Which America are you living in?

February 22nd, 2007

2008 presidential hopeful John Edwards has recently taken flak for the construction of his new home in Orange County, North Carolina.

Upon completion, the house, recreational facility and surrounding property will be worth approximately 6 million dollars, making it the most expensive estate in the county.

Edwards has been singled out because of the “two Americas” rhetoric used in recent speeches; –– one America for the wealthy and one for the poor.

The contrast of the new Edwards’ estate against the background of the “campaign for one America” has caused Jay Leno to joke, “Well, I think we know which America he’s living in.”

What interests me most in this evolving story is the response of Elizabeth Edwards to the jibes and negative press that have been directed at her husband.

She writes, “What I…know is that it is no news bulletin that John and I have money. It is no news bulletin that he earned every cent.”
I think her reaction may be misguided.

Members of the media and the public are not responding to or attacking Edwards’ wealth.

It is the use of his money that has subject Edwards to criticism. Spending $6 million on an estate while millions are left without homes in New Orleans (the location of Edwards’ presidential bid announcement) is an egregious act.

This is not to say that Edwards has not done or given anything to the less advantaged – but his exorbitant spending while playing the role of a common-man ought to raise an eyebrow.

This story should be used as a moment of self-reflection. Is Edwards really doing anything objectionable that we, too, partake in?

John Carroll is home to a great number of designer hand-bags, North Face jackets in every shade and Motorola Razr phones and iPods that must be upgraded every few months.

This is not a critique of individuals making money or even spending money on themselves.

Rather, it is a call for responsible economics.

Ted Turner donated one-billion dollars to the United Nation. Amidst criticisms of his spending practices, Bill Gates founded the Gates Foundation, which has contributed millions to the poor at home and abroad.

As students of John Carroll University, you cannot cure AIDS in Africa, but this does not mean that you shouldn’t do anything.
Donate time to a group like LABRE. Set up a collection on your floor to adopt a child abroad.

These are meaningful actions that improve the material conditions of others. And, it is a step towards the type of economic responsibility for which everyone should aim.

If Edwards insists upon campaigning for one America he should perhaps recognize the benefits granted to him by two Americas.

And if we choose to indict Edwards for his spending habits, it is important to recognize how our own habits contribute to the same culture that finds such extravagance acceptable in the face of gross poverty.