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Conservative Political Commentary

Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Friday, July 09, 2004

You won't hear a John Edwards stump speech in which he neglects to mention his lifelong struggle as a "champion of regular folks," the theme he set when he announced for the Democratic nomination two years ago:
I run for president to be champion, to be a champion for the same people I've fought for all my life, regular folks. They're people like my own family, where I was the first to go to college and my dad worked in a textile mill all his life, where my mother's last job was working at the post office; to the people I went to school with, the people I grew up with, the families that I represented for almost two decades as a lawyer, and exactly the same group of people that are the reason I ran for United States Senate.

I think these people are entitled to a champion in the White House. Somebody who goes to work every day seeing things through their eyes, and who provides real ideas about how to make their lives better, not somebody who's thinking about insiders or looking out for insiders.
Edwards' formulation, "the regular folks versus the insiders," is but a dumbed-down reprise of the same appeal to class conflict Al Gore invoked in his "the people versus the powerful" speech at the 2000 Democrat Convention:
Whether you're in a suburb or an inner city, whether you raise crops or drive hogs and cattle on a farm, drive a big rig on the interstate or drive e-commerce on the Internet, whether you're starting out to raise your own family or getting ready to retire after a lifetime of hard work, so often powerful forces and powerful interests stand in your way, and the odds seem stacked against you, even as you do what's right for you and your family.

. . . .

I've taken on the powerful forces, and as president, I'll stand up to them and I'll stand up for you.

. . . .

And that's the difference in this election. They're for the powerful. We're for the people.
There's no question that as a plaintiff's lawyer John Edwards has been the champion of at least several dozen "regular folks" who were unfortunate enough to sustain a personal injury that provided the handsome lawyer an opportunity to collect his even more handsome 33% to 50% contingency fee cut (plus expenses) out of their multi-million dollar jury awards. As to whether he's a champion of many "regular folks" who haven't been severely brain-damaged, the jury is still out. What is clear is that Edwards has long been the chosen champion of a small handful of extremely rich folks, whose contributions have made up the bulk of his soft money funding.

You probably already know that an ungodly amount--more than $9 million--of Edwards' financial support in his run for the Democrat nomination came from lawyers on the plaintiff's side of the bar. (That $9 million equals almost half of the total contributions to Edwards' campaign.) So you might be surprised to learn that the single largest soft money contributor to John Edwards' PAC was not some rich plaintiff's lawyer, but was an interesting fellow man named Stephen Bing.

Through his company, Shangri-La Entertainment, Bing funneled some $900,000 of soft money into John Edwards' Leadership PAC. Okay, the $900,000 in soft money that Bing gave to Edwards' PAC might seem like small potatoes since we've all heard about George Soros' pledging whatever it takes of his untold millions to MoveOn.org's holy war to defeat George Bush. Well, in the neck-and-neck race to be number one in soft money contributions to left-leaning "527 Groups," Soros is currently running behind Stephen Bing, who had ponied up $8,086,273 as of July 5.

At the risk of digressing too far from my main subject, I need to say a quick word about "527 Groups," which have become the depository for Stephen Bing's soft money largesse. When McCain-Feingold restricted political parties' access to soft money, the Democrats seemed to have painted themselves into a corner. Yes, the lefties had always self-righteously claimed that soft money was corrupting the political process, yet the not-very-well-publicized truth was that for years the Democrat Party had been living off soft money from unions and limo liberals. By contrast, the Republicans had always done better at raising hard money contributions, which are restricted to a few thousand dollars per individual. Success at raising hard money depends on having a huge number of "grass roots" supporters, each of whom gives a relatively small amount. They style themselves as the party of the people . . . er . . . I mean "regular folks," but the Democrats could never match the GOP when it came to the real grassroots work of raising hard money a few hundred or a few thousand bucks at a time. Instead, the Dems specialized in soft money because it only took a handful of limo liberals like George Soros and Stephen Bing to overflow the coffers with unlimited soft money millions. But then McCain-Feingold's reforms put an end to the national political parties directly raising and spending soft money.

So to get around McCain-Feingold's soft money restrictions and to give rich liberals like Bing and Soros a new place to send their soft money, the Democrats latched onto something known as "527 Groups" (named for Section 527 of the IRS code). MoveOn.org serves as a fairly representative example: Just like the Democrats, MoveOn styles itself a "grassroots organization," but of the $8,667,812 that MoveOn's 527 has raised so far this election cycle, $6,072,777 (70%) came from just three individuals, George Soros, Peter Lewis, and the good Mr. Bing.

Both John McCain and Russell Feingold have gone on record saying that the way the 527 Groups use soft money violates McCain-Feingold. However, after wrestling with the issue for many months, the Federal Election Commission, which has responsibility for writing the regulations to implement McCain-Feingold, never could decide what to do about 527 Groups. So in early May, the FEC punted and decided to postpone action on 527's until after the 2004 election. The New York Times editorialized thusly:
In a shameful decision that will unleash a fresh torrent of unregulated donations to pollute the presidential election, the Federal Election Commission has declined to control the new "shadow party" attack groups that are evading the campaign finance law. The commission voted on Thursday not to rein in puppet Democratic operations that are already spending scores of millions in big unregulated donations from unions and fat-cat partisans. (my italics)
Hurrah! Hooray! for the New York Times, which deserves credit for calling MoveOn, American Coming Together, Media Fund, and the Joint Victory Fund exactly what they are. But as far as I know, the Times editorial hasn't raised a blush on the face of any Democrats, who proceed apace with their soft money orgy. MoveOn, with its $8 million in soft money receipts, is a middling example compared to America Coming Together ($19 million) and the Media Fund ($15 million). Foolishly presuming that the Democrats who pushed for passage of McCain-Feingold's reforms would actually abide by those reforms, the GOP got a slow start in the 527 race. So of the top ten largest 527 Groups, all lean left, with the exception of the Club for Growth, with its relatively modest $3,667,948 in receipts. The upshot is that, through 527 Groups, soft money is now being used to influence elections more directly than was permitted even prior to the passage of McCain-Feingold.

Sorry for the digression. Let's get back to Stephen Bing, the patron saint of Democrat soft money.

No, Bing's not a rich plaintiff's lawyer. And he's not one of those leftist dot com millionaires who had the good sense to cash out early. Bing's career has been so multi-faceted that it is hard to say exactly what he is. For the moment, let's just try to think of Bing as one of John Edwards' "regular rich folk."

According to Mother Jones magazine, Bing came by his money the old-fashioned way: "he inherited it." His gramps was a New York real estate tycoon through whom Bing has already inherited, or stands to inherit, hundreds of millions of dollars--maybe even a cool billion--when pops and a rich uncle or two kick off. In a family with that kind of dough, you can well imagine how confusing it must have been for a young man as regular and folksy as Stephen Bing to figure out what to make of his life.

Fortunately for Mr. Bing and all the other regular folks, America is still the great land of opportunity where anyone who has the right work ethic and a willingness to expend large amounts of capital can find steady employment as a playboy. And so it came to pass that by constant dedication to the highest standards of his chosen craft, Stephen Bing swiftly rose to the upper echelons of the playboy profession. He won his success despite a devastating physical disability under which he suffers even to this day. Yes, the world has only recently discovered that in his late youth Stephen Bing was afflicted with an ever-worsening chronic condition, an occupational handicap that would have shattered the professional aspirations of any playboy of lesser means: a hairy back.

Notwithstanding the triumphs of his early career as a playboy, Bing soon apparently began to feel he had something more to offer the world, something in addition to the use of his Bel Air mansion for "sex romps between movie executives and call girls." The problem, of course, was that the working life of a playboy entails satisfactions that a man of Stephen Bing's moral depth could never in good conscience forsake.

If only there were some honorable avocation into which he could channel the overflow of his efforts, while still making regular contributions to his established profession. Yes, thank God, right here in America in a magical place called Hollywood a trust fund baby in possession of a half a billion dollars can, with just a couple of short phone calls to the right people, vindicate his otherwise totally wasted Ivy education and ascend to the trusted position of Movie Producer and Screenwriter. And so Bing set to work producing films and penning screenplays, some of which he might have actually written all by himself.

A June 22, 2002, article in The Scotsman (sorry, no free internet link available, but you can get the article from Lexis) summarizes Bing's life history at this moment in our story:
STEPHEN Leo Bing was born on 31 March, 1965, to property heir Peter Bing and his wife, Helen. Bing senior inherited his fortune from Grandpappy Bing, another tireless grafter in the dangerous world of real estate. Peter has been a benefactor of universities, including Stanford, one of the great Ivy League establishments, though his generosity failed to benefit his son and heir.

That's not to say young Steven did not receive the best education money could buy, at the prestigious Harvard school in Los Angeles, before he enrolled at Stanford. But "Bing Wing" or not, he flunked out after a year and a half. The scholar's life was not for him, though in that brief period, his buddies recall he had shown himself a keen student of movies and of beautiful women - and of movies with beautiful women in them.

He began to dabble in screenwriting, acting and producing, but in truth was often just a financier for the talented, beautiful crowd he immersed himself in. His credits are few, and usually derided - from television series (he wrote for the sitcom Married ... with Children) to movies. His 2000 remake of Get Carter, which replaced Michael Caine with Sylvester Stallone as the male lead, was lambasted in the press.

"He calls himself a writer, yet not many people have seen him writing," one Hollywood observer said. "It's more like he spends all his time studying obsessively how to get women and keep all his relationships alive at once."

Still, at least he enjoyed some success in that area. Introduced by James Caan, for a while he was a regular at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, and hanging out with friends like Kiefer Sutherland and Rob Lowe, he fast established a rakish reputation as a man about town.

Indeed, according to one former lover, Tracy Richman, Bing was a "sexual predator" and began to mark out some celebrity notches on his bedpost. There was Farrah Fawcett - 18 years his senior - Uma Thurman, Naomi Campbell and Sharon Stone (with a gracelessness we have since come to expect, Bing was to deride Ms Stone's abilities as a lover).
Alas, we might never know how great an artist Stephen Bing could have become if his mortal frame were not so over-burdened with the daily drudgeries of a playboy's labors, which seemed to sap vital energies that he might otherwise put into his art. But it would be wrong to say that all Bing's films have been entirely forgettable. His Chuck Norris Missing in Action trilogy shall ever remain the preeminent example of Viet Nam War Movie kitsch. Bing wrote the screenplay for all three pictures in that series, the first of which the New York Times described as:
One of a string of Ramboesque films dashed off in the '80s, Missing in Action is yet another entry that attempts to exploit the lingering public bitterness over the outcome of the war in Vietnam. Colonel Braddock (karate champion Chuck Norris) travels to Vietnam on a mission to recover lost POWs. A former POW himself, Braddock has the saavy and bad temper to kill droves of communists at a time, not to mention the inclination. Together with former war comrade M. Emmet Walsh, he sets off for the POW camp where Americans are supposedly still held. Of course, there are lots of nameless, faceless Asian communists, and of course, every one of them dies in violent fashion. The chop-socky, shoot-em-up, explosion-a-minute action quickly wears thin. Missing in Action is a crass, dopey film that ultimately fails to connect with anything interesting in the realm of fact or fiction.
Yet Bing's noble experiment in film-making has not been an unmitigated failure. One of his more notable movie-making successes came when the Democrat-controlled State of Hawaii granted his production company, Shangri-La, a $13 million tax credit for making a $50 million dollar film, even though the fruit of that labor turned out to be an "inert movie with few laughs" and "a big waste of talent." If Bing hands the Dems another $5 million to go with the $8 million he's already given to their 527s, he will have fully repaid the Hawaii favor. And I expect he will return the favor, since "regular folks" have to look out for each other.

While Bing's artistic endeavors seduced no critics, life in Hollywood brought other consolations which fit in nicely with his previously well-established career as a playboy: The foray into the celluloid world put him on a path to achieve his greatest public triumph: an eighteen month celebrity love affair with model/actress Elizabeth Hurley. Upon learning that he had knocked Hurley up, Bing promptly ditched her, contested paternity, and publicly questioned Hurley's feminine integrity. Hurley reportedly refused Bing's request that she have an abortion, and DNA tests ultimately confirmed the child was his, whereupon his sister complained bitterly that Bing had been "snookered into being a parent".

In their commentary about the affair, celebrity media moralizers went so far as to suggest that Stephen Bing, though fabulously wealthy and properly liberal, was a sleezeball. But in the more enlightened climes left-wing celebrities inhabit, Bing's demonstrated propensity to treat women like crap established his credentials as a leading figure in Democrat politics.

posted by Bathus | 7/09/2004 04:16:00 PM
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