Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Unbearable Lightness of Edwards

The Pulitzer prizes for 2008 will need to create a special category for best article designed to drive Hillary Clinton out of the Democratic nominating contest. There will even be subcategories: she can’t win the nomination stories, she’ll only elect McCain stories, she and her husband will destroy the Democratic Party stories, she can’t even pay her bills stories, she’s urging Eliot Spitzer to lend his Rolodex to Obama stories.

One recent entrant by John Heilemann of New York magazine, has received respectful attention, some of which is misplaced. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Heilemann’s writing or reporting. It’s that his claim that Barack Obama "blew it" when seeking the endorsement of John Edwards has been taken at face value. According to Heilemann’s second- or third-hand account of Obama’s solicitation, he came across to Edwards as "glib and aloof," "shallow" and "perfunctory." The weight of this evidence was enough to persuade Joe Klein of Time that Obama needs to "(re)prove himself in settings other than arena rallies."

But isn’t being called a lightweight by John Edwards about as devastating as being called a suck-up by Eddie Haskell? Oscar Wilde described America as the only country that passed from barbarism to decadence without an intervening stage of civilization. Similarly, Edwards spent the past six years running for president, morphing from an arriviste to a has-been without ever lingering in-between to be taken seriously. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in the obituary of Edwards’ political career, the fervent declarations that his whole life was devoted to populism left out the six years when Edwards: a) actually held public office as a one-term Senator; b) was, therefore, in a position to do something about the causes that meant everything to him; and c) cast vote after vote—on Iraq, bankruptcy, storing nuclear waste, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, trade with China—that he later came to believe undermined all those causes.

If we want to question Barack Obama’s political judgment, the ammunition from the Heilemann story is not that Obama failed to impress Edwards and win his endorsement. It’s that he even bothered trying.

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