Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why Edwards (really) lost

A rather silly exchange between Ed Kilgore and Jonathan Cohn debating the metaphysical significance of the John Edwards campaign.

Five words, guys: John Edwards is a loser.

Does the title of a Zappa song, "Bobby Brown," ring a bell?

Who is John Edwards? A sharp lawyer who became immensely rich from his uncanny ability to persuade juries in tort-hell districts to award outlandish punitive damages in product-liability cases.

No one who knows anything about the dishonest craft of such legal parasites can respect them. "Punish the accused by making a lawyer rich" -- if they were for once ever compelled to reveal their true motives, they'd starve.

Ironically, Edwards then made a political career of blaming "corporate greed" for the loss of American manufacturing jobs. How stupid can people be?

Well, stupid enough to elect Edwards to the Senate in 1998. That was the year of the "Lewinsky backlash" against Republicans, and Edwards had the good fortune of going up against an exceptionally clueless (even for a Republican!) one-term incumbent, Lauch Faircloth.

For the next six years, Edwards was a non-entity in the Senate, and probably spent less time in North Carolina than he did in Iowa and New Hampshire.

As a presidential candidate -- which seems to have been more or less his full-time avocation after 2000 -- Edwards had exactly four strengths:
  • 1. He was fabulously rich, and thus could afford to travel a lot to Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as to fundraising events in California and New York. Campaigning on his AmEx, as it were.

  • 2. He was good-looking. Tall, slender, toussled hair, boyish face -- the kind of dime-store JFK knockoff that Democrats always swoon for.

  • 3. He was Southern. Ever since the Mondale (Minnesota) and Dukakis (Massachusetts) debacles of the '80s, Democrats have been almost hysterically obsessed with finding well-spoken, presentable Southerners who, they hoped, could enable them to break the electoral lock that the GOP supposedly gained because of Republican strength in the booming Sunbelt. The logic of this has been much-debated among Democrats in recent years, but we'll leave that.

  • 4. He could talk class-warfare populism like he invented it. His famous "Two Americas" shtick wowed 'em in Des Moines in 2003, and made him the darling of the union goons and other such nitwits who think Robert Reich is an important economist.
But for some reason, the Democrats who loved Edwards could never bring themselves to acknowledge his three glaring weaknesses:
  • His voice and mannerisms are not overtly masculine.
Bill Clinton has that hoarse, guttural voice, and that grizzly-bear physical presence -- he's roughly the size of a defensive end -- that together convey an inarguable masculinity. Even his political adversaries admit that Clinton dominates any room he's in. Edwards has none of that. He's the Barney Fife of politics, something that comes through very clearly on TV.
  • His biography doesn't fit his message.
Edwards does a lot of poor-mouthing about the circumstances of his raising. "Mah dadduh wukked in th' mill," he'd say in his deepest drawl, as if the Edwards family was living hand-to-mouth in a tar-paper shack. His father was, no doubt, a hard-working man, but he was in fact a foreman in the mill. By the standards of the South in the 1960s, the Edwards family was middle-class. And Edwards, the adult political candidate, was certainly never poor --he was very, very rich. If there is one thing that middle-class voters can't stand, it's a rich politician telling them how he wants to help the poor.

  • Class warfare is no long a winning political proposition in America.
No doubt, a politician or pundit (e.g., Paul Krugman) who serves up that "blame Corporate America" scapegoat rhetoric can attract many fans or followers. But in the wake of the Reagan revolution, in arguably the most free and prosperous economy in world history, it is difficult to hoodwink a majority about such things. This is why Democrats have resorted so often to identity politics in recent years. College-educated suburbanites making $100,000+ a year can be convinced by the pretzel-logic of identity politics that they are nonetheless "oppressed" because they are a member of some designated victim group. Identity politics thus functions as an electoral substitute for the waning power of AFL-CIO class-solidarity politics.

Ask anybody in North Carolina: Edwards was lucky to get the running-mate nod in 2004, because he could never have been re-elected to the Senate in his home state. He was a lightweight do-nothing, who only got 51% against the doomstruck Faircloth in '98. Anyone who ever expected him to do great things nationally -- including Edwards himself -- was living in a dream.

No liberal analyst would ever divulge such blunt truths to liberal readers, who resent the disturbance of their dreams.

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