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Gale Walden Headshot

John Edwards, Celebrity, and Staying In The Game

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First, every time I see Bill Clinton lately I think he's Dick Van Dyke, and I'm happy. Then his finger comes out and points and I think, "Oh, it's just Bill Clinton. I wish she had left him." Every time. Second, Ron Paul has begun to remind me of Pat Paulsen of the Smothers Brothers fame, who continually ran a joke campaign for President. (A very Ron Paulish Pat Paulsen quote: "All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.") Third, when I see John Edwards smile, I think of Dennis Quaid. But I have no celebrity reference for either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton. They both have achieved a type of iconoclasm that only a celebrity of say, Oprah's stature, transcends. Like Madonna or Cher, neither Barack nor Hillary really needs a last name.

Contrast this to John Edwards who has to appear with an actual celebrity before he gets news coverage. If he appears on Letterman, the New York Times will cover him. Not to bite the hand that doesn't feed me, but it hasn't been only mainstream media outlets that have backed off on covering John Edwards (and Joe Biden and Chris Dodd before him) unless he is surrounded by Kevin Bacon or Bonnie Raitt. Alternative outlets like Salon.com and The Huffington Post have also been Obama/Clinton-centric, begging the question of their importance in expanding political dialogue. The Edwards campaign put together an ad called "Where is John," a video compilation of all the ways media types went out of their way not to mention him that is worthy of The Daily Show.

Those of us who feel that Edwards is the one speaking most closely to our nation's current predicament actively search for articles about him and because the articles tend to be pejorative, we go to the reader comments for people who fight back against the prevailing narrative trajectory. In these comments there are always people who bemoan the Edwards coverage and there is always some guy who says: "Edwards couldn't beat Dick Cheney in the 2004 vice-presidential campaigns." I didn't remember the vice-presidential debates and I always thought since no one wrote back that Edwards probably did put in a poor showing. But I finally went back and looked at the transcripts http://www.debates.org/pages/trans2004b.html. Edwards is almost prescient in some things. Cheney lied through a lot of it. As far as I can tell in the debate Edwards challenged those lies point by point.

I don't know any of these candidates personally, so I don't know who is untrustworthy, and who is sleazy, and who is true. I think it's fair to question John Edwards senate voting record. But I don't want him out of this race before the convention and I hope enough people vote for him to keep that going.

Here's why: for one thing I would really miss the facial expressions of all the pundits while shaking their heads in puzzlement, trying to explain to another pundit why Edwards is still in the race, when they have told him he is done. David Brooks, after Edwards came in second in Iowa wrote this sentence: "John Edwards political career is probably over." Note it's not just his run for the presidency that's done, it's his entire political career, even though the guy is 54. When Edwards stayed in the race Brooks on The News Hour, raised his shoulders, shook his head and said, "they aren't getting out. They've got a dog in." Adam Nagourney's mouth turned down even more than usual as he tried to give a Cliff note version of The Idiot's Guide To The Primaries : "You know, at a certain point, the election system works a certain way," he gravely informed Gwen Ifill. "People see you and they either like you or don't and vote accordingly. People have seen him and they've made judgment on him. So, I mean, I guess he's going to keep on going, but I think, you know, he certainly is living on borrowed steam right now, I think.

But that's just good, clean, fun, seeing which one of them can contort their faces or bodies more or sigh or shake their heads in a more serious way. What's more disturbing are the pundits and Obama supporters who somehow suggest that Edwards is spoiling an Obama nomination--a gut feeling that isn't born out by any scientific research. You guys should stop it. It makes Obama look bad and weak. Taunting Edwards to get out of the race by calling him a loser and then blaming him for a possible Obama loss is a bullying technique that Obama doesn't need rubbing off on him.

I want Edwards to stay in this race because I like the underdog narrative and I like seeing it play out someplace other than Hollywood, where someone like say, Dennis Quaid, gets a miraculous second chance at the major league. I think it's good that this Edwards guy says, "I know it doesn't look good, but you know what, I'm going to keep trying," even when really he is really publically, as he says, getting his butt kicked. It's a good role model for a bunch of us getting out butts kicked in our daily life.

But the primary reason I want Edwards to stay in the race is this: I worked last year in a building that also housed the university visiting Chinese scholars. One of the scholars went to Houston to meet a Chinese engineer working for an oil company. Here is what he told her about the government of the country she was visiting. "The Americans are so naïve that they don't know that the president works for me. I am his boss." It chilled us all when she came back and told us, in part because she will take this sentiment back to China with her and in part because it is so baldly true. Edwards is the only candidate trying to pull back the corporate curtain, the only candidate addressing what I think is a core of our true domestic problems. If he's gone I think that discussion goes with him.

On the day George Harrison died, my coffee shop guy, Mike, handed me a cup of coffee and remarked: "Now only the bad Beatles are left." I actually like all the Beatles; I'm not sure I would have put George ahead of Paul and Ringo has always been underrated, but I understood what Mike meant. Now that Biden, Richardson, Dodd and Kucinich are gone, if Edwards gets out of the game, I will feel like we have only the bad Beatles left.