Paul Greenberg

The contrast between John Edwards' public stances and his private choices is enough to give mere sanctimonious hypocrisy a good name.

To quote the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, who goes by the wonderful name of James A. Thurber, on the subject of John Edwards:

"It is self-evident that he is saying one thing on the campaign trail and investing another way." Self-evident? Not to the poor suckers who swallow his act hook, line and Poor Boy image.

Candidate Edwards now says he'll divest himself of any part of his portfolio at Fortress that involves subprime loans - while keeping his $16 million investment in the fund. That's going to be an interesting challenge in accounting, not to mention simple moral consistency.

Speaking of consistency, the candidate also has made a big deal of how environmentally aware he is while, at last report, living in a 28,200-square-foot home, counting its two garages. It's the biggest and costliest house in Orange Country, N.C.

That 28,200 square feet includes an adjacent 15,600-square-foot recreation building complete with basketball court, squash court, two stages, swimming pool, four-story tower, lounge and other amenities. This guy's got a bigger environmental footprint than Godzilla.

None of this would be anybody else's business if John Edwards weren't a presidential candidate with a hankering to lecture the rest of us on the need to conserve energy.

This is the same candidate who, when he was running for vice president back in 2004, flew his hair stylist across the country (from Beverly Hills to Atlanta) to trim his 'do. Total cost: $1,250. And it does look mighty nice.

Hypocrisy, said La Rochefoucauld, is the tribute vice pays virtue, and let it be said John Edwards never stops paying tribute to virtue.

It hasn't been too long since he was urging his Democratic rivals for the presidency to return any money they'd received from press tycoon Rupert Murdoch, the publisher the left loves to hate, and refuse to appear on Murdoch's Fox News network.

Mr. Edwards himself had appeared on Fox News 33 times at last count. And he's collected $800,000 for a book published by a subsidiary of a Murdoch corporation, HarperCollins. (The candidate says much of the money went to charities. One of them, College for Everyone, turns out to be one he founded.)

Presidential campaigns have a way of attracting gold-plated phonies and, before this one is over, no doubt the inconsistencies of other candidates will be laid bare, too.

But for now, when it comes to deciding who's the phoniest of them all, John Edwards leads the pack - and his lead may be unbeatable.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.