John Edwards, The Hair Cut, And A Response To Readers

Some polite readers of the blog are John Edwards are requesting -- nay -- demanding some sort of a response, or an apology (?), or at least some sort of self-flaggelating statement.

Else, I risk extending my turn as the latest pinata for the capital-letter brigade.

Best to restate and elaborate on some points. I will update this post as warranted.

1. A good chunk of the national political press corps (maybe at most 30%) doesn't like John Edwards. (Ask the Edwards campaign about this -- they'll revise the percentage upwards). This 30% includes columnists and pundits and a few reporters. Many are capable of, and generally do, when the situation warrants, write favorable or balanced stories about Edwards. But their predispositions can skew their coverage of the bad stuff, and occasionally, as in all institutions (like, uh, the commentosphere, or whatever), groupthink gets in the way of independent thinking. This is a fairly mundane point.

2. The hair cut story was legitimate but not very significant.

3. Personality and character matter. It's challenging to cover these subjects.

4. Presidential candidates deserve to be held to a level of scrutiny that is both high and difficult to describe.

5. If poverty is your issue, it's appropriate to examine your wealth and how you spend it.

Actually, forget about the first phrase. The general principle stands. If you're running for president, it's appropriate to examine your wealth, how you spend it, how you comport yourself.

If you choose to base a presidential campaign on the issue of combating poverty, if you suggest that your background and experiences provide you with an unusual empathy for poor people, if you ground your presidential campaign on the premise that there are two Americas, if the quality, habits and character of the messenger matters _at all_, then the hair cut story is marginally relevant and interesting because it speaks to your political judgment -- and to the lengths you'll go to present yourself as a capable, acceptable, handsome messenger for the cause. Edwards does not just talk about poverty. He advances himself as the champion of regular people. His surrogates tout his ability to identify with the concerns of regular people. He goes out of his way to present himself as a regular guy.

His mammoth house, his lucrative deal with a hedge fund, his charity under press scrutiny for its charity-ness, a poverty center questioned about its poverty-center-ness -- it is reasonable, in this context, to write about a $400 haircut.

6. Edwards is not a hypocrite and those who call him a hypocrite do not actually know the word's definition.

In 2006, a good chuck of the press corps (maybe 30%), was very wary of a post-presidential John Kerry, who turned out to be quite prescient about the politics of the issue of the day. And Bob Somerby made himself a household name by chronicling how the press was unfair to and simply didn't like Al Gore. Edwards may be this cycle's version of Al Gore and John Kerry.