John Edwards is Your Neighbor

Despite not feeling well, NYC Weboy is keeping up with the blog-rant about John Edwards’s new McMansion.  Apparently, the Edwards Estate is supposed to whip me up into a classist frenzy; whether I’m supposed to feel betrayal, rage, or abhorrence by his excess still isn’t clear to me.  (While Wesley has links to Ezra Klein and John Podhoretz, I personally find this link the most entertaining and telling in this whole hot air fest.)

I can’t make sense of any of this – Wesley’s argument nor the diatribes that follow Barnett’s “FAQ” about the house.  It could just be because I think Edwards’s house sounds incredibly tacky, so I don’t see how he’s a viable whipping boy for the anti-intellectual, anti-elite arguments that Wesley’s referencing (since I can safely report from Ground Zero of the elite intelligentsia that they would loathe to live in a sprawling suburban NC home such as his.  An English countryside estate, perhaps, or a house on Nantucket, but outside Raleigh, no thanks…)

Edwards’s house sounds like a very conventional display of “new” money in this country, and by “new” I mean the conspicuous consumption of affluent suburban development of the last two decades.  The average home in the U.S. is ~2,500 square feet, so Edward’s is about 4x the size of that (though why he built his family their own personal 15k sf “community center” – he’s a liberal, he’d prefer that term, trust me – is another story and one suggestive of some early-stage Gatsby-esque mental illness).  At 10k sf, his home is at the high end of the curve of McMansions (homes between ~4-10k sf), but not off the charts.  He’s not exactly an outlier, by American standards, and, lest we forget, certainly not among politicians. 

Thus, I apparently need some tutelage on electoral demographics, because I don’t know who these people are that are screaming at Edwards, or what their incomes or lifestyles look like. 

Furthermore, I don’t think this indicates that people are anti-“level the playing field,” as Wesley describes, but that somehow they believe Edwards in particular is a hypocrite.  As if he was once on their playing field, with his up-by-his-bootstraps life story and therefore justified wealth accumulation, but has now joined the ranks of the patrician Kennedy’s, when clearly he should be a card-carrying GOP’er if he’s going to live in a McMansion in Nascar country.  Or, am I supposed to assume that the anti-Edwards cries are from right(er)-wing bloggers of modest means?  We all have a relative level of affluence to be sitting around all day carping at one another.  Give me a break.  (Furthermore, judging by the fact that Edwards felt compelled to build his family their own mini-village short of a grocery store – and who needs that with delivery these days – he’s obviously preparing for some serious exile, which probably includes from the exclusive, insider-ish tone of the political blogosphere.  Who the hell are all these people that they’re all collegially bashing Edwards like they’ve known each other for years??  Make room for me in your “Lounge,” John.  I’m feeling all excluded and mis-understood now myself!) 

This is hardly class warfare, people.  This is an internal implosion under the pseudonym of “class.”  Class warfare is when the serfs of our service economy rise up and enslave us pasty, out-of-shape bloggers, converting our intellectual and professional safehavens for their own ruling purposes. 

Personally, I think this article sums up our current state of economic affairs much more effectively than the vivid example of the new Edwards Township in Orange County, NC.  But he sure has room to host those populist organizing meetings that are going to win him some elections!


3 Responses to “John Edwards is Your Neighbor”

  1. January 31, 2007 at 9:40 am

    I’m going to post again on this – so I suppose you could consider the battle joined (and given how rarely we disagree, I just find this really really tasty). But I wanted to give some quick observations:

    – First, I agree with you that the kind of class resentment I was talking about in my post is misplaced. To me, that’s the point: the GOP has whipped up an anti-elite, anti-intellectual resentment that has nowhere to go, and which has come back to bite them in the behind. But I am concerned about the free floating resentment out there.

    – Second, I think it’s very easy for coastal liberals to miss all of this, which is why I get the “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” but really, it’s out there. I don’t have this kind of class resentment , nor would I expect you to, either. It’s opposite to the way we think, and it’s easy to dismiss the people who see Edwards as a guilty rich boy trying to assuage his own guilt by hectoring the rest of us. It’s why Al Gore and John Kerry were such problematic presidential candidates, and why they were so easy to peg – Republicans tapped into the class resentment about rich, educated elites to paint them as soft, wishy-washy bleeding hearts.

    – So, third, the demographics of this are the far suburbs and exurbs – people in the real McMansions (Edwards isn’t in a McMansion, he’s in a mansion). They’ve got good, but not great income. They run small and medium size businesses, even some large ones. They got where they got through work and determination, and they think anyone can, and they think people who don’t, especially in the cities they hate, are lazy and unwilling and dress it up with elitist talk that makes them feel slighted.

    Finally, about that last link (which I think will be my jumping off point)… Kurt Andersen???!!! Does it get more Manhattanite socially elite than Kurt Andersen? I think not. And while I’d love to shoot the breeze on this with him over cocktails in a lovely midtown townhouse (my car waiting out front), that whole discussion has social elite written all over it. Which is, in the end, my point. 🙂

  2. January 31, 2007 at 10:50 am

    People who live in 4k + sf houses – make “great” incomes in my book, not “good” incomes.

    This is what I loathe about “class” debates – what are the #s (income, assets, etc.) that we’re talking about here??? Furthermore, the people I know who live in McMansions are: a)Wall Streeters in the tri-state suburbs; b) Career bureaucrats and non-profit execs in VA; and c) my uncle the former SB owner in Charlotte. The latter fits your descrip, but I think it’s a bit of an overstatement to say McMansions are solely populated by self-made women and men…yes, of course, must be immigrants too…

    Also, the beauty of not following a lot of these writers is that I have no idea who Kurt Andersen is, so joke’s on me (I guess?) for linking to him. But I agree with his post, and I still don’t get how Edwards, of the South, self-made trial lawyer, fits in with old-money, NE Kennedy types and the rest (incl. Dubya) of the more patrician types of politicians that this “class resentment” is so quick to attack. It is about educational credentials? (Given that Bill Clinton – public enemy #1 – came from nothing but went to Yale, etc.) Again, then we should be kicking Bush’s ass too.

    Social elitism is different than classism, and what I think you’re saying is that the 2 are conflated.

    I also think your earlier point about the GOP revealing themselves as stealing from the poor to give to the super-rich over the last few years could make a lot of this conversation pointless.

    Again, I think this is all internal schisms, and that we have a much larger economic inequality problem on our hands…

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