Edwards Political Judgement Questioned

Ezra Klein appears to be the only liberal blogger besides myself who, despite realizing that haircuts are not the important issue of 2004, Maureen Dowd’s criticism of Edwards does indicate real problems. I argued in a previous post that the stories such as this on John Edwards hurt as Edwards has no substance to fall back on, following in the tradition of Dan Quayle and George W. Bush as candidates who are unqualified for national office. Defending Edwards by dismissing the stories on his harcut misses the point. Arguing that stories on his haircut shouldn’t be held against him 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 compared Edwards to Cheney by saying that Dick Cheney was qualified to be President. While there are more considerations that a candidate’s qualifications, making Edwards preferable to Cheney, Bush, or Qualye, Democrats should be able to do far better than this.

Ezra Klein doesn’t go as far as I do in questioning whether Edwards is qualified to be President, but does question his political judgement, arguing that Edwards should have realized that this would turn into a negative story:

What I don’t understand is John Edwards. A presidential campaign demands so many sacrifices. It rips you from your family, forces a ceaseless travel schedule, demands constant kowtowing to parochial primary voters, demands endless humiliating fundraising calls, and imposes a thousand indignities and inconveniences, some major, some minor. So why, in all that he is giving up, did he not eschew the big house or the costly cut?

To be clear, for all I care, Edwards can live in Versailles and give Alan Greenspan gold bricks to cut his hair. But every Democratic presidential candidate since Clinton has been tagged for expensive haircuts. Everyone knows appearances matter, and populist credibility is harmed by accusations of opulent personal habits. To blame Maureen Dowd for this controversy is like watching a drunk slam into a divider and blaming the divider. The divider is always there, folks just have to avoid it. And Edwards could have avoided this. Why he didn’t, honestly, baffles me. And so much as I’d like to say — and genuinely believe — it’s a completely useless subject for inquiry, given that such inquiries will be made, the question of why he showed such poor political judgment is a legitimate one for Democratic primary voters to ask.

With only an undistinguished single term in the Senate, which Edwards used primarily as a stepping stone to run for the 2004 nomination, all Edwards really has on his resume is his smile and the belief that he would make a good candidate. He does a good job of working a crowd, just as he worked a jury, but being a slick talker is hardly enough to make one a good President. Lacking real substance, when his political judgement is also questioned in this matter, this doesn’t leave anything left for Edwards.

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