April 21, 2007
Yes, Maureen Dowd sucks. But her suckitude is a constant in the political-media equation; it is unchanging, inflexible, utterly predictable. To be awed by her superficiality is to berate the sun for rising in the east.
What I don't understand is John Edwards. A presidential campaign demands so many sacrifices. It rips you from your family, forces a ceaseless travel schedule, demands constant kowtowing to parochial primary voters, demands endless humiliating fundraising calls, and imposes a thousand indignities and inconveniences, some major, some minor. So why, in all that he is giving up, did he not eschew the big house or the costly cut?
To be clear, for all I care, Edwards can live in Versailles and give Alan Greenspan gold bricks to cut his hair. But every Democratic presidential candidate since Clinton has been tagged for expensive haircuts. Everyone knows appearances matter, and populist credibility is harmed by accusations of opulent personal habits. To blame Maureen Dowd for this controversy is like watching a drunk slam into a divider and blaming the divider. The divider is always there, folks just have to avoid it. And Edwards could have avoided this. Why he didn't, honestly, baffles me. And so much as I'd like to say -- and genuinely believe -- it's a completely useless subject for inquiry, given that such inquiries will be made, the question of why he showed such poor political judgment is a legitimate one for Democratic primary voters to ask.
April 21, 2007 | Permalink
That's just great, Ezra Dowd!
Posted by: Brian | Apr 21, 2007 5:41:20 PM
> But every Democratic presidential
> candidate since Clinton has been
> tagged for expensive haircuts.
You assume that if he hadn't been "tagged" for "expensive haircuts" he would _not_ have been tagged for something equally absurd. The history since 1998 is that the Radical Right is very, very good at developing these emasculating memes and pushing them into the traditional media, and that the traditional media rises to the bait every time.
I will also point out that a Presidential candidate is essentially a television performer (what was the line from Back to the Future? "Ronald Reagan? Why would you elect a /televsion actor/ as President?"). Call up your local TV news station and ask the anchorman how much he pays for his hairstyling. He won't tell you, but even in a small city I bet it is at least $100/week.
Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 21, 2007 5:47:57 PM
Maybe because like all candidates, he has people setting things up for him all the time and that he had no idea how much it cost? Or, do you want us to believe that Edwards himself searched for a really expensive stylist, because that's what he reallty really wanted, and then paid himself and charged in to the campaign?
Don't you any idea how big-time campaigns work?
He said he had no idea how much it cost. Are you saying you don't believe him?
Incidentially, I found his apology in which he admitted that it was mistake and that it had embarrassed him to be quite refreshing. Most pols feel compelled to put up an artificial and dangerous wall of invulnerability and infallibility. That Edwards would admit to embarrassment is encouraging.
Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 21, 2007 5:58:25 PM
@davidmizner Your point is well taken. But it leads to this followup: what's missing in his staff's sense of perspective that would allow them to lead their candidate into this trap?
Posted by: Michael Markman | Apr 21, 2007 6:15:54 PM
These sorts of stories work with Democrats, especially putative populists, because there is something a bit unpleasant in somebody claiming to be the common man and acting entirely differently. I think that Democrats are best when they are genuinely middle American in their tastes and habits -- Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton (expensive haircut kerfuffle notwithstanding) and the Daley family in Chicago come to mind -- or when they go all-in patrician (FDR and JFK). The effete, internationalist, limousine liberal thing, however, does not mix well with populism. Many recent Democrats, including Al Gore, John Kerry and -- possibly -- John Edwards do not get that. Go one way or the other: Be elite and proud of it and advance your liberal ideas in the great tradition of noblesse oblige, or genuinely be middle American. Stop pretending to be the average guy.
Posted by: TigerHawk | Apr 21, 2007 6:22:36 PM
It's true. As her looks go Dowd is getting more and more bitter. So all those Dems had better be really carefull. That said, from what I understand the cost included travel time for the said stylist, apparently pretty far.
More important, I think is how the candidate responds, and on that I think Edwards comes off pretty well.
Posted by: AJ | Apr 21, 2007 6:25:33 PM
Sense of perspective?
I'm no expert on campaigns but I spent some time on a senate campaign in California and what amazed me was that there were serious gaffes every day. Campaigns are huge, ever-expanding start-up organizations, with very tired mid-level and low staffers constantly making decisions that could end up in the New York Times.
Here's my point: political speaking the ONLY important fact is that the campaign paid for it. If Edwards's had broken out his VISA, we wouldn't be talking about it. Some staffer let the campaign pay for it, and there were people who reviewed the expenses before they went to the FEC. Yeah, it would been nice if someone had said yikes, 400 bucks for a haircut, this can't go on the expense report, but the fact that someone didn't tells me only that....well, someone didn't. It slipped past tired eyes. No big deal. They'll do much worse before this campaign's done.
Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 21, 2007 6:26:26 PM
"Be elite and proud of it and advance your liberal ideas in the great tradition of noblesse oblige, or genuinely be middle American. Stop pretending to be the average guy."
Actually, Edwards comes off pretty well on this score as well; for one thing, unlike Kerry and Kennedy et al, he's a genuine self-made man, so his claim to understand the struggle of the working and middle class isn't crap. For another, he makes no effort to hide his wealth, on the contrary, his stated rationale for his campaign is to give others the chances he's had.
That said, as an Edwards's supporter, I really wish he hadn't decided to build some a big house.
Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 21, 2007 6:33:56 PM
I'm sure all the Republican candidates get expensive hair cuts too, but no one cares about them, and rightfully so. So it's not really the substance so so much as the expectation that Republican candidates are rich and elite while Democrats are supposed to be populist and in touch with the average person and so forth. This is especially true for Edwards, who's cultivated that image purposefully. Hell, Hillary Clinton probably has "opulent personal habits" as well, but such a revelation would hardly make the news in the same way Edawrds' gaffe has.
That said obviously this whole thing is a non-controversy and means nothing. But it's part of an emerging counter-narrative to Edwards' candidacy, probably more effective in the general than it would be in the primary.
Posted by: Korha | Apr 21, 2007 6:41:14 PM
> So it's not really the substance so so much as
> the expectation that Republican candidates are
> rich and elite while Democrats are supposed to be
> populist and in touch with the average person and so
> forth. This is especially true for Edwards, who's
> cultivated that image purposefully.
As opposed to that up-by-his-bootstraps dude George W. Bush who put himself through UT Brownsville by working in the fields, then bought himself a working ranch and...
Oh wait: George W. Bush, scion of Eastern wealth and beneficiary of numerous big-dollar bailouts and sweetheart deals, bought himself a few hundred acres of worthless scrubland and weedwhacked a Potemkin "ranch" out of it (only think missing is the tame birds to hunt - oh wait two...) - yet that behaviour gets a free pass from the media from 1998 through at least 2005.
Can we have the list right now of things Democratic candidates are not allowed to do? No, we can't, because as soon as the list is issued the Radicals will find more grevious offenses against the mores of good ol' workin' class Americans (of which I was actually one by the way) and pump _those_ into the traditional media, which will rise to the bait and attack the Dems and the Dems alone.
Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 21, 2007 6:47:24 PM
Everyone here seems to be missing the more potentially politically damaging aspect of this. It's not the elitism charge--Americans like rich people--it's the "pretty" charge, the effort to emasculate him started by Coulter, continued by Limbaugh and Dowd, and unnoticed by Ezra.
Edwards, with his populism tempered by his personality and accent, is the GOP's worst nightmare. The best bet for the Daddy's Party to beat him would be to try to take his balls away, so it's disturbing to see both Dowd perpetuate the meme, and Ezra give her a pass.
Posted by: davidmizner | Apr 21, 2007 6:49:00 PM
Did Coulter start that? I thought the "I'm So Pretty" video predated her assault.
Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 21, 2007 6:57:21 PM
Yeah, David, the right's general attack on Dems is 'they are weak', and their specific attack is 'they won't fight to defend our freedom'. Real men are strong and will fight, like GWB does.
So, the emerging meme on Edwards is that he's the Breck Girl, a coward on foreigh policy, obsessed with his hair like the fems, and lives like a maharajah on the legal suit money he grubbed from working folks. And he is weak and pathetic, in case you missed the message.
The theme is Dems have no balls. Edwards is their exemplar.
Why the Edwards team doesn't recognize and eviscerate these attackers before they destroy him is a true mystery. And for sure, avoid gaffs that play to the meme.
I wish Edwards could goad some righty into hitting him first and then beat the shit out of him, look around and ask if anyone else wants some knuckle sandwich, naming some names. Iy could even be a woman like Coulter, since she's got more balls than 99% of the GOP wingnuts and pols.
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Apr 21, 2007 7:10:53 PM
Wait a minute Ez, you really think John Edwards should move because his house is too big?
Posted by: jerry | Apr 21, 2007 7:19:21 PM
Everyone knows appearances matter, and populist credibility is harmed by accusations of associating with bigots, racists, and sexists. Given that such inquiries will be made, the question of why he showed such poor political judgment is a legitimate one for Democratic primary voters to ask.
Jeez, listen to Ezra finally making the case against Amanda Marcotte, webmaster.
Posted by: jerry | Apr 21, 2007 7:24:20 PM
Jeebus H on a pogo stick, there is no "there there." Dean was *hammered* because he's so resolutely middle class, carried his own bags, so lacking in good looks and pretension. There is simply *no safe harbor* for any democratic candidate--there is no right way to walk, talk, or look because there is no way to walk, talk, or look *republican* enough for the republicans. This is the equivalent of driving while black. Edwards' "gaffe" is in being a candidate while being a democrat. In fact I think Steven Colbert did a parody of this the other day demanding that the democratic candidate switch to being a republican so all the things he's pilloried for now he can be admired for later.
These are set pieces and the candidate is fit into it. Let us stop pretending (and this means you, ezra) that being smarter or faster or meaner or uglier than the republicans can prevent these attacks. It can disarm them once they are made but they will always be made.
Posted by: aimai | Apr 21, 2007 7:25:18 PM
I think that Democrats are best when they are genuinely middle American in their tastes and habits... or when they go all-in patrician (FDR and JFK). The effete, internationalist, limousine liberal thing, however, does not mix well with populism.
Huh. FDR was pretty good at mixing a patrician background with populist politics.
Posted by: Clark | Apr 21, 2007 7:27:15 PM
"That said, as an Edwards's supporter, I really wish he hadn't decided to build (such) a big house."
OK. Everyone always gets this kind of stuff wrong.
The best candidates are those whose attack points actually reinforce their strengths.
For example, the McCain "bomb Iran" thing actually helps McCain, even though almost all the punditry has reported it the other way. MoveOn's add should be charged to McCain's campaign account.
And likewise, this type of stuff against Edwards actually plays into strengths.
There are two issues at play with the haircut.
First is the "feminizing" thing.
- The Bush WH in '04: "Breck Girl"
- Ann Coulter: "faggot"
- Rush Limbaugh: "He looks like a girl"
- The $400 haircut
Second is the "he talks about Two Americas, but he's part of the rich America" thing.
- The big spread in North Carolina
- The $400 haircut
The haircut has received such airplay because it taps into both of these pre-existing storylines. But I don't think either of these storylines hurts Edwards in any way.
The feminizing/pretty stuff seems obvious how it helps, rather than hurts. In a race against the first serious female candidate for President, metrosexuality has its benefits. While the general election obviously has different dynamics, again I don't think it hurts Edwards among the voting groups a Dem needs to win. Similar storylines were attempted several times against Bill Clinton, and they didn't weaken him.
The hypocritical rich guy stuff is misanalyzed by almost all the pundits. It's crucial to first recognize that Edwards' Son of a Millworker bio inoculates him from the most corrosive elements of this stuff. But importantly, the public shows of Edwards' wealth also helps emphasize the aspirational elements of the Two Americas message.
The middle of the electorate is resistant to economic populism that is missing an aspirational core. The 'poor boy done good' part of Edwards' bio means that Edwards' economic message gets a guaranteed aspirational core. When he's speaking about evening the playing field, he's not trying to knock the rich - he is rich - he wants to make sure the doors of wealth are open to everyone.
A jumbled posting, but most of the important stuff should have been in there.
Posted by: Petey | Apr 21, 2007 7:35:45 PM
Why pay $400 for a hair cut? Because the best stylists in any city are very expensive and he's running for the most highly visible job in the world. Despite all the cries from Dowd and others who wish their hair was half as nice as his, Edwards is aware his looks work to his advantage and rightly so has chosen to use it.
Posted by: Fred | Apr 21, 2007 7:38:36 PM
Who started the "Breck Girl" thing? Do we know?
In a race against the first serious female candidate for President, metrosexuality has its benefits.
Wow. Interesting idea, but I have big doubts it works that way.
Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 21, 2007 7:48:27 PM
It would be typical for a Democrat to explain something like this, or worse, apologize for it. Probably Edwards will ignore it while it grows into a "invented the Internet" story.
Why not try, just once, going on the offensive instead? "None of your damn business. If I want to get a $500 haircut, then by God I am going to get a $500 haircut. Why? Because I like getting $500 haircuts, that's why. I enjoy it. It's fun. And who cares? I earned the money, I'll spend it how I want."
Special bonus points for adding, "Hell, are the Republicans so obsessed with controlling everyone's personal behavior that they're lecturing people about their haircuts now?"
Posted by: social democrat | Apr 21, 2007 7:59:34 PM
Alternatively, he could say, "You know, there's an old saying among lawyers like me. If you have the facts on your side, pound on the fact. If you have the law on your side, pound on the law. If you have neither the facts nor the law on your side, pound on the other guy's haircut."
Posted by: social democrat | Apr 21, 2007 8:02:53 PM
"Who started the "Breck Girl" thing? Do we know?"
The Bush WH in late '03 - aka Karl Rove.
The Edwards campaign embraced the slur by handing out travel size Breck shampoos during at his campaign announcement several weeks later.
Posted by: Petey | Apr 21, 2007 8:17:46 PM
I don't give a shit what he pays for his haircut. I care what he will do with our healthcare. Until you get this, you will always be a sucker for the right. Period.
Posted by: akaison | Apr 21, 2007 8:19:32 PM
Incidentally- I would like to take credit for that last comment. But it was said to me, by a much more conservative friend who has a lower tolerance for bullshit.
Posted by: akaison | Apr 21, 2007 8:20:53 PM
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