Sunday, December 30, 2007

Edwards Not Getting A Fair Shake

It's getting difficult to listen to commentary on the Iowa Democratic caucus without hearing someone say something about John Edwards akin to that asserted by Chris Wallace today on GOP TV Sunday: "It seeems like he's been living there since 2005."

Here, then, are some relevant statistics, courtesy of a 12/29/07 blog on dailykos:

Paid staff:
Kerry 2004: 120
Edwards 2008: 178
Obama: 300
Clinton: 400

TV advertising (in millions):
Kerry 2004: $2.73
Edwards 2008: $2.7
Obama: $8.3
Clinton: $6.5

Days spent in Iowa:
Kerry 2004: 76
Edwards 2008: 80
Obama: 78
Clinton: 66

To summarize: John Edwards has spent a few more days in Iowa than the favorites... and has a much smaller (paid) staff and has spent much less. And is running neck and neck.

Why such a close race, then? Iowa skews old, which helps Edwards. The nature of the caucus system (with Democrats) gives disproportionate weight to small gatherings, hence probably rural groups, and Clinton and especially Obama are weak in rural and small town America. Perhaps Iowa Democrats unlike, say, New Hampshire Democrats (many of them from suburban Boston and/or commuters to the Boston area) are somewhat populist economically. And unlike Democrats in the rest of the country, Iowans have come to know the candidates and thus do not overwhelmingly favor one over the other.

But the narrative having Edwards spending his entire life in Iowa has its advantages to the mainstream media. That way, depending on the outcome on January 3, the media already has its headline: a) Edwards loses, may have to drop out; or b) Edwards wins- but faces bigger hurdle in New Hampshire.

Why is this not mere paranoia on my part? Why do media figures persist in the ad hominem attack on Edwards as "angry?" In his piece of 12/19/07, in which he argues that Edwards, Huckabee, and Paul face similar elitist, anti-populist scorn from the establishment, Glenn Greenwald explains brilliantly:

It is very striking how little Edwards' substantive critique of our political system has penetrated into the national discourse. That's because the centerpiece of his campaign is a critique that is a full frontal assault on our political establishment. His argument is not merely that the political system needs reform, but that it is corrupt at its core -- "rigged" in favor of large corporate interests and their lobbyists, who literally write our laws and control the Congress. Anyone paying even casual attention to the extraordinary bipartisan effort on behalf of telecom immunity, and so many other issues driven almost exclusively by lobbyists, cannot reasonably dispute this critique.

Yet because that argument indicts the same Beltway culture of which our political journalists are an integral part, and further attacks the system's power brokers who are the friends, sources, and peers of those journalists, they instinctively react with confusion, scorn and hostility towards Edwards' campaign. They condescendingly dismiss it as manipulative populist swill, or cynically assume that it's just a ploy to distinguish himself by "moving left." In the eyes of our Beltawy press, the idea that our political system is "rigged" or corrupt must be anything other than true or sincerely held.

We will find out on Thursday whether Iowa Democrats are willing to buck the conventional wisdom of the insiders.

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