Thursday, July 5, 2007

Again with the Haircut?

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 564

For those of you who haven’t taken a look at 2008 Central yet, you should definitely click through and pay them a visit. It is a site run by a couple of very sharp guys who do a consistently good job analyzing the 2008 race right across the political spectrum. Even when I disagree with what they write, I respect their ability to present their analysis and coherently state their case.

I was looking over their site a little earlier this evening, and came across a recent post titled, “Update: I Still Do Not Care About John Edwards’ Haircuts.” The post had a couple of points to which I wanted to respond, and I duly began typing out a comment on their site. However, the length began to run way past what anyone could reasonably consider a “comment,” and went on to become more of a full length rant in its own right. So, rather than clog up their site with it, I decided it made more sense to just post it here.

[Note: I urge you to read the 2008 Central post linked to above before proceeding; the rest of this likely won’t make much sense, otherwise.]

As one who has made some of the very points referred to in the article (see this post), allow me to respectfully differ with its author, and to take a moment to make my position clear.

I agree that Edwards’ money makes him no different from most other Democratic candidates (see this post for some thoughts on this). But the problem I find with John Edwards is not that he has money and still espouses concern for the poor and middle class, because, again to the author’s point, all candidates do this. The problem I have with John Edwards in this regard is not that he wants people to believe he is concerned for the lot of the ordinary American, but that he still claims to be one of them.

Contrast this with Franklin Roosevelt. He came to the White House as possibly the richest president, in comparative terms, that we have ever had. Yet he also did more to better the economic and social condition of the great mass of the American people than any other president in our history. The distinction here is that FDR never attempted to persuade people that he was economically and socially “one of us;” rather, he offered hope to a country sunk in misery and was elected on the strength of his record as governor of New York, and of his policies and ideas, which contrasted so greatly with those offered by Hoover and the Republicans of the time.

What FDR got that John Edwards doesn’t get is that the American people don’t necessarily need to see their mirror image when they look at who they will make their president. Rather, the American people, I believe, are more interested in where a candidate stands than in where a candidate comes from. That John Edwards expresses concern for the underprivileged is commendable, and I find no fault with him for doing so; I do not think him insincere, nor discount his own personal experience in rising from poverty himself. Rather, the problem arises when, on top of these things, John Edwards lays claim to being a common man. He isn’t. He doesn’t have to be. But he still insists on asking voters to make the not inconsiderable leap of believing he is. It is, simply put, laying it on just a little too thick for his own good.

And that’s what the haircut stuff is all about : it goes to the heart of this problem. When you’re blogging about the haircut, you’re blogging about this. With respect, it is not trivia, precisely because John Edwards appeals for support in no small part based upon personal qualities.

So yes, absolutely let us talk about substance, let us debate policy and records in office. But let us not put on blinders to other things that matter – because there are, and they do – when considering the claims of those who seek to lead us.




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1 comment:

2008 said...

Thanks for the link.

And I don't disagree with you, actually.

You're right, it is somewhat hypocritical for Edwards to claim to be in the 'poor America' and live in giant houses and get thousand dollar haircuts. It's why I've wrote that he should say he is a product of the second America, not a member of it.

Look at what Bill Clinton says all the time about tax cuts - to paraphrase, "guys like me are not paying my fair share." Still empathetic, but there's an acknowledgement of being rich. Obama does not shy away from saying he is well off, but also tells stories about spending a night on the street when he came to New York.

I suppose my point is that this haircut controversy is a product of Edwards, intentionally or not, trying to deceive people about who he is and the really handling it poorly.

The haircut itself is the trivia. The problem isn't the haircut, it's one example. His house is another example. It's not acknowledging the simple reality that he's a rich man right now. Obama and Clinton both embrace their past without running away from their present. For instance, Clinton recently spent a couple thousand dollars at a beauty salon, and it never blew up. It's partly because the Clinton's don't make sweeping claims to be part of the second America.

So I don't think it's about the haircut. It's about a larger question of who John Edwards is.

And this whole issue is a political problem that would not have blown up had the Edwards campaign responded apprprioately (or prevented it in the first place by not paying for it with campaign funds).

-john

 
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