This David Roberts piece on Trump and tribalism in modern politics is so good its worth at least 3 blog posts.  Instead, it’s only part of a quick hits.  So just trust me and read it.

2) Pretty soon, you might be able to do your own sperm counts on your smartphone!  Weird and cool all at once.

3) Meanwhile, as Zack Beauchamp put it, “The FBI probe into Trump and Russia is huge news. Our political system isn’t ready for it.”  I think he’s right.  I also think we keep running out of news oxygen under Trump.

4) As tempting as it may be to have your child be your confidant, it’s not really fair to them.

5) A recent Gallup poll on personal financial well-being.  Damn, partisanship is everything:

More Republicans, Fewer Democrats Feel Good About Their Money

6) Really like this Kristof column about Trump and Russia for calling out Nixon:

The greatest political scandal in American history was not Aaron Burr’s shooting of Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps wasn’t even Watergate. Rather it may have been Richard Nixon’s secret efforts in 1968 to sabotage a U.S. diplomatic effort to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon’s initiative, long rumored but confirmed only a few months ago, was meant to improve his election chances that year. After Nixon won, the war dragged on and cost thousands of additional American and Vietnamese lives; it’s hard to see his behavior as anything but treason.

7) Some encouraging evidence from an NCSU study that teaching critical thinking can reduce beliefs in pseudoscience.

8) Does the Premier League emphasis on entertaining soccer hurt them in more boring Champions League competitions?  Maybe.  Personally, I’ll sure take the trade as a viewer.

9) Never been a big fan of Jim Harbaugh.  Now I am.

10) Excellent Ezra take on the health care debate we should be having.  But, of course, are not.  (Not sure if I’ve already linked that one or not this week, with all the health care stuff going on.  Short version: if you haven’t read it, do).

11) Jamelle Bouie:

Indeed, it’s hard to overstate the scope of this disaster. Social policy of this scale is a massive undertaking. It requires broad consensus, policy expertise, clear White House direction, and strong congressional leadership. And even then, failure is always on the horizon. It took Democrats more than a year—and countless crises and complications—to craft and pass the ACA. What we’ve seen, over the past month, is that none of these ingredients exist among the present batch of Republican leaders in Washington. The Republican Party has no vision for health policy reform, no mutually agreed set of goals or principles. Instead, it has seven years of anti-Obamacare demagoguery. At the same time, President Trump’s ignorance—and overall disinterest in the business of policy—means his White House has little to negotiate or bring to the table. Paul Ryan’s inexperience as a congressional leader means he can’t corral members for difficult votes. And beyond problems of leadership, the fact that Trump and Ryan would essentially play games with 18 percent of the economy makes it clear that the Republican Party is unprepared for the responsibility of governance.

12) A day in the life of Fox News.  Short version: it’s disgusting.  E.g.,

One notable way Fox News stood apart from its competition, as it has been known to do for years, was in the stories it chose to highlight and the tone — in some of its opinion shows, unapologetically supportive of Mr. Trump and his agenda — with which it covered them.

There was extensive coverage of the health care vote, for example, but there was also considerable time given to topics, like a rape case in Maryland, that viewers would not have heard about if they had turned to CNN or MSNBC. The rape case, which involved an undocumented immigrant and went virtually uncovered on most networks, received almost hourly updates on Fox, and at times was used as proof that Mr. Trump’s calls for tighter borders and a crackdown on immigration were justified…

And while other networks were devoting time to the apology made by Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House committee investigating Russian interference in the election, for not sharing information about intelligence with the committee’s top Democrat before giving it to Mr. Trump, Fox was touting a report about “potential” evidence that Mr. Trump’s team may indeed have been surveilled by the Obama administration. It was presented as vindication of Mr. Trump’s earlier assertions that his phones had been wiretapped.

 13) I agree– it’s ridiculous to judge the quality of a college basketball conference by two weeks in March.

14) Not at all surprisingly, before popping pills for GERD, people should exercise and eat a healthy diet.

15) Krugman accurately predicted the failure of “replace” back in January due to the inexorable logic of the three-legged stool of Obamacare:

Here’s how I put it exactly 7 years ago:

Start with the proposition that we don’t want our fellow citizens denied coverage because of preexisting conditions — which is a very popular position, so much so that even conservatives generally share it, or at least pretend to.

So why not just impose community rating — no discrimination based on medical history?

Well, the answer, backed up by lots of real-world experience, is that this leads to an adverse-selection death spiral: healthy people choose to go uninsured until they get sick, leading to a poor risk pool, leading to high premiums, leading even more healthy people dropping out.

So you have to back community rating up with an individual mandate: people must be required to purchase insurance even if they don’t currently think they need it.

But what if they can’t afford insurance? Well, you have to have subsidies that cover part of premiums for lower-income Americans.

In short, you end up with the health care bill that’s about to get enacted. There’s hardly anything arbitrary about the structure: once the decision was made to rely on private insurers rather than a single-payer system — and look, single-payer wasn’t going to happen — it had to be more or less what we’re getting. It wasn’t about ideology, or greediness, it was about making the thing work.

It’s actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye to this logic, and some — maybe even a majority — are still in denial.

16) Tax cuts (not reform, cuts) are going to be much harder now.  See Chait’s point #3.

17) Will Oremus on how the media is finally figuring out how to cover Trump’s lying:

It isn’t that Time, the Wall Street Journal, and others haven’t confronted Trump on specific claims. They have, of course. But they’ve failed until now to recognize that his untruths amount to something much more than a series of claims to be evaluated and debunked just as the claims of any politician must be. Trump’s reliance on dishonesty is not incidental to his character, or his appeal, or his approach to politics. It is his defining feature, shaping everything from how he talks, to the views he holds, to the way he conducts business and politics. If that sounds like an exaggeration, just go read the Time interview again and chase it with the Washington Post’s fact-check.

Trump’s lies are, and have long deserved to be, a top story in their own right. That the mainstream media have largely failed to treat them as such reveals the depth of its entrenched conventions around journalistic balance and respect for the presidency. Too many reporters and editors allow those conventions to constrain what should always be their core mission, which is to tell the public what they know to be true, no matter whom it offends or embarrasses.

The focus on Trump’s credibility may be late in coming, but it’s welcome nonetheless.

18) Of course we shouldn’t expect kids to sit still in class.  So dumb that we do.  Apparently, there’s some very cool programs to insert short movement breaks into the school day.  I think I’m going to email this to my kids’ elementary school principal.

19) Harold Pollack’s take on the Republican health care mess is another must-read:

As the conservative health-care analyst Philip Klein notes, the contrast with Obamacare couldn’t have been greater. Well before the Obama presidency, Democratic congressional leaders, interest groups and policy experts prepared the groundwork for the ACA, hammering out messy compromises, aligning House committees, working with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, all of whom proposed plans similar to what became the ACA. Then in 2009 and 2010, the House and Senate held dozens of hearings over the course of months, not days, and accepted more than 150 Republican amendments along the way. Learning the lessons of President Bill Clinton’s prior failed health reform effort, President Obama let Pelosi and her Senate counterpart Harry Reid take the lead, but he knew the intricacies of the legislation inside and out. Ryan and Trump threw in the towel after just 18 days.

So why did Republicans fail? In a word: insincerity. Republicans had seven years to do their own hard work, to coalesce around a credible conservative alternative to the ACA. They might have used this time to work with Republican governors, to explore which conservative policy ideas seem to stick, which aspects of ACA needed to be retained. They might have crafted a more moderate bill along the lines of the Cassidy-Collins bill, which would have given liberal states and Republican governors who adopted Medicaid expansion much greater leeway. Or they might have refined another conservative model, such as Avik Roy’s modifications to ACA exchanges, to turn ACA’s exchanges in a more conservative direction. They might have prepared the American public for whatever plan they chose…

There was a conspicuous smallness to this AHCA effort, a puzzling shoddiness given the human and political stakes. Many in the GOP, above all President Trump, seemed strangely uninterested in the policy details. To the extent Republicans did have an animating passion, it was to puncture President Obama’s legacy—and to avoid looking foolish by failing to honor their “repeal and replace” rhetoric.

Only they had no viable replacement. For all their endless warnings about how Obama’s signature health law was hurting American families, driving up costs and putting us on the path toward socialism, it turns out they didn’t care enough to put in the work.

20) Is increasing secularization making political conflict worse?  Peter Beinart makes the case.

21) Meanwhile, Sarah Posner on how Trump hijacked the religious right.

22) Super disturbing first-part of NYT series on over-militarization of the police (in form of no-knock SWAT raids).

News to restore your faith in humanity

From the Daily Mail:

It was billed to be an explosive tell-all about what ‘really happened’ during the affair that ended a marriage and the dreams of the man who was being pipped to be the next U.S. president.

But after all the hype, it seems not that many people really wanted to hear Rielle Hunter’s side of the story, as the book about her relationship with former senator John Edwards has sold just 6,000 copies.

Due to poor sales, Hunter seems to have dropped under the radar and scheduled no additional tour dates despite an initial media blitz.

Personally, I will confess to watching part of her interview on 20/20.  I strongly felt the need to take a shower afterwards.

On media whore-dom

I meant to write a post a while back about how some of my media interviews just make me feel cheap.  It’s obvious the reporter has a point of view they want to get across and they just can’t say it themselves.  Or, for whatever reason they just feel they need somebody with PhD after their name to make a point that, honestly, anybody could.  After an interview like this I have to question whether I’m just doing this to see myself on TV or get my name in the paper.

Well, yes, at least to some degree.  The thing is, in some interviews I actually bring up relevant points related to my expert knowledge as a political scientists and these points actually inform the reporting and/or make it into the article.  I really love when that happens.  Thing is, you really don’t know which kind of interview it is going to be when it starts.  That said, if they are calling to ask about John Edwards, there’s really not a lot that political science has to contribute on presidential candidates buying the silence of their mistresses (not a lot, but actually some).  Anyway, I bring this up due to an interesting post by Drum on the topic:

President Obama is raising less money this year than he did in 2008. Quelle disaster! But wait: during the first half of 2008 Obama was in a tightly contested primary contest. This year he’s running unopposed. So it’s not very surprising that the pace of fundraising is a little less frenetic this time around

In any case, this is what a couple of political scientists told BuzzFeed’s Rebecca Elliott when she called them to talk about Obama’s money woes for an article she was working on. But apparently that didn’t make a very good story, so their comments never made it into the final piece. Jonathan Bernstein wonders if public complaints about this kind of behavior will change the way reporters operate:

[Bernstein excerpt]

I’m actually surprised this doesn’t happen more often. After all, as Jonathan points out, the existence of blogs and Facebook and Twitter and listservs makes it pretty easy for interviewees to chat about their interactions with the press. But it doesn’t actually happen all that often. I can think of several possible reasons for this:

  • The vast majority of interactions with reporters are pretty boring and not worth writing about.
  • Writing about a reporter interviewing you might sound a little conceited (“Look Ma, I’m being interviewed!”).
  • Or it might make you sound like a rube. Sophisticates take this stuff in stride.
  • Or it might make you sound like a bellyacher.
  • Maybe most reporters do a good job and there’s not really much cause for complaints in the first place.
  • Sources don’t want to risk not getting calls in the future, and dishing on reporters might get you blacklisted.

Put me down as voting for the last one.  If I was regularly bad-mouthing the reporters I talk to (and believe me, it’s been tempting) it’s a pretty safe bet that word would get around and you could no longer count on me for all that great commentary that they love so much in Slovakia.

Photo of the day

I love this concept– a slideshow of bored kids at political events.  This is why mine generally stay home on the rare occasions I go.  This one is my favorite.

The only time I ever took the kids to a political rally was when John Edwards (!) came to Raleigh  during the 2004 campaign with Jon Bon Jovi in tow.  So worth it to here, “Wanted Dead or Alive” live.


A cad, not a crook

First, let’s just get this out of the way– John Edwards is a horrible person.  What he’s not, is a violator of Federal Campaign Finance laws.  The case against him strikes me as facially ridiculous and another example of politically-motivated prosecutorial over-reach.  Does it benefit Edwards campaign to keep the affair hushed up?  Of course.  But, how many people would really and truly consider hush money paid to a mistress to be a “campaign expenditure”?  If the standard for campaign expenditure is anything that benefits the campaign that is a really, really low bar that would probably lead to just about any candidate with rich friends being liable for prosecution.

The contributions were intended to help “protect and advance Edwards’s candidacy for president of the United States” by concealing his “extramarital affair with Person B and Person B’s pregnancy with his child,” the indictment says.

To this charge, I say, of course, but more generally they were intended to salvage the political and public career of John Edwards write large.  Even if he were not running for president, but simply wanted to remain a public figure, it’s pretty safe to say he would have resorted to similar means to cover this up, if he could.  Just because the revelation coming out would damage his campaign does not mean that preventing the revelation from coming out is a campaign expenditure.  There’s a basic failure in logic here.  And, from what I heard in an NPR story, a basic failure in any campaign finance precedent.  Stuff like this just pisses me off at prosecutors.  I don’t think we should use our valuable federal criminal justice resources to essentially prosecute a man for being a scoundrel.

Women and Tuesday’s elections

I thought the most notable thing about all the success of various women on Tuesday was how little a role gender apparently played in all these elections and the coverage of them.  I’d say that’s a really good thing.  The more women are thought of as just “candidates” and not “women candidates” women are seen as just an ordinary, everyday part of electoral politics.

Somewhat disappointing then, to see a female right in the spotlight for attacking the appearance of another female candidate (Carly Fiorina making fun of Barbara Boxer’s haircut). Ruth Marcus has a great take:

Adding insult to insult, Fiorina didn’t back down when asked about the comment by Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. “I was quoting a friend of mine,” said Fiorina, who lost her hair during cancer treatment and is now sporting what my mother would call a pixie cut. “My goodness, my hair’s been talked about by a million people, you know? It sort of goes with the territory.”

No no no no no! It does go with the territory that women in politics have more attention paid to their appearance than male candidates. It doesn’t go with the territory that one candidate — female or male — gets a free pass for dissing an opponent’s looks.

For heaven’s sake, John Edwards got in hot water during one debate for joking about Hillary Clinton’s choice of jacket. The point of having women in politics was not to produce a “Mean Girls” sequel in the form of the California Senate race.

Well said.  Fiorina’s original comment is forgivable as, let’s be honest, we all judge other people’s looks all the time, but 1) an apology is definitely in order; and 2) it’s a shame how much media attention this is sure to get, especially because it’s two women.

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