In the past couple of weeks, the press has taken a decidedly negative turn on John Edwards. The ferocity of the attacks and the diversity of their origin is curious, to say the least. Their obsession with housing and haircuts and speaking fees has become all-consuming. This media phenomenon was apparent to media critic and author Jeff Cohen who wrote:
“The focus on these topics tells us two things about corporate media. One we’ve long known – that they elevate personal stuff above issues. The other is now becoming clear – that they have a special animosity toward Edwards.”
Edwards is receiving treatment that is generally reserved for front-runners like Clinton, Obama, or Giuliani. Here is a sampling of the assault:
Jonah Goldberg: “[Edwards] gives new meaning to the term “poverty pimp.”
USA Today: “Edwards, most prominently, has undermined his passionate advocacy for ordinary Americans by seeming to be anything but ordinary himself. Expensive haircuts reinforce the elitist image of a wealthy trial lawyer…”
Sean Hannity: “[Edwards isn't] up to the task of understanding the nature in the battle in the war that’s being waged against us.”
Jim Cramer (on Hardball): “[Edwards is] public enemy #1.”
Bill O’Reilly: “The former vice presidential candidate has sold his soul to far left interests [...] Edwards is running a preposterous campaign. He lives like a sultan in a 30,000 foot North Carolina house [...] Talking Points tries to respect all of those who want to serve their country, but Edwards is an exception. I have no respect for him. He’s a phony and is in the tank for special interests to damage this country.”
As an added bonus, O’Reilly offers swag for sale at his web site about which he says, “remember, when you buy anything on BillOReilly.com, a good portion of what you spend goes to charities, send a lot of kids, poor kids to camp this summer.”
Is O’Reilly a hypocrite as well because he is a multi-millionaire advocating help for poor kids? I might have a little more sympathy for these arguments if any of Edwards’ critics placed even a fraction of the effort on behalf of America’s poor that Edwards does. Edwards himself posed this question in response to these criticisms:
“Would it have been better if I had done well and didn’t care?”
This whole line of attack seems preposterous to me. First of all it is implying that you cannot be wealthy and concerned about the poor at the same time. If that’s true, it exempts about 90% of Congress and every presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, except for Dennis Kucinich. Secondly, it is a rejection of the American Dream that holds that everyone can share in this nation’s prosperity; everyone except John Edwards, who is to be pilloried for the audacity of being born poor but achieving great wealth through hard work and determination.
You have to wonder why Edwards is getting hit so hard from so many directions. Jeff Cohen believes it has something to do with Edwards’ criticism of corporate-driven trade policies. Certainly that position would anger the captains of industry that wield so much influence in American government. And remember, many of those captains are at the helm of media conglomerates. It was probably not lost on those folks that Edwards was the first Democrat to refuse to participate in the Fox debate.
But I think that just brushes the surface of their objections. I think it goes much deeper into the matter of the class distinctions raised by Edwards’ “Two Americas” campaign. They are ultimately afraid that the populist appeal of a movement that truly seeks to bring economic opportunity to every citizen, instead of just the elite, could catch on. That’s why it has to be strangled in the cradle of a candidate who is running third in national polls. The risk extends beyond Edwards himself. If voters responded positively to the issue, the other candidates would adopt it. So even if Edwards does not become a contender, the issue stays on the table. This fear has already been articulated by Nina Easton of Fortune Magazine to Brit Hume on Fox:
“Well, I think the most interesting thing about these speeches was the extent to which both candidates borrowed from the No. 2 candidate we saw there, John Edwards [...] to me it’s like they’re all joined at the hip on domestic policy”
It isn’t Edwards that they are all afraid of. It is economic populism, fair trade, and, in the end, the American Dream. That’s what the media and their mouthpieces in politics and punditry are trying to kill.