December 18, 2007


John Edwards' Fighting Words: The candidate is running an impassioned, anti-corporate campaign, but will Edwards' pugilistic populism turn off Iowa voters? (Jonathan Stein, 12/18/07, Mother Jones)

And then there's Edwards' palpable dislike for corporations. "There are very powerful forces, well-financed forces, standing between you and the future your children should have," the candidate proclaimed at a campaign event in Des Moines. "That's what this election is about. Unless and until you have a president of the United States who's willing to stand up with some backbone and some guts and fight and stand up to these corporate interests," there will never be real change.

The Des Moines Register, in its recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, said that it found Edwards' "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric" distasteful. Getting things done would be difficult for such a one-sided crusader, it implied. I asked Edwards about this before a rally in Cedar Rapids. "I just have a fundamental disagreement with the Register," he replied. "I respect their views; they're just very different from mine. I think most Americans see that corporate power and corporate greed are keeping the American dream from getting to their children. We have a fight on our hands."

His campaign, no surprise, dismisses the argument that Edwards' anti-corporate rhetoric makes him less electable in the general. (Corporations, though, will have all the money they need to fund attack ads against him, and millions of Americans happily go to work for corporations every day.) "His message is very optimistic about America and its future," says spokesman Dan Leistikow. "Most Americans want a president who is going to fight for them and who recognizes that for the middle class, their interests have been ignored."

Not all those Iowans looking him over at campaign events are so sure. When I asked James Moriarty, an attorney from Cedar Rapids and Edwards supporter, if the candidate's anti-corporate message would hurt him in the general, he said, "I hope not." He paused and added, "I think the difference between Wal-Mart making $12 billion and making $3 billion is a lot of people who could lead better lives and provide for their families better."

An undecided voter named Scott Schultz, who is torn between Edwards and Barack Obama, noted, "You can't be so anti-corporate that it alienates the corporations, and they go bankrupt or say, 'Okay, I'll go to Mexico.' I think you have to work with these corporations. You have to have a strong hand with them, but by the same token, you kind of do have to work with them. You can't just say, 'They're bad, evil.' To me, that's how the Republicans have been working, but, you know, in reverse."

"We need to be all united together," said Schultz's wife, Kim, an educator. "It reminds me a little of the George Bush 'my way or the highway' attitude." She added, "I understand his passion, though. Sometimes I feel the same way, too."

Then she checks her 401k statement.

The Socialist Bacillus and the Investor Class (Tom Bethell, 12/19/2007, American Spectator)

One-third of poll respondents say they don't have any retirement money saved at all. But many do, and what most people are doing is saving in a tax-deferred instrument called a 401(k).

It circumvents one of the great impediments to saving -- the taxation of interest. Since the value of your money is also eroded by inflation, you cannot possibly get ahead of the game by saving money in a normal interest-bearing account. Twenty or 30 years from now, it won't buy nearly as much. Understandably, then, a lot of young people don't even think about saving. The tax code rewards you if you get into debt (with a mortgage), and punishes you if you save. I know it's cockeyed. But that's the way things have been for many decades.

If the government wants us to save for our retirement, why not end the taxation of interest right away? Because the left would set up their customary howls of envy and resentment. It makes them feel good and some spend their whole lives at it. So, to get around that unpleasantness, lawmakers have inserted this saving inducement into the law, named after subsection 401(k) of the tax code.

How many Americans have such accounts? One Federal Reserve study said that about half of U.S. households-there are 110 million of them-have 401(k)s. And about 70 percent of that money goes into equities. Which is to say, into the stock market. So, more and more of us own stocks. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform tells me that about 60 percent of American adults now have money either directly invested in the stock market, or indirectly in retirement accounts.

We are reaching the point where a majority of voters have a direct, personal interest in the performance of the stock market. We may already have passed it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 18, 2007 5:46 PM
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