This is what conventional wisdom holds to be ‘solid evidence’

One of the most common criticisms aimed at my infamous Edwards column is that my "evidence" was "thin" or "flimsy"– a mix of casual personal observations and "hearsay" (God forbid we should trust anyone else’s account, right?).

Conventional "wisdom" puts a whole lot more stock in this kind of evidence, which was in the WSJ today:

Edwards, Foreclosure Critic, Has
Investing Tie to Subprime Lenders

August 17, 2007; Page A1

As a presidential candidate, Democrat John Edwards has regularly attacked subprime lenders, particularly those that have filed foreclosure suits against victims of Hurricane Katrina. But as an investor, Mr. Edwards has ties to lenders foreclosing on Katrina victims.

The Wall Street Journal has identified 34 New Orleans homes whose owners have faced foreclosure suits from subprime-lending units of Fortress Investment Group LLC. Mr. Edwards has about $16 million invested in Fortress funds, according to a campaign aide who confirmed a more general Federal Election Commission report. Mr. Edwards worked for Fortress, a publicly held private-equity fund, from late 2005 through 2006….

Well, I don’t roll that way. D-Brad doesn’t roll that way. Most of my colleagues do. They treat "Deep Throat’s" suggestion to "follow the money" as some secular equivalent of Holy Writ, brought down on stone tablets from Mt. Vernon.

My problem — and it is indeed a problem, as you can see by watching me struggle with such basic tasks as paying monthly bills — is that I don’t find money very interesting. I don’t find it solid and meaningful the way most hard-headed, sensible folk seem to do. To me it is ephemeral, abstract, gossamer stuff. It’s slippery. Its very fungibility causes me to feel like I’m gazing into a shifting cloud when others see sharp outlines.

I prefer personal observation of an individual’s behavior. Preferably my own observation, but the reliable accounts of others as well. And reliability depends upon the circumstances. When my discrete, reserved assistant, whom I trust absolutely with all that money stuff that so befuddles me and who never says a bad word about anybody, is so struck by a candidate’s callousness that she says something about it, that has meaning to me. When a guy tells me about the candidate jogging by his house after an event was supposed to start, it’s just interesting. But when an independent source sufficiently unimpeachable that he will never speak on the record because it would ruin the connections that give him such access backs it up without my having mentioned it, and even throws in such unnecessary details as the wetness of the candidates’ hair from his post-jog shower, and there are hundreds of sweaty witnesses to the fact that the candidate was two hours late to said event — well, it  becomes memorable, and gathers meaning.

But if the WSJ wants to document the candidate’s insincerity by following the money, fine. Better them than me.

4 thoughts on “This is what conventional wisdom holds to be ‘solid evidence’

  1. Doug Ross

    If we’re going to talk about money and character, let’s not forget Rudy Giuliani increasing his net worth from $2M to $45M since 9/11… or the fact that John McCain has hidden most of his assets under his wife’s name.
    At least Edwards still is with his first wife.
    Selective hypocrisy is a tough fence to straddle.

  2. Ed Green

    Brad, I read the Journal article, and it paints an impressive picture of Edwards. A lot of people invest in diversified funds, and diversified funds hold all kinds of different assets. And Edwards could have said that if he had wanted to, but he didn’t. As soon as the fact was brought to his attention, he took steps to divest himself of the holdings involved in the foreclosures he had criticized. Not only that, but he personally pleged to help the people harmed by the foreclosures. He didn’t have to do that, and he wasn’t solely responsible. Responsibility is shared by many people who invested in the funds, but Edwards was the one who stepped up.
    I took a look at the Carney piece too, and it was forthright and brave of you to link to it. Boy, he really lays you out. He doesn’t just call your evidence “flimsy,” he called it “flimsy concoctions”. He accuses you of misusing personal anecdotes to sling mud, and “of writing a hit job masquerading as a reported editorial.” He says that the incidents, even if true, “say almost nothing substantive about Edwards’s motivations as a politician.” So I think your explanation would be lost on Carney, because he doesn’t care if the stories are true or not, he doesn’t think they mean anything. Reading your piece doesn’t make him thing badly of Edwards, it makes him think badly of you.
    But what are you going to do. Some people see things one way, some people see things another way.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Absolutely. What are you gonna do? I saw what I saw and heard what I heard, and drew the conclusions that I did. And of course, what I wrote was the tip of an iceberg, but most of my impressions about the man are too vague to point out. These three incidents crystalized something that normally was just swimming around out there in the soup of my subjective impressions of Mr. Edwards.
    As for Mr. Carney, he can go, uh, enterTAIN himself, if he doesn’t like it. I still put more credence in such impressions as what I wrote about than I do it painstaking retracing of money trails.
    Which brings us to the WSJ piece. As I tried to suggest, I don’t put much store in such things. Other people do. My colleague Cindi Scoppe puts a lot of faith in strict adherence to ethics rules. I think such things are more about appearances than morality (and I care more about morality by far than I do about the watered-down way that we define “ethics” these days, which tends to be more about how things LOOK than how they ARE).
    I don’t think the fact that he had those investments makes him a hypocrite. I think if he had consciously drawn the connection, he would have divested himself long ago. I would imagine he would be just as happy to have collected dividends some other way. It’s just money, and I don’t think he cares much how he makes it, so long as he can sleep at night. Some would not be able to sleep at night having made money the way he did, but I think he is genuinely proud of the way he has made his fortune, utilizing his talents, and a case can be made that he IS fighting for the little guys against the big guys. It’s not a case that will every completely persuade ME that that’s what he’s doing, but I think HE believes it.
    When you go around investing millions, at some point you’re likely to end up dirty, or looking dirty, or whatever. I don’t think that makes him a bad person. Lucre is inherently filthy, after all.


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