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Evaluating Edwards’s End

Dan Gerstein, a former political adviser to Senator Joe Lieberman, had an illuminating column over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal about the demise of John Edwards’s presidential campaign. He described the former North Carolina Senator as “the angry spear carrier of the hard-line left, running on a dark, conspiratorial form of populism,” one of the best characterizations of Edwards I’ve read. Gerstein’s thesis is that the failure of Edwards’s campaign sounds the death knell for the liberal netroots’ influence on our national discussion. It is the end, as he puts it, of the “politics of Kos.”

Would that it were so. While it’s no doubt true that the implosion of the second Edwards presidential candidacy spelled a stunning defeat for the netleft, (which had invested hopes in Edwards from the start and whose rhetoric most matched their own), the netroots have faced seemingly more significant defeats in the past and still overcome them. Howard Dean, whom Gerstein neglects to mention, was the candidate of this constituency. Yet his failure to win the nomination did not prevent his ascension to Democratic National Committee Chairman. Nor did it temper the attitude of the angry left or the emergence of an angry left candidate the next time around. As Charles Krauthammer brilliantly documented last week, Edwards’s campaign was the apotheosis of shamelessness, as the man reversed himself on nearly every significant political issue in order to appeal to the resentful wing of the Democratic Party. “He is angry,” Krauthammer wrote, “embodying the familiar zeal of the convert, ready to immolate anyone who benightedly holds to any revelation other than the zealot’s very latest.” The same could be said of the Kos crowd.

Gerstein trumpets the simultaneous rise of Barack Obama, with his emphasis on reconciliation and unity, as further indication of the death of the angry left. It’s true that Obama never had a warm relationship with the netroots, as my colleague Brad Plumer reports in the current New Republic. This was a wise tactical decision on Obama’s part. But while  Obama has certainly appealed to some conservatives with his message of “hope,” he is still a political neophyte whom it’s too early to assume won’t prove Gerstein wrong: last week, he welcomed the endorsement of MoveOn.org (just as much a part of the angry left blogosphere as the Daily Kos). The end of John Edwards’s presidential campaign represents a temporary defeat for the angry left. But it’s premature to conclude that this political temperament has expired.


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