Tuesday, February 03, 2004

He's Alive

Watching Chris Matthews of MSNBC slather all over Senator John Edwards tonight was embarrassing on any number of levels, but it was a useful reminder to Ellisblog that one must never underestimate the power of the national news media when it seeks a desired outcome.

"Is it just a matter of having people see how good you are, Senator Edwards" asked Mr. Matthews of his somewhat startled guest. "Yes, I think that's right" said Sen. Edwards by way of reply. You really can't make this stuff up.

What Matthews and his colleagues in the heavily populated Democratic cheering section of the national news media want, above all, is for the race to go on. Part of this is self interest and part of this is belief. The self-interested part is obvious: if the Show goes on, then they (Howard Fineman, Chris Matthews, DeeDee Myers, E.J. Dionne, et alia, ad infinitum) continue to be stars in the Show. They like that, a lot.

The belief part is more subtle, but no less important. They believe, in their heart of hearts, that John Edwards is a better politician than Senator Kerry, whom they've never much liked even though he has been "right," as far as they know, on all the issues. (By "right," of course, I mean "liberal"). And they believe that they have a "duty" to bring this to the attention of the Democratic primary electorate, which, after all, is part of the larger family of all right thinking people. (By "right thinking," of course, I mean "liberal").

And so it was proclaimed this evening that we now have a two-man race between Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards for the Democratic presidential nomination. It is hardly clear that this is so. The facts would seem to argue otherwise. But never mind about that, dittoheads. The Show must go on and the media will produce it.

This is bad news for Senator Kerry, who will now be held to a higher standard than victory. He can't just win, he will have to win convincingly. This is good news for Senator Edwards, who can pick and choose his spots and proclaim that California is the crucial test. I suspect that if Senator Edwards picks his spots shrewdly in the interim, he could win California and perhaps fracture Senator Kerry's support. But that is down the road.

For the moment, Senator Edwards has his ticket to continue and the gales of favorable media comment at his back. For a dead man walking, he's very much alive.

Postscript: A reader replies:


I agreed with your earlier assessment (about Oklahoma) and don't think Edwards is really all that alive. The Oklahoma results changed the media dynamic. Chris Matthews, after fawning all over Edwards, later asked Pat Buchanan if the senator was "delusional" enough to think he could still win the nomination - after Clark won Oklahoma.

I'm an Edwards supporter, and for a while I thought my candidate was going to catch a break and be the story. An Oklahoma win would have killed Clark and given Edwards the only surprise victory of the night. (It's kind of stupid to get all hot and bothered over a few hundred votes in Oklahoma, of all places, but that's how it works.) Instead, the story is Kerry's big win, with talk of Edwards as his only possible challenger.

I don't think things have changed much. Kerry should win big on Saturday, and can finish Edwards off by splitting Tuesday's Southern primaries or - more likely - by winning Wisconsin the following week. Super Tuesday will just make everything official. I don't see how Edwards wins this. Kerry is the conventional, safe pick - and the recent polls showing him ahead of Bush only support his "electability" argument. I think the primary voters are probably wrong, as I believe Kerry is quite vulnerable - but I'll concede Edwards suffers from a stature gap on the commander-in-chief question. My wife, who doesn't follow this stuff closely, watched him for a minute last
night and said, "He's too young."

Craig A.