There's a little hustler in every politician. But sometimes there's a little politician in a hustler. Such is the case with John Edwards.
Last week, we learned that Edwards received $55,000 to give a speech, "Poverty, the Great Moral Issue Facing America," at the University of California, Davis. The poor students who attended were charged more than $17 a ticket. Earlier this month, it was reported that despite the fact he denounces predatory lending and subprime mortgages for the poor, Edwards made nearly $500,000 as a consultant to a hedge fund involved in that business.
The former senator defended his gig on the grounds that he took the job to learn how financial markets relate to poverty. This is a bit like saying you frequent brothels so you can learn where babies come from. But here's the hilarious part: Edwards said he didn't know the fund was involved in subprime lending. If he was there to learn about poverty and finance, how did he miss this salient fact? He must be a slow learner. No wonder his former political consultant, Bob Shrum, calls him "a Clinton who hadn't read the books."
Business Week magazine reports that Edwards launched a poverty center that conveniently worked out of the same office as his political action committee. The nonprofit center spent a staggering 70 percent of the money it raised on a speaking tour for Edwards and on salaries for staffers who in short order just happened to join his presidential campaign. This gives new meaning to the term "poverty pimp."
A few years ago, when it was reported that "virtuecrat" Bill Bennett, the former secretary of education, liked to gamble in Las Vegas, columnist Michael Kinsley spoke for much of establishment liberalism when he declared, "Bennett has been exposed as a humbug artist who ought to be pelted off the public stage." I thought this was unfair, as Bennett never inveighed against gambling, nor did his church consider it a sin. But certainly Edwards, who gets choked up and misty-eyed from his own relentlessly recounted stump speech about "two Americas," is more of a humbug artist than Bennett ever was. You would think that when Edwards looks in the mirror in one of his new, 28,000-square-foot house's six bathrooms, inspecting whether it's time for another $400 haircut, he might feel the slightest twinge of conscience about his us-versus-them shtick.