• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Edwards and Romney Highlight Parties’ Views of Wealth

A fascinating NYT profile shows how John Edwards and Mitt Romney became very wealthy circa 1984 and drew very different lessons from it.

In the decade that followed, Mr. Edwards would win one big verdict after another, and Mr. Romney would oversee a series of hugely profitable investments. Like thousands of other Americans in a global, high-technology economy in which government was pulling back and wealth was being celebrated, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Romney used talent, hard work and — as both have suggested — luck to amass fortunes. They became a part of a rising class of the new rich.

Whether this class is a cause for concern — whether it deserves some blame for the economic anxiety felt by many middle-class families — has become a central issue in the 2008 presidential race. And Mr. Edwards and Mr. Romney are basing their candidacies in large measure on the very different lessons each has taken from his own success.

“Some people come from nothing to being wildly successful and their response is, ‘I did this on my own,’” Mr. Edwards said in an interview. “I came to a different conclusion. I believe that I did work hard, and I think people should work hard, but I think my country was there for me every step of the way.” Today, he added, “the problem is all the economic growth is going to a very small group of people.”

Mr. Romney, by contrast, talks about the ways that his experiences at Bain showed him how innovative and productive the American economy can be and, particularly, how free markets can make life better for everyone. “There is a model of thought among the Democrats — that the amount of money, the amount of wealth in a nation, is a fixed amount,” he said in an interview. “And that if Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are making a lot of money, that just means somebody else is not able to make as much. That happens to be entirely false.”

Now, in fairness, the two men came from very different social backgrounds to begin with; Edwards was, as he incessantly reminds us, the son of a mill worker and Romney’s dad ran American Motors before getting elected governor. One wonders, though, if the way the two men made their fortunes didn’t shape their views of wealth. Getting a cut from exploiting tragedies and convincing juries to award massive damage amounts is markedly different from building businesses and putting people to work. It’s not hard to see why the latter would feel his money was more deserved than the former. Or why the latter would see the virtues of a free market while the former would emphasize the contributions of others.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Pug says:

    “There is a model of thought among the Democrats — that the amount of money, the amount of wealth in a nation, is a fixed amount,” he said in an interview. “And that if Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are making a lot of money, that just means somebody else is not able to make as much. That happens to be entirely false.”

    Well, Mitt is does seem to be good at setting up a straw man. I’d like to see some proof of this claim. I’d like to see him cite anyone who has said “that if Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are making a lot of money, that just means somebody else is not able to make as much”.

    Mitt Romney is the classic guy who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. […] James Joyner: Now, in fairness, the two men came from very different social backgrounds to begin with; Edwards was, as he incessantly reminds us, the son of a mill worker and Romney’s dad ran General Motors before getting elected governor. One wonders, though, if the way the two men made their fortunes didn’t shape their views of wealth. Getting a cut from exploiting tragedies and convincing juries to award massive damage amounts is markedly different from building businesses and putting people to work. It’s not hard to see why the latter would feel his money was more deserved than the former. Or why the latter would see the virtues of a free market while the former would emphasize the contributions of others. […]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Both are canny manipulators of the system. Edwards’s fortunes are more directly attributable to rent-seeking but make no mistake: both Edwards and Romney made their fortunes through some version of rent-seeking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Leisureguy says:

    I imagine that Edwards got a close-up view of the attitudes of businesses toward unfortunate consumers. It probably shaped his view about the degree to which the country can depend on businesses being concerned about the common weal or the common people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. […] James Joyner sums up the differences between the two: Getting a cut from exploiting tragedies and convincing […]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Kathy says:

    One wonders, though, if the way the two men made their fortunes didn’t shape their views of wealth. Getting a cut from exploiting tragedies and convincing juries to award massive damage amounts is markedly different from building businesses and putting people to work. It’s not hard to see why the latter would feel his money was more deserved than the former. Or why the latter would see the virtues of a free market while the former would emphasize the contributions of others.

    Edwards has never said or even implied that his success was not “deserved.” And this article does not convey that suggestion, either. What Edwards is saying is that, although he worked hard for his success and earned it, he also got a lot of help from his country and from individuals in his life. He’s saying he owes his success to others at least as much as he owes his success to his own efforts. And that belief implies for him the obligation to help others achieve a decent standard of living, if not the enormous wealth he has achieved.

    Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is saying, I did this all through my own efforts, with no help from my country or my government, and I owe nothing to anyone.

    Also, your characterization of how Edwards got his wealth is distorted and twisted in the extreme. I wouldn’t call winning a financial compensation for a man who was put in a wheelchair for the rest of his life as the result of medical incompetence or negligence “exploiting tragedy.” When “tragedy” is the result of human malfeasance, the victim has every right to justice and accountability, and that’s what Edwards did — in that case, and others. You, perhaps, have never been in the situation of having experienced enormous personal harm or loss because of the actions of professionals who screwed up and refused to take responsibility. As it happens, I have — and to me, personal injury lawyers are heroes, not villains.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Hal says:

    Kathy’s right. You took a pretty low road here, James. Shrewd politically, perhaps, but I really can’t see where on earth you drew your commentary from other than your biases.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. James Joyner says:

    Read the Wikipedia entry on Edwards’ legal career. Essentially, he mad a massive fortune taking one third of the winnings from exploiting tragedies, mostly involving children, and persuading juries to transfer to liability to those with deep pockets rather than those who were actually at fault. He even shamelessly used the death of his own kid when it served his purposes.

    No doubt, most of those whom he retained as clients thought they were legitimate victims and were happy to get the millions he won for them. Those costs, of course, were simply passed on many times over to other victims.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Hal says:

    from exploiting tragedies

    Wow, I think you are taking license with the phrasing “exploiting tragedies”. This is a rather interesting insight into your thinking. Further “rather than those who were actually at fault”. It’s rather odd that those who seem morally opposed to anything resembling legal representation claim an almost god like ability to know the true nature of the case. And here I thought that’s what the legal system was tasked with doing. We should simply stop the sharade and hire people like yourself who can discern the correct judgment merely from reading a wikipedia entry.

    Truly, a Festivous miracle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Hal says:

    Also, you still didn’t respond to Kathy’s first point, Edwards has never said or even implied that his success was not “deserved.” And this article does not convey that suggestion, either.

    The issue being you made that bit up out of whole cloth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Kathy says:

    Read the Wikipedia entry on Edwards’ legal career. Essentially, he mad a massive fortune taking one third of the winnings from exploiting tragedies, mostly involving children, and persuading juries to transfer to liability to those with deep pockets rather than those who were actually at fault. He even shamelessly used the death of his own kid when it served his purposes.

    I assume you’re referring to this part of the Wikipedia entry:

    In 1993, Edwards began his own firm in Raleigh (now known as Kirby & Holt) with a friend, David Kirby. He became known as the top plaintiffs’ attorney in North Carolina.[11] The biggest case of his legal career was a 1997 product liability lawsuit against Sta-Rite, the manufacturer of a defective pool drain cover. The case involved a three-year-old girl[13] who was disemboweled by the suction power of the pool drain pump when she sat on an open pool drain whose protective cover other children at the pool had removed, after the swim club had failed to install the cover properly. Despite 12 prior suits with similar claims, Sta-Rite continued to make and sell drain covers lacking warnings. Sta-Rite protested that an additional warning would have made no difference because the pool owners already knew the importance of keeping the cover secured.

    In his closing arguments, Edwards spoke to the jury for an hour and a half and referenced his son, Wade, who had been killed shortly before testimony began. …

    James, if my child had been disemboweled because of a defective pool drain cover, and the manufacturer had refused to put warnings on the product despite a dozen other similar cases, I would feel that the company was responsible and should be held accountable. A multimillion-dollar settlement in a case like that is entirely justified.

    As far as Edwards’ referencing his son who had recently been killed in a car accident at the time of the trial, only someone who has not experienced an event as devastating as the loss of a child could call that “shameless.” There is nothing wrong with using a similar tragedy from one’s own life to try to help someone else. Indeed, your response just confirms for me the importance of finding legitimate ways to help juries understand the emotional meaning of such losses, since clearly they cannot be expected to intuit the meaning on their own.

    My sympathy and compassion for John Edwards in the death of his son has absolutely no bounds, and neither does my admiration and respect for the measure of justice he won for his clients, whose child was killed because of the negligence and callous indifference of a company whose only concern was their bottom line.

    I just think it’s a shame that so many people have to go through a similar tragedy themselves before they can “get it.” I like to think that I would be one who “got it” even if I had not gone through it myself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Tano says:

    “Getting a cut from exploiting tragedies…”

    Wow. Even the best of the so-called moderate and reasonable right turn out to have, at heart, these contemptous attitudes toward those who try to help people in need, as opposed to making their careers helping those who are already on top.

    Apparantly James’s vision of a just society is that those who have been greivously harmed, through no fault of their own, should simply be dumped into the category of “life’s losers” and not heard from again. By all means don’t bother the rest of us who are lucky and prosperous and on a roll.

    So often it seems that this attitude is really at the heart of the right’s worldview. I must admit to often being reluctant to fully grasp that, for I really wish it not to be true, and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But it seems that it is foolish to do so.

    Yes, compensatory costs that are given to the victims are born, ultimatly, by the rest of society. That is the way it should be. It represents the society comng together, even if it is in this indirect way, and helping those who have had horrible luck, or are victims of wanton negligence. It is one of the mechanisms in which a decent moral sense is activated in our society. I find it hard sometimes to find civil words to characterize the depravity of the view that not only opposes this, but ridicules it. So I will stop now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Bithead says:

    Look, anyone who reads this blog knows full well I have no reservations at all about telling James he’s wrong if I disagree with him.

    James is correct, here.

    I’ve personally seen the same trick pulled on Usenet some years back. Hanson, I think the name was. Least, that’s what he called himself. Said his kid had died, so those disagreeing with government run healthcare should shut up, because they’d not lost a kid. I call that exploiting a death for political purposes. In this case the exploit was exposed as fruad… we were never able to confirm the kid had ever existed.

    As plastic as Edwards is, (And as desperate as he seems to me for power) I can’t help but consider that at least part of what he offers here is a sham as well.

    And even assuming the concern is genuine, cannot one exploit a real happening for their own purposes? Such, after all, are the basis for many an insurance fraud. And… oops… didn’t Edwards make his millions in frauds lawsuits against Insurance companies?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Hal says:

    I’m confused. First, Kathy’s experience is immaterial. The first assertion of Kathy’s is unmistakably correct. James is saying that Edwards feels his wealth is undeserved and it’s impossible to find that in the article – or anywhere else, for that matter. It’s an assertion that is rather central to James’ theme and is completely made up out of whole cloth. He’s yet to defend it, as well.

    Second, the assertion that Edwards’ cases were incorrectly decided and he was exploiting these tragedies to further his own fortunes is simply opinion. While I think y’all really do believe you know the real story simply because – I don’t know – you have superior judgement than anyone who was actually involved in the case and saw the evidence, it’s pretty clear that you don’t. Certainly, nothing will convince you otherwise, but who cares? James asserts it as fact and while this is just a blog, it’s certainly the case that – when combined with the other issue – he’s making the same errors he blames the liberal media for.

    He’s let his own biases bleed through like a fire hose and that’s caused him to make up a scenario out of whole cloth which serves nothing but to push his own political agenda.

    FIne for a blog, but geebus. Let’s at least call a spade a spade.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Hal says:

    Oh, and Bithead, I’m not sure you understand what the term “liability insurance” means, but you might want to look that up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. Anderson says:

    Getting a cut from exploiting tragedies

    Wow. I work at an insurance defense firm & absolutely can’t take Edwards seriously, but that’s really over the top.

    If Edwards really sued parties not at fault, then there are people called “judges” who are supposed to exclude those defendants as a matter of law. I never understand the notion that plaintiffs’ attorneys wreak unrestricted havoc with no one to restrain them. My own perspective is that, if anything, the deck is stacked towards *my* clients.

    The system’s chief fault is the expense of litigation, which makes it possible for a lawyer to make a fair living filing implausible suits and settling them for $10K here, $20K there … but obviously, that’s not how Edwards made his fame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Bithead says:

    Oh, and Bithead, I’m not sure you understand what the term “liability insurance” means, but you might want to look that up.

    As you yourself said:

    Second, the assertion that Edwards’ cases were incorrectly decided and he was exploiting these tragedies to further his own fortunes is simply opinion.

    And my opinion, fraud is fraud, and Edwards is one. Tell me, Hal…if he hadn’t played the personal tragedy card, would the ruling gone against his client?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Hal says:

    How can one argue with logic such as that? I mean, if there’s no logic, then there’s no argument against it… Our legal system is complicated and there’s no denying that emotional appeals are a part of that. But, unlike you, I’m not willing to purport I know more than the people who sat through the trial, heard the evidence, listened to the emotional appeals on both sides (you’d have to be really naive to believe their lawyer wasn’t making similar appeals), and debated with their fellow jury members over this issue.

    Personally, I simply don’t think that Edwards’ personal story would have held a candle to hearing the tale of a a three-year-old girl who had her intestines sucked out of her. But that’s just me. Hearing about that absolutely horrific event would have been more than sufficient to appeal to my emotional core.

    Perhaps not to you, who apparently can see through to Edwards’ soul (much like Bush could with Putin) and tell us without a doubt that it’s all a fraud and a sham without a scrap of evidence in your possession. But that seems to be par for the course for those who seem to be morally opposed to any litigation what so ever.

    Another Festivus miracle!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Bithead says:

    But, unlike you, I’m not willing to purport I know more than the people who sat through the trial, heard the evidence, listened to the emotional appeals on both sides (you’d have to be really naive to believe their lawyer wasn’t making similar

    Why, did he have a kid die we don’t know about?
    Come on, Hal, what we’re talking about is human nature, and the manipulation thereof.

    And no, I can’t see through his soul… it’s hard to examine that which doesn’t exist, after all… but I can make judgements based on his behavioral track record. So would you, if they ran afoul of your worldview.

    Since they clearly don’t, you defend him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Hal says:

    Again, it’s hard to argue against something which isn’t even logically based. You see all. You know all. Who can argue with that?

    Touche’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Hal says:

    what we’re talking about is human nature, and the manipulation thereof.

    Again, hearing about the horrific tale of a three-year-old girl having her intestines sucked out is pretty much the limit of my manipulation. Anything after that isn’t even going to register. So, in your mind, this tale of an absolutely horrific act really wasn’t a clincher. Nope. It took Edwards’ tale of his own son’s death to really – as they say – close the deal with the jury.

    Sorry, but I find someone who subscribes to such a world view quite mad. Further, they must have microscopes for eyes in that they are focussing on a tiny, almost insignificant part of the trial and missing the jupiter sized issue of a three-year-old girl having her intestines sucked out. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but in my opinion you seem to have something serious wrong with your analytical skills.

    Seriously wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Bithead says:

    So, in your mind, this tale of an absolutely horrific act really wasn’t a clincher. Nope. It took Edwards’ tale of his own son’s death to really – as they say – close the deal with the jury.

    Apparently, he thought otherwise. Because if the Jury was thinking along the same lines you claim to be, ask yourself why on earth would his bringing up the other situation even be needed? Think…Lawyers do very little for no reason, particularly when there’s large sums of money involved.

    Follow the bread crumbs, hal… this ain’t rocket science, nor is it a great mystery. Nobody expects you to admit these things to me, but at least to yourself might be a start.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Hal says:

    It seems that your whole premise here is that Edwards had to mention the incident about his son. What, pray tell, leads you to that conclusion? You have absolutely no way of knowing what impact it had on the jury or the proceedings. None. You’re entire argument rests on you knowing – how, I simply don’t know – that it was crucial to the winning on the case. Again, there’s zero argument here other than argument by assertion. Hard to argue against that, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out. Your turning down the lights and putting a flashlight under your face while you darkly warn about lawyer’s intentions is simply silly and isn’t an argument at all.

    My guess is that you haven’t spent any time with lawyers at all, and don’t really have a clue as to how they operate. I haven’t really spent a lot of time with lawyers like Edwards, but I do have to deal with our lawyers here at work quite a bit, and have to give testimony and depositions from time to time. From that admittedly limited experience, I can quite confidently say that lawyers – good lawyers – will pull out all the stops and make use of anything they can to win their case as long as it’s within the law.

    Big deal. Wow. Stop the presses. We have a conspiracy here.

    For you to be right you’d have to provide some evidence that Edwards’ tale of his own tragedy was a significant issue with the jury. As far as I can tell, you don’t even bother with that, just making bizarro world assertions in bold and thought experiments. I mean, it’s just weird.

    And even then, you have to somehow square the fact that the judge, who can do a heck of a lot wrt jury awards and all the judges in the appeals process were somehow overwhelmed by reading back that moving testimony of Edwards.

    Geebus.

    You guys sound an awful lot like the communists and their rants against corporations and such. I mean, you could simply change the names of the players and you’d all be reading from the same play book.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Bithead says:

    I

    t seems that your whole premise here is that Edwards had to mention the incident about his son.

    no, I’m saying he wouldn’t have done so, if he didn’t figure it was going to provide them an advantage. I’ve never seen someone argue so, in an attempt to avoid something directly in his sights, already.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Hal says:

    I’m saying he wouldn’t have done so, if he didn’t figure it was going to provide them an advantage.

    Clearly I wasn’t saying that he didn’t think it would give him an advantage. But simply thinking something will give you an advantage doesn’t automatically give you that advantage. I’m sure he wore a suit and tie because he thought that would give him an advantage.

    Either you have a point so banal that one wonders why you brought it up, or you somehow think that this fact is so important to your case that he’s a fraud. If it’s the latter, then you have to have more than just “he thought it would give him an advantage” because that, by itself, is obvious. What I’ve been trying to do is argue against the conclusions you’re drawing from this obvious point.

    Yes, I’ve been simply avoiding the fact that lawyers do things that they think will give them an advantage.

    Geebus.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. spencer says:

    Both Romney and Edwards exploited the system as it existed to make their fortunes. If you personally do not like the way the way system is set up that is your problem not theirs. I can make just as bad an argument about the way Romney made his money.

    He first borrowed money and used it to purchase existing firms. He second loaded up the purchased firms with debt and used that borrowed money to pay off his original loans. Third, he sold these firms, now loaded with too much debt, on others who were left with the problem of repaying the debt Romney had stuck them with. The consequence was massive lay-offs and the shrinking and/or destruction of once viable firms. He did not create jobs. Rather he destroyed them.

    That is the way the leverage buy-out firms like his worked. So, setting aside your personal beliefs — are either one of them the picture of how our system works that makes your proud? Why is what Romney did any better or worse then what Edwards did? What both did are perfectly legitimate ways to make money in our system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. M1EK says:

    All the caterwauling about Edwards hid the OTHER huge bonehead thing James implied – that being born on third base with a silver spoon in your mouth from the guy who built a car company most notorious for failing to compete with paragons of management like GM, Ford, and Chrysler is some kind of endorsement of capitalism.

    With how badly AMC did, Romney should have been the one trying to work his way up from poverty. The fact that he didn’t have to is an INDICTMENT of our crony-capitalist system. IE, once you’re a CEO, you’ll be set for the rest of your life, as will your heirs, no matter how bad a job you do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Actually, contrary to Joyner, the one speck of evidence I see anywhere in that Wikipedia entry that Edwards has persuaded “juries to transfer to liability to those with deep pockets rather than those who were actually at fault” is that “after Edwards won a large verdict against a trucking company whose worker had been involved in a fatal accident, the North Carolina legislature passed a law prohibiting such awards unless the employee’s actions had been specifically sanctioned by the company.” And, given both the famous corruption of a great many state legislatures (especially Southern ones) and the fact that Wikipedia doesn’t say whether the trucking company had adequately checked in advance on their employee’s past driving record, this is pretty inconclusive itself as to whether what Edwards did was justified or not.

    I read the NY Times article from which Wikipedia drew that quote ( http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9501E3DD1F38F932A05752C0A9629C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print to see if it contained more information on that case, but it didn’t. What it DID contain is a note that Edwards has drawn a lot of criticism from other lawyers not for overzealously persecuting innocent defendants, but for not taking ENOUGH cases in which the plaintiff — frequently a child — had clearly been badly injured by a careless defendant:

    “Over time, Mr. Edwards became quite selective about cases. Liability had to be clear, his competitors and opponents say, and the potential award had to be large.

    ” ‘He took only those cases that were catastrophic, that would really capture a jury’s imagination,’ Mr. Wells, a defense lawyer, said. ‘He paints himself as a person who was serving the interests of the downtrodden, the widows and the little children. Actually, he was after the cases with the highest verdict potential. John would probably admit that on cross-examination.’

    “The cerebral palsy cases fit that pattern. Mr. Edwards did accept the occasional case in which a baby died during delivery; The North Carolina Lawyers Weekly reported such cases as yielding settlements in the neighborhood of $500,000. But cases involving children who faced a lifetime of expensive care and emotional trauma could yield much more.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0