Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cynicism and civility


Most TOC readers probably do not watch Chris Matthews MSNBC show "Hardball." Neither does most anyone else, apparently, so there's a good chance you missed this bit of theater the other day. Ann Coulter was on the show and was telephonically accosted by Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate and erstwhile ambulance chaser, John Edwards. Mrs. Edwards has claimed the call was "impulsive" - an odd way to describe arranging it in advance with MSNBC and at odds with the role of "most trusted advisor."

Edwards (Elizabeth, not John) complained about remarks Coulter had made ranging from Edewards' husband's prissyness, to her son's death in an automobile accident. It is worth reading Coulter's account, linked below, for the actual comments and context.

It is also instructive to read this piece from The New York Times. I'll spare you exposure to much of the fawning treacle, but I hope to make three points:

1- I
f newspapers weren't exempt from the free speech restrictions of McCain-Feingold, such a "news" article would probably be illegal to publish within 60 days of an election.

2-
It also reveals seeming contradictions in the claim that the call was "impulsive," and that Mrs. Edwards' influence is exaggerated. The emphasis illustrating that is mine.

3- In line with the Edwards' campaign talking points, it does manage to keep alive the idea of Mrs. Edwards' son's death and her cancer as issues of the campaign, if not actually campaign issues.

July 1, 2007
Perspective on Her Side, Mrs. Edwards Enters Fray
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and PATRICK HEALY

WASHINGTON, June 30 — Three months after Elizabeth Edwards said that her cancer had returned in inoperable form, her role and influence in John Edwards’s presidential campaign is undiminished. She has made a flurry of charged public appearances, become a regular presence advising Mr. Edwards on the campaign trail, and wields behind-the-scenes influence in many internal campaign decisions, aides said.

Mrs. Edwards has also become a free operator on behalf of her husband of 29 years, a development that her friends suggest reflects the clarity and perspective that come from her cancer diagnosis, and her increasingly confident political instincts as she advises Mr. Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat, in his second White House bid.

When Mrs. Edwards called in to a television talk show this week to confront the conservative commentator Ann Coulter who had attacked Mr. Edwards this year, it was a decision that Mrs. Edwards said she made impulsively and on her own. The resulting dramatic four minutes of television created a surge of attention that at least momentarily electrified her husband’s campaign, winning applause from the left and apparently spiking contributions in the critical final days of this second-quarter fund-raising period.

...

Mrs. Edwards, in telephone interviews on Friday, said reports of her influence were exaggerated. A noted lawyer in her own right until she retired in 1996 after the couple’s teenage son died in a car accident, she said the burdens of her life these days made it impossible for her to be as involved as she was in 2004, when by all accounts she was Mr. Edwards’s most influential adviser.

“If you sit down with a list of the details of what I do, you wouldn’t come up with very much,” she said cheerfully. “I have a new house. I have kids. I have boxes to unpack. I have cancer.”

...

“But I like it when somebody expresses their view with clarity and force,” she said. “It was Nietzsche or Kierkegaard who said you have to believe in something so strongly that you don’t acknowledge another’s point of view: That’s what real belief is.”

There was a moment of silence on the telephone. “Now I don’t go that far,” Mrs. Edwards said. [What??]
...

Mrs. Edwards is involved in the high-level decisions that are driving the campaign, including the drafting of major speeches, discussion of debate strategy and reviewing television advertisements. When the Edwards campaign was preparing a Memorial Day weekend plan to highlight Mr. Edwards’s opposition to the war, Mrs. Edwards argued that that the campaign restrict its activities on the Monday holiday to honoring soldiers, warning that anything perceived as an antiwar protest on that day would be politically damaging.

Campaign advisers said Mrs. Edwards was the political strategist Mr. Edwards trusted the most, which added to her authority.
...

Mrs. Edwards played down her public role. “I think that’s really you guys, not me,” she said. “It’s because of the cancer and now, for a few minutes anyway, because of Ann Coulter.”
Having only "a few minutes anyway," the Edwards campaign immediately went to work raising money from Elizabeth's "impulsiveness." Here's the blurb from the campaign website:
The Right Wing Attacks!

Tuesday evening Elizabeth Edwards called Ann Coulter live on Hardball to ask for an end to her personal attacks on John and other candidates. Coulter's response? More personal attacks.

It's up to us to raise the dialogue by taking our message straight to voters. Let's show that Ann Coulter style politics will never carry the day. We have 4 days to reach $9 million. Please donate today:
Of course, this simply continues the Edwards' pattern of using of their son's death for political purposes. As Coulter points out here: That was no lady -- That was my husband
Let me also quote from [Liberal] campaign consultant Bob Shrum's book "No Excuses":

"(Kerry) was even queasier about Edwards after they met. Edwards had told Kerry he was going to share a story with him that he'd never told anyone else -- that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body, and promised that he'd do all he could to make life better for people, to live up to Wade's ideals of service. Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the same exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before -- and with the same preface, that he'd never shared the memory with anyone else. Kerry said he found it chilling, and he decided he couldn't pick Edwards unless he met with him again."

Apparently every time Edwards began a story about his dead son with "I've never told anyone this before," everyone on the campaign could lip-sync the story with him.

As a commentator, I bring facts like these to the attention of the American people in a lively way. Thus, for example, in a column about the Democratic candidates for president written in 2003, I pointed out that the Democrats refused to discuss the economy or the war, but had recently "discovered a surprise campaign issue: It turns out that several of them have had a death in the family."

Among several examples of Democrats talking about a death in the family on the campaign trail was this one:

John Edwards injects his son's fatal car accident into his campaign by demanding that everyone notice how he refuses to inject his son's fatal car accident into his campaign.

Edwards has talked about his son's death in a 1996 car accident on "Good Morning America," in dozens of profiles and in his new book. ("It was and is the most important fact of my life.") His 1998 Senate campaign ads featured film footage of Edwards at a learning lab he founded in honor of his son, titled "The Wade Edwards Learning Lab." He wears his son's Outward Bound pin on his suit lapel. He was going to wear it on his sleeve, until someone suggested that might be a little too "on the nose."

If you want points for not using your son's death politically, don't you have to take down all those "Ask me about my son's death in a horrific car accident" bumper stickers? Edwards is like a politician who keeps announcing that he will not use his opponent's criminal record for partisan political advantage.

Manifestly, I was not making fun of their son's death; I was making fun of John Edwards' incredibly creepy habit of invoking his son's tragic death to advance his political career -- a practice so repellant, it even made John Kerry queasy.
It is hard to be completely convinced that the Edwards' are as crass as they appear, but when you also remember the manner in which they announced the campaign would continue despite Elizabeth's cancer, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that they are unindicted co-dependents in cynicism.

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