Maureen Dowd on John Edwards and His Haircuts

Maureen Dowd looks at one of the problems faced by John Edwards, but misses the real problem in today’s column:

Whether or not the country is ready to elect a woman president or a black president, it’s definitely not ready for a metrosexual in chief.

In presidential politics, it’s all but impossible to put the man into manicure. Be sensitive, but not soft. Effete is never effective. Not much has changed since George H. W. Bush drove his New Hampshire campaign off the road by requesting “a splash” more coffee at a truck stop…

John Edwards has reminded us that even — or especially — in the age of appearances, you must not appear to care too much about appearances.

When you spend more on a couple of haircuts than Burundi’s per capita G.D.P. , it looks so vain it makes Paul Wolfowitz’s ablutions spitting on his comb look like rugged individualism.

Following his star turn primping his hair for two minutes on a YouTube video to the tune of “I Feel Pretty,” Mr. Edwards this week had to pay back the $800 charged to his campaign for two shearings at Torrenueva Hair Designs in Beverly Hills. He seems intent on proving that he is a Breck Girl — and a Material Boy.

He did not pony up for the pricey bills from Designworks Salon in Dubuque, Iowa, or the Pink Sapphire spa in Manchester, which offers services for men that include the “Touch of Youth” facial, as well as trips “into the intriguing world of makeup.” The Edwards campaign calls makeup a legitimate expense.

Speaking of roots, my dad, a police detective who was in charge of Senate security, got haircuts at the Senate barbershop for 50 cents. He cut my three brothers’ hair and did the same for anyone else in the neighborhood who wanted a free clip job. Even now, Mr. Edwards could get his hair cut at the Senate barbershop for $21 or the Chapel Hill Barber Shop near his campaign headquarters for $16.

So it’s hard for me to understand how a guy could spend $400 without getting Bergdorf Blonde highlights. (The tabloids claim that Brad and Jen used to get matching streaks.) And don’t campaign donors get snippy about sponsoring tonsorial treats?

Someone who aspires to talk credibly about the two Americas can’t lavish on his locks what working families may spend on electricity in a year. You can’t sell earnestness while indulging in decadence.

Mr. Edwards, the son of a mill worker, moved from a $5.2 million, six-bedroom Federal mansion in Georgetown to a 28,000-square-foot behemoth in North Carolina with a basketball court, a squash court, two stages and a swimming pool.

Dowd concludes, “All the haircuts in the world may not save John Edwards from a blowout.” The haircut is only part of the problem. The real problem is the lack of substance which makes Edwards so susceptable to such characterizations. Dowd also found that John Kerry and Bill Clinton had similar problems:

John Kerry sank himself by windsurfing in spandex and ordering a cheese steak in Philly with Swiss instead of Cheez Whiz…

Bill Clinton sometimes flirted with metrosexuality, with Zegna ties, Christophe haircuts, Donna Karan suits and keen anima, but the heterosexual beat out the metrosexual.

Despite this, John Kerry did better than any challenger to an incumbent during time of war, and Bill Clinton was elected President twice. John Kerry and Bill Clinton had a chance to overcome such characterizations because there is more to their story. John Kerry has years in Congress fighting for the causes he campaigned about, and Bill Clinton, for all hsi faults, was a policy wonk who, in contrast to George Bush, wasn’t afraid of hard work when necessary.

In contrast, John Edwards has a single, rather undistinguished term in the Senate which he used as a launching pad to run for President rather than to accomplish anything. His smile and trial lawyer’s ability to work the jury (or voters) placed him in a position where he seemed like a good choice as running mate for John Kerry, but if actual experience and accomplishments were considered this was a choice comparable to George H. W. Bush’s choice of Dan Quayle.

When Dan Quayle was picked, people tried to be polite by saying he was so “young” as opposed to more openly saying he was not being qualified for national office. We are seeing a comparable response when talk about Edwards concentrates on topics such as his hair cuts. To some degree the You Tube video is a cheap shot as anyone could be made to look similarly silly while preparing for a television appearance. If there was real substance there, it would be easier to move past such topics, but in this case his haircuts are as significant as anything else about Edwards.

Update: Obsidian Wings and theGarance defend Edwards, aguing that the haircut story is a silly attack. They are right, but this misses the point. Defending this particular haircut will no more change how Edwards is viewed than an explanation for Dan Quayle misspelling potato would have changed the way in which he was viewed. While being labeled The Breck Girl by Republicans might have hurt, Edwards received another insult from George Bush in 2004 which was far more serious as it was valid, when Bush questioned whether Edwards was qualified to be President.

Stories such as this will remain a problem for Edwards as he has no substance as a candidate to fall back on. John Edwards remains the Dan Quayle or George W. Bush of 2008, who has yet to show that he is qualfied to be President or deserves to be taken seriously as a candidate for national office. After the experience of George Bush, we should be cautious in supporting someone so poorly qualified for the job, regardless of which party, regardless of how slick they appear, and regardless of how much they seek the approval of the liberal blogosphere. There is no doubt that Edwards would make a better President than Dan Quayle or George Bush, but I would hope we could do even better.

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