It’s Edwards By a Hair

August 6, 2007

The clown college Washington press corps and the pundits have found their new Al Gore, and his name is John Edwards. It doesn’t matter that Edwards is a great speaker with a bagful of ideas that could lead the Democrats back to their roots and true purpose in life. All we’re going to hear about is his hairstyle.

Charles Pierce is Esquire is pretty brilliant on this subject:

On May 15, Mike Huckabee, a greasy Rotarian gasbag from Arkansas, made a funny. Speaking at a debate with the other Republican presidential contenders, Huckabee said of the Congress that it had “spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop.” This nasty little bit solicited gales of laughter from the studio audience and almost unalloyed approval from the traveling political press, and nobody enjoyed it more than the lads at The Politico, a brand-new political fanzine that combines the biting wit of a high school slam book with the nuanced policy analysis of Tiger Beat.

The line was an “instant classic,” raved Mike Allen.

Jonathan Martin said that the line “will dominate the news coverage in the days ahead.” But Roger Simon pointed out that the joke had certain factual errors in its delivery. It referred to a widely bruited story that Edwards had received a pair of $400 haircuts from a Beverly Hills stylist. Simon noted that the stylist had come to Edwards, so that saying something about Edwards being “at a beauty shop” was somewhat inaccurate.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the political culture seems to be determined to fag-bait John Edwards out of the race this time around. Channeling the conservative id from the swamps of its birth, as always, Ann Coulter flatly called him a “faggot” at a conference of conservative activists, and Rush Limbaugh regularly chaffs him as “the Breck Girl.” From there, apparently, the affair of the haircuts has mainstreamed Coulter’s position into more polite precincts. In April, Maureen Dowd wrote a column in The New York Times that speculated that the country was not ready for a “metrosexual in chief,” comparing Edwards unfavorably with her dear departed Irish-cop daddy, who used to get his hair cut at the Senate barbershop for fifty cents. You could almost hear the gentle ringing of sputum in the spittoons. Thus are the issues. Thus are the watchdogs. Thus are the politics while people are dying.

The important thing to remember is that toughness is a semiotic dumb show now. In that same debate in which Mike Huckabee flexed for the camera, John McCain pointed out that in his experience, which is considerable, torture doesn’t work. On this, he was disputed by a former mayor of New York, who once was tortured by the thought that his second wife would not vacate the mayoral digs in favor of his second mistress, and the former governor of Massachusetts, who once was tortured by the fact that gay people were getting married. Toughness was now a performance skill in a cowardly country taught to fear the best things about itself.

A candidate’s actual biography doesn’t matter; George H. W. Bush flew fighter planes when he was a teenager, and he couldn’t overcome the “wimp factor” against Ronald Reagan, whose primary combat experience was battling his way to the bar at the Brown Derby. In the three major national elections of his life, George W. Bush, who couldn’t find Alabama while he was serving in the National Guard, defeated three men — Al Gore, John McCain, and John Kerry — who had volunteered to go to Vietnam, and he did so by out-butching them. Kerry’s awkwardness in hunting clothes somehow trumped Bush’s fear of horses.

Courage and manliness had gone completely postmodern. They depended on art direction and set design. As long as you could convince people you had them, you did. The Democratic party needed to cowboy up a little, or else that hickory-smoked hunk of manhood known as W. would ride off with a permanent Republican majority into several decades’ worth of sunsets. Seven years later, of course, the buckaroo from Crawford has ridden himself off a cliff and taken the country with him. The smoke-’em-out, dead-or-alive rhetoric is now a desiccated skeleton in the distant sand. The unity and resilience demonstrated in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 has been transformed by a floundering political party and a useless national media into the cheapest kind of cardboard macho. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t maintain its attractions.

Thus was the debate in which Huckabee cracked wise at John Edwards’s expense a fascinating exercise in political dick-waving. Mitt Romney talked about wanting to “double” the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and Tom Tancredo cited Jack Bauer, the fictional terrorist-stopper from Fox’s hit 24. Only poor McCain sounded a note of warning about the efficacy of torture, and what in the hell does he know about it, anyway? Not one of them could muster the courage to criticize by name a president whose performance had lodged his poll numbers in the vicinity of those owned by scabies and the mange. They’re not going to run to end the war, none of them, except Ron Paul, the libertarian crank from Texas. They’re wedded to the war not just by virtue of being in the same party as the president who launched it, but because — as a piece of public performance — it is the perfect demonstration of the macho Kabuki that has come to define the politics by which they believe they have succeeded.

The war is a pestilence. Two thirds of the country knows it and suspects, angrily, who’s to blame for it. But Mike Huckabee made his joke, and all the very manly men had a big old laugh about it, even though John Edwards shows more steel just getting out of bed in the morning than most of them did on the bravest day they ever lived.

For the record, I can get along just fine with Barack Obama as the presidential nominee. I think it’s actually pretty cool that the Democrats have two strong, intellectually and political solid contenders in the race while the Republican field looks like a casting call for the sequel to Quest for Fire. Hillary ain’t gonna get it. 

If Barack gets the nomination, he wins. Ditto Edwards. That’s the good news. But in a perfect universe ruled by me, Edwards would be the nominee.

3 Responses to “It’s Edwards By a Hair”

  1. Chucky Says:

    Bush demands bottomless war spending. Congress — with the support of the Democratic Party — votes in favor of bottomless war spending.

    Bush demands endless domestic spying. Congress — with the support of the Democratic Party — votes in favor of endless domestic spying.

    Hit jobs in the Liberal Media are one thing. Collaborating in the creation of a fascist America is another.

  2. Rix Says:

    Excellent blog post.

  3. DBK Says:

    Why isn’t Hillary going to get the nomination?

    Given the truth in the comment above about what Bush demands and the Democrats do in response, what is the difference between the two parties? By that I mean, if both parties will, on any given day, support the most egregious offenses against the public good and the Constitution, why should anyone vote for a candidate from either of the two major parties…except perhaps as self-defense because the government can now essentially spy on us at will, so maybe we all really do have to watch what we say and do for fear of offending Big Brother.

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