EDWARDS HATIN', PART II.

EDWARDS HATIN', PART II. Ezra's post below about parts of the DC establishment having it in for John Edwards is very interesting, and the second element to this is the very similar feelings that seem to be evident among the press corps. I can remember a conversation I had with one prominent old-line liberal columnist about Edwards back in 2003, when he explained that the general sentiment among the cognoscenti, one he obviously shared, was that Edwards was just too big for his britches.

That feeling doesn't seem to have gone away. I don't think it's an accident that the guy with the populist campaign is the one getting pummeled relentlessly over every little thing that could possibly indicate he isn't a real reg'lar guy. I did a Nexis search on "John Edwards and haircut" for the last month and got 488 hits. Reporters are obviously finding any excuse they can to throw that into every story, the little dig meant to undermine whatever argument Edwards is making at a particular moment. He's probably starting to feel like Al Gore circa 1999 -- reporters just think he's a phony, and they aren't going to let it go. The $400 haircut is the "Al Gore said he invented the internet" of 2008.

What's odd about this is how the press is always so indifferent to evidence that Republicans are posing as ordinary folk; indeed, it seems like the more transparently fake a Republican's average joe credentials, the more likely they are to praise his "authenticity" (see Bush, George W.). Back in April, Noam Scheiber offered a compelling explanation for the electoral appeal of phony average joe-ness: voters aren't turned off when they find out that Fred Thompson is not a down-home fella but someone who was a high-priced Washington lobbyist for a couple of decades, because if they ever got rich, they'd like to think they'd still be driving a pickup truck and eating peanut butter sandwiches instead of mixing with the snobs on Martha's Vineyard. So it's OK if it's fake.

The difference with someone like Edwards, though, is that he actually has a substantive populism to go along with whatever symbolic efforts at populism he may make. That may be what really sticks in the craw of the chattering class. They're completely down with red pickup trucks, praise of country music and NASCAR, etc. -- they may not partake of those particular things themselves, but they nonetheless believe that they constitute the accoutrements of "real" America. But start talking about poverty or say you have no problem with single-payer health care? Then you obviously can't be trusted.

--Paul Waldman

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