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August 24, 2007

Wear The Jersey, Not The Stripes

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

John Edwards once got a debate question about how he could consistently rail against corporate lobbyists while accepting lots of donations from trial lawyers.  Aren't they just as bad?  And how about the other group that likes Edwards so much -- organized labor? 

The answer is simple.  If you think that consumers have been robbing corporations blind, or that the balance of power between workers and executives is unfairly tilted against executives, then these donors should make you look darkly at John Edwards.  But if you think consumers need better protection against corporations whose products disembowel little girls, or if you think that the next president needs to fight tooth and nail for working people's interests, you should be happy that trial lawyers and unions support him.  If you like the status quo, or if you want a candidate who can be an impartial referee between the interests of corporations and consumers, or between business and labor, you might want a candidate who has no strong ties to either side.  But the teams aren't equal in this country.  America needs a president who's wearing the progressive movement's jersey, not a referee's stripes. 

I take that to be at the core of the big speech that John Edwards gave in New Hampshire.  He provides three examples of areas where corporate money has blocked progress in Washington -- health care, energy, and economic policy.  He describes how he'll fight his way through corporate opposition to pass a number of specific policies to deal with these problems -- his much-admired universal health care plan, a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a whole basket of progressive economic policies including minimum wage increases and pro-union reforms.  And then:

I have stood with ordinary Americans at the most difficult times in their lives, when all the power of corporate America was arrayed against them. I have walked into courtrooms alone to face an army of corporate lawyers with all the money in the world. I have walked off the Senate elevator and been besieged by an army of corporate lobbyists. And I have beaten them over and over again.

But let me tell you one thing I have learned from my experience -- you cannot deal with them on their terms. You cannot play by their rules, sit at their table, or give them a seat at yours. They will not give up their power -- you have to take it from them.

We cannot triangulate our way to real change. We cannot compromise our way to real change. But we can lead to real change. And we can start today.

That's the message of a man who knows which side he's fighting for, and who's under no illusions about how hard he's going to have to fight.  If we pass fundamental health care reform or any number of other major progressive measures in the next presidential term, it'll be under this kind of leadership, and nothing less.  So this poor graduate student is happy to join the trial lawyers and the men and women of organized labor by throwing another hundred dollars to the John Edwards campaign.  Click here if you'd like to join me.

August 24, 2007 | Permalink


Absolutely, I agree with you on this. Enough fake "balance" that results in corporations getting their heart's desires in Washington while the rest of us get screwed. We need an advocate in the White House, and I trust Edwards to be that strong advocate.

Posted by: desmoinesdem | Aug 24, 2007 2:33:19 AM

It's interesting. I've always felt mildly optimistic about getting this thing done, albeit as a longshot,

but with the ethics charges the Clintons can't refute really seem to be a fatal chink in their armor;

And now the race gets interesting.

writing under the sea using ambien and a double, produces cryptic measssssures. we all know that. we all know that. we all know that.

Time to rip down the old orfrt. Iime to rip up the tailed silk suits.


Posted by: Petey | Aug 24, 2007 6:23:41 AM

Its interesting reading a post like this on a site that deals with health care reform so frequently. Why is the health care system considered broken, but not the legal system?

A few thoughts:

-- In health care, unequal access to good health care is true-- but the better access by the rich doesn't directly hurt the poor. In a legal system, where cases are adversarial by nature-- better access by the rich directly impacts the ability of the poor to see a fair legal process. If the case if rich v. poor, we all know that regardless of the legal merits, the rich has a signficantly disproportionate chance of winning over the poor-- this is an injustice/division greater than health care access issue because of the adversarial nature of law. If anything should have a single-payer system, it should be the legal system, to ensure that everyone has fair and equal representation.

- A fair legal system is a basic construct of society, health care historically hasn't been. (Most of our health care advances have been made in the last 80-100 years). While health care may be an emerging "human right," legal protection is clearly on of the foremost fundemantal rights people have for participating in a society.

- Ezra rightly talks about value on the dollar in health care compared to other nations-- the same principle should be applied here. Torts are supposed to be a tool for helping regulate the behavior of corporations. Are they doing a good job in the US compared to other nations? What are the total costs of other systems compared to the US? Are we getting a good value relative to other nations? Do lawyers really need to take up to 50% (30% contingency plus expenses) of people's damages when they have rightlfully been given a certain amount by the legal system?

Here's the overall point. #2 above is debatable of course, but at best health care and law would be on the same ground. I would think that #1 and #3 above would and should be clear positions of the left. They are about ensuring equal and fair access for the poor, and making sure some educated, rich people (i.e. lawyers) don't take advantage of the poor for putting forward a fee system that competition for whatever reason has not been able to bring down even as supply of lawyers goes up.

Posted by: wisewon | Aug 24, 2007 6:35:52 AM

Petey? I hope you're okay...

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 24, 2007 6:38:45 AM

Can't speak to all of those issues, wisewon, but as I understand it product safety regulation is done differently in Europe. There they try to nip things in the bud with a large regulatory infrastructure. Here we don't regulate new products so heavily, but rely on the tort system to deter unsafe products.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Aug 24, 2007 6:50:59 AM

It is hilarious (or Hillary ous) the way some people, even supposed Democrats, try to create a false equivalence between the few lobbyists for unons, or with the plaintiffs' bar, who fight for people, and stark corporate power that has been robbing us blind.

We have the worst class stratification in this nation since the 1920s. Yet supposed Democrats attack and try to silence voices who say so. The New York Times called this "The New Gilded Age" and yet we are asked to pretend that everything is okay and putting in Hillary Clinton is the right path.

John Edwards called "bullshit" on allowing the Democrats to be the second wholly-owned corporate party. We will fight for our party, fight to make the Democratic Party the party of the people, for if it is just another corporate party, the entire netroots and blogosphere is worthless and for naught. Another corporate party means the Democratic Party is finished and we must start anew. This nomination is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.

It's not just that the answers of the past aren't up to the job today, it's that the system that produced them was corrupt -- and still is. It's controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it's perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don't stand a chance.

Real change starts with being honest -- the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It's rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. It's rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier. At the end of the day, it's rigged by all those who benefit from the established order of things. For them, more of the same means more money and more power. They'll do anything they can to keep things just the way they are -- not for the country, but for themselves.

Politicians who care more about their careers than their constituents go along to get elected. They make easy promises to voters instead of challenging them to take responsibility for our country. And then they compromise even those promises to keep the lobbyists happy and the contributions coming.

Instead of serving the people and the nation, too many play the parlor game of Washington -- trading favors and campaign money, influencing votes and compromising legislation. It's a game that never ends, but every American knows -- it's time to end the game.

Excellent post, Neil. John Edwards is on our side and I am on his side.

Posted by: Tom Wells | Aug 24, 2007 7:04:48 AM

As Edwards says, the system is rigged in favor of corporate and monied interests. And they rely on the silence of politicians and press in order to maintain that system with everyone pretending a false equivalence. Good for Edwards.

Posted by: AJ | Aug 24, 2007 7:23:12 AM


Your arguments are red herrings. At most, they could be the basis for criticizing Edwards for accepting money from lawyers.

That our legal system might be in bad shape doesn't have anything to do with our healthcare system being in bad shape, nor does it mean that we cannot or should not deal with the problems in healthcare.

If you think our legal system is terrible, weighted towards the wealthy and in need of reform, then great. Use those opinions to help you determine whether you will support a candidate like John Edwards or not. But you can't - legitimately - use them to suggest that Edwards' healthcare policies are suspect.

We've got all sorts of problems in this country. Just because Edwards' healthcare plans don't look like they'll solve all the problems in our nation's schools, or the meth problem, or the war in Iraq, doesn't mean that he can't talk about healthcare.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 24, 2007 9:04:45 AM

* "While the United States has been busy creating lawyers, we have been busier creating engineers."

* "...if you have so many lawyers, they have to find business, which sometimes they have to create. Sometimes nonsensical lawsuits are generated by lawyers. In this country (the United States) everybody sues everybody."

Akio Morita, founder of Sony Corporation.

Posted by: André Kenji | Aug 24, 2007 9:25:11 AM

"Legal reform" is always an attack on tort lawyers, not a look at the broader legal system, which generally favors the wealthy and powerful. Indeed, it is only in the torts arena, where lawyers with the resources generated from contingency fees, can take on corporate giants in a reasonably equal fashion.

Attacks on trial lawyers are generally just a smoke screen to exalt corporate privilege over the rights of individuals.

With respect to health care, the tort system is a small part of costs, and one which encourages better practices and keeps practitioners on their toes. I am not opposed to looking at other methods of doing this, but I think it is specious to claim that the crisis in health care is caused by trial lawyers.

The quote from the Sony chief would have seemed a lot more weighty in 1989 -- Japan over the last 18 years might have benfitted greatly by class action litigation against its entrenched corporate leadership and the manner is which they have failed to address many pressing problems.

Finally, it should be realized that tort suits are a small part of the overall legal system. The U.S. economy benefits greatly from a legal system that is transparent, fairly efficient, remarkably free of corruption and where parties to business transactions largely feel their rights will be protected and vindicated. It is one of the reasons that the U.S. enjoys the kind of economic dynamism it has.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 24, 2007 9:45:41 AM

Andre, it's hard to compare Japanese and American culture directly. Down right impossible really. But it's hard to take seriously the word of on the economic elite from a country with one of the worst corporate/government corruption problems in the world. Despite what the elite try to force down our throat with all of those "Japan is great and wonderful talk" every 5 years or so, it's just not.

People who think the problem in this country is that the little guy just has too much power are seriously corrupt themselves. It is not a position an honest person can come to through a logical understanding of our country's legal and social systems. It requires a great deal of sophistry to make an argument like that, and that level of sophistry can only come from an over-reliance on personal interest.

Posted by: Soullite | Aug 24, 2007 10:29:33 AM

On a purely simplistic (loyalistic?) level...
Since Amanda went with Edwards...
and especially
since the Donohue thug-creature did HIS thing on those two girls...
I've sent been sending $10 every month from my S.S.

Pathetic, huh? Screw it...makes me happy.

[I am convinced too that Edwards alone of these three good people
will do the most to dismantle then crush the authoritarian
proto-fascist Machine-that-Bush-Built.
The one designed to erase EVERY single civil
liberty which Americans have taken so long and so foolishly... for granted.]

Posted by: has_te | Aug 24, 2007 10:29:36 AM

I'd like to add to Neil's comment on Europe.

There are two forms of consumer protection: regulation and litigation. Most societies prefer regulation, and make it difficult to litigate. The United States prefers litigation, which is relatively easy to do here, despite tort deform efforts.

Generally, I side with the rest of the world. Litigation has enormous transaction costs (lawyers gotta eat), and often gets hung up on evidentiary issues. Let me give an example. Everybody knows that workers over 50 years old face serious age discrimination when looking for new jobs. But you usually can't prove it on an individual basis. Few HR offices are stupid enough to blurt out discriminatory intent. So what is the American solution? We give over-40's a worthless right of action! Quotas (which I'm told are un-American) would solve this problem, while also letting employers let go of the bad over-40's who may be over-protected by the statute, because it is usually easy to allege discrimination in firing.

All this being said, although I prefer regulation to litigation, I much prefer litigation to nothing.

Posted by: Joe S. | Aug 24, 2007 10:36:31 AM

"The most important thing to being a great trial lawyer is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you got it made"

If there is one thing I can count on for early morning entertainment, it is Neil's apologetics for Edwards. There is just something so, I don't know, refreshing in listening to how Edwards is going to "fight the man" while he's got $16,000,000.00 invested in a hedge fund that foreclosed on subprime loans in NO after Katrina. Who got in excess of $500,000 from said hedge fund for doing pretty much nothing. Who built a 20000 sq foot house to satisfy his ego . . .

But wait, says Neil, twisting himself into his pretzel to defend his man, what does this have to do with Edwards general awesomeness of fighting for the little guy against the big bad corporations and doctors (all the while taking 40%, not 30%, plus costs) . . . to which I say, Why does he do this? Why does he invest in a hedge fund that is directly involved in subprime lending instead of a plain vanilla S&P index fund or a freaking CD? Why does he take a half a million dollars from said hedge fund? Can't he live off the interest of his $30 million fortune? Why the big house? Doesn't he know people like me are going to attack him for it? But he still does it. The only reason I can deduce is he is greedy (nothing like 15% cap gains taxes from hedge fund profits) and insincere.

And yes Neil, as you twist yourself a little bit more to justify your support and dig for another $100, what does it matter what the motives are if the results are what you like. But the president is probably the one office where the power is such that personality really does matter more than anything, because as Bush said, he is the decider. Doesn't it bother you in the least that Edwards' actions don't fit his words? Doesn't it bother you even more that as a presidential candidate he has to know these issues will be brought up by his opponents, but he still did them anyway, all for an extra 3-5% investment return? Amazing.

Posted by: Scott | Aug 24, 2007 10:42:22 AM

If you think our legal system is terrible, weighted towards the wealthy and in need of reform, then great. Use those opinions to help you determine whether you will support a candidate like John Edwards or not. But you can't - legitimately - use them to suggest that Edwards' healthcare policies are suspect.

Stephen-- please don't jump to conclusions-- if you read my post carefully, I am doing exactly what you suggest above. I made absolutely no suggestion to Edwards' health care reform. I'm not making a point that health care shouldn't be discussed or reformed-- I love doing the former and believe in the latter.

I'm making the point that from a rich v poor perspective, the legal system is in greater need of reform. I do question the lack of concern by the left about the need for legal reform. As KTLN agreed, our legal system "generally favors the wealthy and powerful." I don't find it a coincidence that the legal profession is a heavy contributor to the Dems and there is a lack of outrage over the complete inequality the poor receive with respect to legal representation (as well as the outrageous fees they take). The fact that I've never heard Edwards utter a word on this issue, while being a self-described advocate of the poor is further to this point. Edwards clearly has familiarity with this issue given his background-- why is he silent on the topic as well?

Posted by: wisewon | Aug 24, 2007 10:45:18 AM

Excellent post Neil. A very clear explanation of the imbalance of corporate power and the power of the organizations that represent workers and the regular folk. Edwards is speaking out forcefully and he is stirring up uncertainty in people. They want change yet they fear it. I almost see the abused victim syndrome in the American political arena. That is, I want this to change but I am too afraid to try anything else.

Posted by: pioneer | Aug 24, 2007 10:51:22 AM

Joe S --

As a lawyer, I have to confirm the wisdom of everything you said -- litigation is not a great way to make public policy, but it is preferable to the law of the jungle approach favored by the right.


What utter crap. You would attack Edwards no matter what he invested in, because of his stance on issues. If he was in an S&P 500 index fund, you would point to some bad acts by its component corporations as proof of his insincerity. His only choice would be to bury his money in his back yard. (Hopefully a suitably small one.) What matters is policies -- not having a faux little guy stance like Fred Thompson.

Does the fact that FDR had a huge estate in Hyde Park make the New Deal a sham? That John Kennedy was rich, make his support for organized labor a joke? I don't think so.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 24, 2007 10:51:46 AM


Again, the only legal reform I ever see trumpeted is tort reform -- in other words an attack on about the only aspect of the law where an individual can go toe to toe with corporate interests.

There is not a need for legal reform in the way that there is for health care reform. Most individuals have little need for extensive legal services in their lives. What we need are more favorable laws for the common good, not a change in how legal services are provided.

I can't even imagine what you are suggesting when you speak in terms of legal reform, other than atacking the contingency fee bar.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Aug 24, 2007 10:56:39 AM

Edwards' rhetoric sounds great, but if Democrats don't win about 65 Senate seats next year, his wonderful progressive agenda will get about as far as Hillary's health care plan did a decade ago.

Posted by: Ron | Aug 24, 2007 10:57:21 AM

Not clear to me whether wisewon simply hasn't thought much about this or really doesn't know much about it.

For starters, we have one of the best legal systems in the world. And one of the worst.

If you wanted to reform it, the first step would be to legalize pot, thus avoiding a half million arrests a year. This week a 71 year old woman was arrested for having one pot plant, a few seedlings (and gardening tools!) and a bong. Clearly a desperado about to waste her otherwise excellent chances in life.

Maybe it hasn't occurred to wisewon that a tort case carried forward by a contingency lawyer is financed by that lawyer, often for years.

Want to give your banker a good laugh? Tell them you want an unsecured $500,000 so you can sue the XYZ Corp because your foot was smashed when their product didn't work.

And I really don't know how point #3 of wisewon's earlier comment can be a "clear position" for anybody when point #3 is actually a question.

Posted by: serial catowner | Aug 24, 2007 11:12:06 AM


Fair enough. I think that K's TLN covers the points prettty well.

Even if the fact that wealthy people have better healthcare doesn't directly impact the poor in a negative way, that still doesn't mean that our legal system's problems do more damage than our healthcare system.

As far as Edwards talking about the problems of our legal system, if he isn't going to champion tort reform - which he obviously doesn't and for which I see no need - then there isn't much he could say.

Posted by: Stephen | Aug 24, 2007 11:31:47 AM

Neil, Edwards' rhetoric on this is good. Do you know what practical measures he is proposing? Not taking lobbyist money for his campaign is related to this, but I don't see it as changing anything much (partly because the money can find its way in in other ways).

As far as I know, even though unions are greatly outspent by corporate lobbyists, unions don't want lobbying significantly curtailed. The same applies to other outnumbered and outspent groups and causes. Even though they're outgunned, they still want to be able to lobby and fight for themselves. And it's hard to see a good way to prevent that, even if we wanted to. It's hard to see how any very fundamental change can come from focussing on lobbyists.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 24, 2007 11:33:10 AM

K's TLN has said everything I could have thought to say, but more eloquently than I would have.

Posted by: nolo | Aug 24, 2007 12:00:11 PM

As far as Edwards talking about the problems of our legal system, if he isn't going to champion tort reform - which he obviously doesn't and for which I see no need - then there isn't much he could say.

Equal access to legal representation for the poor and middle class?

Posted by: wisewon | Aug 24, 2007 1:06:28 PM

KTLN hit on the key difference between the disparity of access in the legal system and the disparity of access to healthcare: not everyone needs lots of interaction with the legal system while everyone will use some amount of healthcare. Increasing the access of poor people to the legal system is a great idea, but it's just not as pressing as increasing their access to healthcare.

Posted by: Ben | Aug 24, 2007 1:07:36 PM

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