John Edwards’s Mudslinging Ways


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Southern politics can be mudslinging at its best. And John Edwards, North Carolina’s candidate for the Democratic nomination, is showing he can slime with the best of them. With Kerry’s campaign seemingly falling apart, Edwards has taken the offensive with a Clintonesque plan to rescue the middle class from financial insecurity. He backed the war but now wants “to get the American face off this operation” by turning it over to the UN and leaving the policing to NATO.

When Howard Dean did his Confederate flag thing [see story], Edwards got all upset because the Yankee was sneering down his Yankee nose at the South. Edwards said southerners want “someone who treats them with respect.”

Slate‘s William Saletan retorted that when Edwards “seizes on Dean’s flag comment to bash Yankees who think they ‘know what’s best for you,’ [he] is asking for the Confederate-flag vote on much creepier grounds than Dean did.” Creepy is the operative word for Edwards.

Soon after reprimanding Dean for his elitist remarks to southerners, Edwards was on TV with an ad for his own campaign. According to a report in The Hill, a Washington periodical, the ad “featured Ashley Bell, a Louisiana State University law student. Bell was himself embroiled in controversy last month over allegedly insensitive racial remarks.” The paper added: “The student, who is president of the College Democrats of America, called the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, an ‘Arab American and the Republicans’ token attempt to mend bridges long burnt with the Arab American community.'” The student continued, describing Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, as Presdient Bush’s “Do Boy,” i.e., yes man. The Louisiana Democratic party said it was sorry.

This week Edwards hauled out former Joint Chief of Staff chair Hugh Shelton to attack Clark. As everyone knows the military vote in the South is a big deal, and Shelton, along with a lot of other military people, don’t like Clark. The way Edwards sees it, if he can just hang in there with a third or fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire, then he’s got a decent chance of winning South Carolina.

In September Shelton said that Clark was relieved of his assignment as NATO commander because of “integrity and character issues.” He never said what these were.

Then last week Matt Bennett, Clark’s communications man, said he was “simply astonished” at Edwards’s use of Shelton and “politics-as-usual mudslinging.” “General Shelton . . . initiated what has become a smear campaign that the Republicans have gleefully taken up,” said Bennett.

Edwards kept the tiff going with a snooty reply directly to Clark: “Whatever your personal views on General Shelton, I’m sure you agree that he is a respected military leader who served our country with distinction.” Concluded Edwards: “I will continue to seek his advice,” adding, “When I talk to the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it’s about the safety and security of our men and women in uniform, not about politics.”

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel