Worse Than Phony

One of the most surprising features of the presidential campaign has been the transformation of John Edwards from just another vaguely irritating Democrat into someone who has become a symbol of just about everything I find politically loathesome.

And it's not just that he's transparently phony and dishonest. I'm a big boy, and know a certain amount of that is inevitable. (Although indications are that, even for a politician, Edwards is an overachiever in this area. For today's take on that, see Drew Cline's post where he put together six different examples of Edwards' slipperiness. And there's no hint that Drew even needed to think very hard about it—he got six things off the top of his head, and stopped not because he couldn't come up with more, but simply because he'd made his point.)

It's worse than that, I think. Here's an example of the sort of thing that really sets my teeth on edge: Edwards' response in the 9/27 MTV/MySpace forum, noted both by Jim Geraghty and James Taranto. A UNH freshman asked him about what he would do to "help eliminate inner-city kids [from] partak[ing] in violence." (I know: partaking? As if "violence" was some sort of free buffet, and the kids were just grabbing some from the steam table? But never mind …)

In response, Edwards rattles off the standard liberal panaceas about education, health care, job training, drug rehab, and eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. About the only single unifying theme around those solutions is: not a single one has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing violence. But the painfulness comes before that, at the beginning of Edwards' answer:

We cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we're not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They're all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.
Geraghty deems this (accurately enough) hyperbolic, and offers some numbers to counter. Taranto gets closer to the real problem:
Does Edwards really mean that all young male blacks are criminals? Or is the idea that the purpose of the criminal justice system as currently constituted is to imprison young black men regardless of guilt?

Either view is plainly false. The former would be one of the most racist statements uttered by a major American politician in the past 40 years; the latter, one of the most irresponsibly demagogic.

Initial gut response: maybe the truth is somewhere in between: Edwards is 50% racist, 50% demagogue. Just a guess.

[Update: The MinuteMan also notes Edwards' response; one of his commenters notes:

I wonder just how many in the "black community" will contest this ? You don't even need any "soft racism" to have "reduced expectations". It comes for free.
Also a good point.]

But I think a more accurate observation is that we're overanalyzing a statement that completely lacks sense or substance. And is almost certainly not meant to: instead it's more of a howling signal that the utterer is a reliable, earnest member of the pack (and by the way, is running for Top Dog). There's no indication that there's any signal buried in the noise of Edwards' answer, no indication of any actual thought behind the words.

And, of course, no indication that Edwards gives two toots about inner-city violence, let alone figuring out policies to reduce it.

I've quoted Richard Mitchell from his book Less Than Words Can Say a couple times before, but here he is one more time. Application to the current case is left to the reader.

Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues of thought.
With respect to that point, It doesn't help my mood to observe on the video that both the UNH freshman questioner and the MTV moderator are both nodding in response to Edwards' answer like cheap bobbleheads.

Last Modified 2007-09-30 9:56 AM EDT