|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
It's amazing how well Edwards is doing. Recent polls of the first three states have Edwards ahead in Iowa and tied with Obama for second in New Hampshire* and Nevada. You can find less favorable polls, of course, but there's no question that he's in the thick of the race--an astounding accomplishment given the effort of the elite media to take him down and the celebrity of his two top rivals. One of the big un-discussed stories of the race is that Edwards is not slipping, a la McCain. On the contrary.
I could write a 10,000-word post on the elite media's distaste for Edwards: it's multi-layered. Elite journalists are in many cases members of the D.C establishment, which didn't take to Edwards even when he was a Senator, and which now hates him. Edwards is running against Washington in a very real way--not just rhetorically. He's winning powerful enemies with his "class warfare," his attacks on lobbyists, his criticism of Dems in Congress for caving in to Bush on Iraq, his call for reform at the D.N.C and Congressional committees. I feel confident saying that in the Giant Secret Conversation, in which elites socialize and leak and gossip, few are raving about Edwards.
The media assault was unrelenting from the end of March to the end of June. The Haircut dominated. It found its way to every story about Edwards. Compared to Clinton and Obama, he got almost no coverage and when he did, it was negative. He came very close to losing control of his image and his narrative. In a now infamous, blasé post, Marc Ambinder, formerly of the Note and now of the Atlantic, confirmed what we had lost suspected, that the media were "trying to bury Edwards."
A candidacy with a less solid core would have gone under. His substance kept him above ground.
A hit-job by Leslie Wayne on the cover of the Times ratified the glorious, liberating feeling among supporters that we were part of an insurgency, one that simply would not get a fair hearing from elite journalists. So fuck `em, we said. Fuck `em once and for all. The hit-job created energy and intensity and prompted the blogosphere and his allies in a leading grassroots antipoverty group, ACORN, to rally around Edwards.
The press was challenging Edwards to abandon poverty as an issue, trying to convince him that it was a losing hand. So what did Edwards do? He doubled-down. He launched a tour through the South and Midwest focusing on poverty. Though derided in some quarters of the media, it generated a host of positive stories, including the first ones in months that included no mention of the Haircut.
But the corner was officially turned during the You-Tube debate. The "What Really Matters" video generated buzz and signaled that Edwards would be the first Democratic candidate in history to run against the mainstream media. More important, though, was his first comment of the night:...[H]ow do we bring about big change? And I think that's a fundamental threshold question. And the question is: Do you believe that compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don't. I think the people who are powerful in Washington--big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies--they are not going to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power. The only way that they are going to give away their power is if we take it away from them. And I have been standing up to these people my entire life. I have been fighting them my entire life in court rooms -- and beating them. If you want real change, you need somebody who's taking these people on and beating them.
With a single comment, he filled in the holes that the media had dug out of his narrative. It brought together his career as attorney battling violent crime by corporations, the "Two Americas" theme of his last campaign, his antipoverty agenda, and his battle against K-Street. It also distinguished him from Clinton, with her fondness for lobbyists, and Obama, with his inclination toward compromise.
Around the same time, the media finally noticed that JRE's policy positions were shaping the race. Or, as the Wall Street Journal put it, he has "sway over the party's agenda." With its substance, his campaign is built to last, able to withstand attacks from all sides.