Edwards and that whole problematic image issue

John Edwards and Mitt Romney appear to be turning up in the public imagination as mirror images, or sorts.  The line is that there’s a certain plasticity to both of them, a certain pretty-boy image, and a certain phoniness.

The charge is particularly strong by the oppostion party for both of them, but I think it permeates the images the primary voters of both parties hold for Romney and Edwards.

The problem with the charge against Edwards is that it misses any real mark whatsoever.  I don’t know that Edwards is any worse than any of the other candidates in terms of “phoniness” (and Mitt Romney is the worst on this score), but if you charged me with lining up the case for Edwards’s phoniness, I could do so easily.  Start with the Iraq War Resolution.  John Kerry, who was pilloried for his ‘yea’ vote and his subsequent attempts at explaining his frame of “nuance”, had some backing in terms of his deliberations leading up to his vote.  He sits in the same camp as, say, Chuck Hagel — who also voted “yea”, also poked around at the issues in Senate committees — and has been retrobate for the Republicans for expressing disfavor toward the Iraq War enterprise.  Edwards, meanwhile, blasted full force ahead on the measure, cherrily stood next to the hated Joseph Lieberman and the deal-making Dick Gephardt when the Resolution was borne out, and spent Democratic Party events lecturing the Democratic faithful on behalf of the need to throw out Saddam.  He was playing to conventional wisdom, the need to pad out his “Defense” bonafides in a light legislative record — to an extent that went beyond what John Kerry felt he had to do.

Today John Edwards says his vote was a mistake.  Which is okay.  It is a change of heart that happens to coincide perfectly with popular sentiment and the new conventional wisdom.  And it is a change of heart that would be a little better seen as a true change of heart if he had shown — dare I call it Kerry-esque — signs of equivocation in the lead up to the Resolution vote.

The point I make by hashing out his wild swings on the Iraq War resolution is that policy issues such as this better qualify for consideration of this line of attack than what is being peddled at us — which boils down to: He’s running a campaign about poverty AND YET He’s rich and buys expensive things — and spending a good deal of money on his appearance.  (The $300 haircut is the classic case.)  This is, to quote Mitt Romney, a non sequitur, or a null set, which is that the Republicans apparently believe that Edwards or anyone who runs on a campaign concerning poverty is doing a campaign of Class Envy, positing that Edwards is a hypocrite because he is supposedly railing against the Rich.

I could dredge up Ann Coulter’s crudest version of this line of thinking within the confrontation Elizabeth Edwards made on Chris Matthew’s show, but I do not see any reason to.  The higher brow version was in the guise of the recent news article that posited Edwards’s anti-poverty program as a cynical bridge to his election campaign, which it may as well be, but — as the Edwards faithful pointed out — it didn’t bother to survey those it affected.

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