Friday, April 20, 2007
Richard Reeves: Edwards & the Arrogance of the Entitled
April 20, 2007
NEW YORK -- Three weeks after I wrote that I thought John Edwards might be going someplace in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, I found out where he was heading: to the barber shop.
The candidate, who has been looking pretty and pretty impressive in defining "Two Americas" -- one for the rich and privileged, a lesser place for everyone else -- came up with a wonderful device to show us all what he meant. His campaign spending reports, required by the Federal Election Commission, revealed that he has been paying $400 for haircuts by a Beverly Hills cutter named Joseph Torrenueva. The guy must be good, because Edwards' hair sure looks good. So does the rest of him, helped along by a $250 shaping at the Designworks Salon in Dubuque, Iowa, and $225 at the Pink Sapphire spa in Manchester, N.H.
Well, the man has great hair. My barber tells me I do, too, and he only charges 20 bucks.
That's $20 of my own money. Edwards, who has a couple of thousand times as much money as I do, pays for his tonsorial needs from campaign funds. He travels the country asking concerned citizens for money so he can get haircuts and body polishing. Where I come from that is called a real sense of entitlement.
Edwards says that he and America are angry about wretched excess, things like corporate chief executive officers giving themselves huge bonuses to buy new yachts and new wives. Well, a lot of people are mad, and they should be. I grieve for Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, who is going to spend months in hospitals and physical rehabilitation because of the injuries he suffered in a tragic accident on the Garden State Parkway last week. He is a nice and effective man, but what the hell was he doing in a state car going 91 mph in the rain?
What gives him the right? The fact that he's rich? It is sad that he was so badly hurt, but the fact is that he was not only endangering his own life, he was a danger to everyone else using the road that night. For what? So he could get to the television cameras in Princeton, to sit in on the meeting between the Rutgers women's basketball team and a dirty old man who called them whores on the radio.
A sense of entitlement is a creeping mold on the American dream. Poor boys can make a lot of money -- Edwards as a trial lawyer, Corzine as an investment banker -- buy a public title and act like a separate breed, members of our own unofficial House of Lords, or American monarchs. Maybe we didn't learn that much in 1776.
Smart boys can do the same thing. Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank after showing his military genius in trying to conquer Iraq, is not a rich man. But he is at least as big a fool as the rest of the entitled. In his case, if you follow these things, he arranged a $195,000-a-year salary plus consulting fees for his girlfriend by having her shifted from the bank, which has conflict-of-interest regulations, to the State Department, where she is making more than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
So it goes. These are the new best and the brightest.
Kurt Vonnegut -- now there was a man contributing more than Edwards, Corzine and Wolfowitz together -- wrote in 1972 that America had a true two-party system. And the two parties, he said, were the Winners and the Losers. That is much more true now than it was back then. The middle is being squeezed out of the great middle-class experiment called America. To be bigger winners, the entitled have to create more losers.
A shame. Edwards, I assume, will begin paying for haircuts out of his own money. But it is probably too late for him. Corzine, who will be inevitably changed by the pain he will have to bravely face, will become the poster boy for seat belts. Perhaps Wolfowitz will get a clue about the pain of losing because of his own arrogance and stupidity.