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A thug and a Rorschach test 

Giuliani's gone, Edwards' continuing influence

By the time you read this, the Super Tuesday primaries will be history, and the identity of the major parties' presidential nominees could be all but settled, particularly for the GOP, which uses a winner-take-all delegate selection process in most states. Still, the two men who dropped out of the presidential race on the same day last week merit a parting look before the media circus train moves on without them. Why? First, because scrutiny of the two candidates' impact by local media (specifically, the daily paper's increasingly stale editorial board) was so lame, somebody has to do it. Mostly, though, because it's worth looking at what, in Giuliani's case, we have happily avoided; and why, in Edwards' case, he'll still be around.

First, Rudy. The former mayor of New York was long considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination, even though his qualifications seemed to consist entirely of his having shown up for work on Sept. 11, 2001. Eventually, Giuliani's narrow focus on his role during that terrible day was so overbearing, it became fodder for comedians. (Last week, after Rudy ended his campaign, the satirists at The Onion wrote that Giuliani was leaving the presidential race so he could "spend more time with 9/11.") The greatest damage to Rudy's candidacy, however, came when the national media began to give American voters more details about Giuliani's time in office in New York. Over a period of a couple of months, Giuliani's image morphed from Officer Friendly to Dr. Evil, and suddenly, Rudy was toast. It's rare that someone can so fully personify the adage "familiarity breeds contempt," but Giuliani pulls it off devastatingly well.

The media finally did its job and squealed on the mob-connected narcissist, revealing actual details of his sordid N.Y.C. administration. Soon enough, people got the picture that Giuliani was a petty, self-aggrandizing, authoritarian, vindictive, petulant philanderer; used crooked accounting practices to hide his mistress' taxpayer-funded limo rides to their trysts; defended the killing, via 41 gunshots, of an unarmed citizen by N.Y. police; and his favorite cop, Bernie Kerik, who barely missed being named Secretary of Homeland Security at Rudy's urging, was little more than a sleazy crook. Factor in Giuliani's scary, skeletal "smile" and his "goofy pitbull" personality, and it's not surprising that voters turned away from Rudy so quickly -- despite Faux News' blatant promotion of Mayor 9/11 to anyone who would listen. The campaign season isn't over, and the equally trigger-happy John McCain is still kicking, but with Rudy's demise, America has at least dodged one potentially fatal bullet.

John Edwards, last week's other campaign retiree, seemed to serve as a political Rorschach test: what people saw in him often told more about them than about the candidate.

Take the national press. By any standard, Edwards ran a campaign based on ideas and issues, and, as pundit Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will run on a platform largely inspired by, if not taken directly from, Edwards' detailed policy proposals. So what did the national press focus on during the campaign? One overpriced haircut and the size of Edwards' house, as if rich people are somehow unable to care about social justice. That, dear readers, says all you need to know about the clueless lemmings who inhabit the national press corps bubble.

The Rorschach test results don't end there. Edwards brought out the rapacious greed currently infecting corporate America with his ideas for helping the middle class and the poor. The economic elite and their media underlings generally responded to Edwards with the political equivalent of nervous laughter: "He's kidding, isn't he? I mean, hehheh, he understands the game, right? Throw the peasants some crumbs and keep the cake for ourselves? Oh, jeez, what if he's serious?"

For their part, the Charlotte Observer's editorial board, as they have from Day One, came down firmly on the side of phony civility and trivialities. Edwards, tut-tutted the Big O's Dept. of Wisdom, had a "hard-edged intensity" that was "too angry." God forbid that our selfish upper class be forced to look in a mirror once in a while, lest they swoon and drop their martinis. Associate Editor Mary Schulken, as original as always, told us in a separate op-ed that "the failure of Edwards' campaign had more to do with the messenger than the message," conveniently omitting any reference to how little coverage Edwards received compared to his better-financed rivals.

Edwards, to my mind, did more than anyone to drive the primary debates toward important issues that Democrats, once upon a time, were supposed to be all about: social justice and reining in the fat cats. Edwards lost his battle for the nomination, but he won the battle of ideas. I admire his passion and tenacity, and hope that he'll have a position of influence in the Obama or Clinton administration. It would only be fitting, considering how much of the Democrats' platform will have been introduced by the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina.

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