Former Democratic vice-presidential candidate and class warfare enthusiast John "Two Americas" Edwards and his wife might spend their anniversaries at Wendy's (at least when there are newspaper photographers and cable news anchors in the parking lot), but the other 364 days of their year are played out in much swanker quarters.
Considering his much-lauded penchant for what passes for "populist" rhetoric theses days -- "Let me say this in simple right and wrong, black and white terms," Edwards bravely told one New Hampshire crowd during primary season. "I say no to kids going to bed hungry in America. I say no to kids not having clothes to keep them warm" -- one might be tempted to assume that the former senator put his Georgetown house on the market for an asking price of $6.2 million dollars as a prelude to finally joining a commune.
Alas, another progressive hero is about to bite the dust. The sale is not a precursor to Edwards liquidating his worldly possessions for redistribution among the proletariat, but, rather, simply a fundraiser for the country estate currently being constructed for him on a 100 acre plot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Is it just me or is anyone else surprised there are 100 contiguous unpopulated acres in Chapel Hill? Must be a "who you know" thing.) That's right, faster than you can say "plantation," Mr. Edwards is building himself one.
It's a good thing his mill worker father taught him "the value of a hard day's work," because even with shrubs, that is a lot of lawn to mow. This will be ameliorated somewhat by the fact that the Edwards family also plans to sell their Raleigh home. But they will hold on to their Wilmington area beach house. After all, man cannot live on 100 acres alone.
Nevertheless, before anyone gets the wrong idea and start thinking being a sappy, spoon-deep politician with nice hair is the only occupation that pays better than being a ruthless, client and venue shopping trial lawyer...Well, it just isn't like that. Edwards is a working stiff again with a new job heading the University of North Carolina Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, which plans to explore "innovative and practical ideas for moving more Americans out of poverty and into the middle class."
The first lesson, I suppose, is that one way to escape the tyrannical socioeconomic prison George W. Bush has fashioned and get to the promised land where normal folks relax on their 100 acre plots with periodic beach house breaks -- the "other America," as it were -- is to get some university to pay you to study poverty. For real poor people this should be a cinch; a real work-from-home opportunity.
In view of their current living situation, some of you cynics out are probably thinking maybe John Edwards and his kin are uppity folks who don't really understand how you live. Pshaw. If the family learned one thing living in Georgetown it was how it feels to toil all day and then come home to a house with only seven bedrooms and six full baths, with their friends embarrassingly being forced, on occasion, to use one of two half-baths.
But as Elizabeth Edwards explained recently to the Washington Post, this perky little family rolled up their sleeves and made the home work for them.
"We pretty much gutted it, but we wanted to keep the character of the house, since so many people knew it," she said. "But it needed to be more family-friendly for us."
So how does Elizabeth define "family-friendly"? Probably not much different than your own Ma and Pa defined it. She just wanted to add on what every family with two young children can barely get by without -- 2,000 new square feet, an enclosed porch, central air conditioning, a new study, a new room above the garage, and the little matter of replacing the home's flooring with heart pine from an old mill in South Carolina.
That at least partially explains why Edwards is selling a house he bought in December 2002 for $3.8 million less than three years later for $6.5 million. At first the disparity had me worried that Edwards had completely sold out and had perhaps become possessed by the profit motive.
Still, as much as I instinctively trust trial lawyers, I can't help but wonder why Edwards didn't buy, say, a 50 acre estate and maybe build a homeless shelter or even send money to that girl he talked about in his speech following his South Carolina primary victory.
"Somewhere in America, a 10-year-old little girl will go to bed hungry, hoping and praying that tomorrow will not be as cold as today," he told the crowd. "She's one of 35 million Americans who live in poverty every single day, unnoticed, unheard."
It sounded as if Edwards was actually deeply concerned about this nameless, faceless, probably entirely fictional young girl. It seems entirely unlikely a Democratic politician would use a caricature of a poverty-stricken person simply to score some political points.
Perhaps with the $6.5 million from the Georgetown house he can take her shopping at Wal-Mart for a blanket and a new cardboard box. Then maybe grab something off the dollar menu at his favorite restaurant, Wendy's? It would probably even all be tax-deductible if on the car ride over he studies her for his no doubt critical work at the University of North Carolina Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.
But even if you can't empathize with the Edwards's politics -- basically, massive expansions of government bureaucracy to be in turn paid for by massive tax increases -- I think all of us can agree on what an absolutely miserable experience moving is, even if it is to a modest 100 acre country seat.
"I'm sitting at the desk in the study now and there's nothing on top of it," Elizabeth Edwards laughed to the Washington Post from their Georgetown home as it was being emptied. "It doesn't look like anybody lives here anymore."
Ah, now she knows what it's really like to live in the other America.
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