Archive for October, 2007

Stick a fork in him

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

When John Edwards’ political obituary is written, which could happen as soon as early next year, last week’s student-video incident may well be identified as the moment when everyone could see that the end was near. If an amateurish, obscure and eminently forgettable news report can unhinge your campaign staffers, it’s a good indication that there’s panic in the air at the Edwards camp.

You surely heard about this, but if not go here for a full recounting of the whole flap. The short version is this: A graduate journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill produced a three-minute televised news report on the fact that Edwards’ campaign headquarters is located in an upscale shopping center. In the report, two UNC students earnestly debated whether that location was appropriate for a candidate who has made poverty a centerpiece campaign issue. The report was posted on Youtube, and that was that — until two top Edwards campaign staffers called UNC and demanded that the segment be killed.

Boy, you normally don’t see that kind of ham-fisted attempt at media manipulation anywhere this side of a FEMA press conference. Needless to say, the thuggery backfired on the Edwardians.

A confident, professional campaign would have ignored that amateur effort to gin up a controversy. It was, after all, old news. Ever since his first $400 haircut, Edwards has been swatting away similar questions about the gap between his high-cotton lifestyle and his concern for the poor. The student’s report on the location of the headquarters was just yet another variation on that theme, and one guaranteed to be largely ignored by the public. There was no benefit to Edwards in making a big deal about it. The only result was renewed attention to the dissonance between his affluence and his anti-poverty campaign.

But when you feel something slipping away, hysterics, irrational reactions and public displays of bad judgment are the norm. It’s what compels jilted lovers to stalk their former paramours, or give their cars the Carrie Underwood treatment. When people act hinky, it’s because they know their time is up.

Edwards will probably be done, politically, shortly after the New Hampshire primary. He’ll never run for president again unless he wants to be remembered as this generation’s Harold Stassen. Even if he wanted his Senate seat back, he probably couldn’t get elected again in North Carolina, considering how quickly he abandoned that post when presidential ambition first called in 2004. He might be a natural candidate for a cabinet post in a future Democratic administration — U.S. attorney general, for instance — but would Hillary Clinton really want to give a key post to someone with such a lean and hungry look?

Maybe Edwards will simply go back to practicing law. If so, the people with real reason to be annoyed with the young journalist would be doctors — Edwards’ favorite target in his litigator days.