After spending a good bit of time in e-conversation with this reader, I thought I might as well share it with the rest of y’all. This is the message that started it:
From: Amy Holleman
Sent: Tuesday, August 14, 2007 9:35 AM
To: Warthen, Brad – External Email
Subject: Edwards and other Candidates
I continue to disagree with your claim that John Edwards is a phony and just love (note sarcasm) the way you used editorial space to toot your own horn and describe all of the attention you got. Your editorial response to the responses you got make me wonder who the real phony is here. While we’re all happy you got a good ego stroke, I hope you have not somehow damaged the reputation of a man who seems to really care.
At any rate, it is not my intention nor desire to figure out how genuine you may or may not be. I can tell you though, as a person who has "bird-dogged" candidates since I was in high school (I’m in my 30’s now) on various issues, Edwards seems to me to be one of the most genuine politicians I’ve encountered over the last 15 years on the face-to-face level. I cannot say that I’ve found any other candidate in any party this particular go-round who, face-to-face, seems so genuinely concerned with the problems that the majority of Americans face. I cannot say that I’ve spoken to any other candidate about issues, such as AIDS, who seems to really care.
Do I think politicians in general are phonies? You bet I do. Politicians, or the majority of them, do not seem to be in "the game" to make the country or world better anymore but for their own power gains. Am I saying John Edwards is the perfect candidate? Not at all. No one’s perfect. Am I saying that I believe you need to give John Edwards another look? Not really, your opinion seems to be quite strong and one that probably will not change. I’ll tell you one thing though, while I would never stifle another’s right to say what he or she wants as I believe strongly in our Constitutional rights, I believe the media hurts the American public more than anyone when it comes to elections. Where people get off thinking it is OK to tell people how to think, I’ll never know. The media, especially outlets such as The State and Fox News seem to completely disregard concepts like informing the public in an unbiased manner.
To which I replied:
Well, I don’t — think most politicians are phonies. And my somewhat more positive assessment is based on having observed these folks professionally for 30-something years. I’m afraid that my impression of Mr. Edwards is that he is a bit of a standout on this point. Do you believe, for instance, that Barack Obama is a phony? I don’t.
Meanwhile, I agree with you that "the media hurts the American public more than anyone when it comes to elections" — or at least, just as much as. Mostly, they hurt it by shaping everyone’s political vocabulary so that most folks find it difficult to engage anything like my column for what it was — they try to force it into their narrow little polarized boxes, and that makes it into something else entirely, and THAT is what caused all the hullabaloo last week.
I have a great deal of distaste for the way media cover politics in general. And I don’t hold out a lot of hope for it getting better.
Ms. Holleman replied today:
I think the hullabaloo last week was seeing an editorial writer for the only newspaper we have around these parts (the corporate trash that is has become at that) take a candidate that people overall see as sincere. I can admit to being a fairly liberal democrat (and don’t try to hide it by saying things like "I’m not liberal; I’m progressive"), but I’ve even got a few Republican, Libertarian, and independent-minded friends that were turned off by your column. These friends are all quite intelligent and do not need the media to tell them what to think; the majority do not read The State but read the article because someone sent it to them.
I do not think the Barack Obama is a phony. I think Hillary Clinton is, but if it comes down to it, she will have my vote. I think that McCain, Romney, and Giuliani are all phonies. I do not think that Brownback, Paul, and Huckabee are phonies, but I’d never vote for them regardless. I think our current "president’ is the biggest phony out there. I think that many who are most sincere about making our country and world better, many with the most passion for politics and the like, do not ever get a chance to be seen or heard because money rules the game and the people with the most of it often do not even know how to be genuine anymore.
I’ll tell you one thing though, even though I whole-heartedly disagree with the words you wrote, I do thank you for initiating the discussion. I’ve heard people defending Edwards whom I never thought would defend him, and I’ve seen people who are big supporters question their support. It is always good to question ourselves and why we feel the way we do about things, especially something so important as the presidential race. The next POTUS, no matter who he or she may be or which party he or she is affiliated, will have a big job to do that will involve a whole lot of trying to mend this great land of ours and the ties we have outside of our borders. W. and his puppet master, Cheney, have created a holy mess.
And, a few minutes ago, I sent this final rejoinder:
Well, I’m glad you could thank me for one thing. That’s some consolation. But I think you have a broader definition of "phony" than I do, since you can apply it to Sens. Clinton and McCain, Gov. Romney and Mayor Giuliani. I find it hard to understand why you could cast your net that widely, yet still miss Sen. Edwards — who still seems to me the likeliest fish in that sea.
I would not label any of those as "phony," with the possible exception of Romney — but I still haven’t been exposed to him enough to know. In fact, I haven’t met him yet. And among all the Republicans, McCain is the least phony — just as I think Obama is the least phony among Democrats.
Then there’s Joe Biden, the master of "blarney" — which is a different thing.
I realize that "phony" sounds like a broad label, easily applied. But I did not apply it broadly or lightly. Nor am I alone in applying it to him. Quite a few South Carolina Democrats, including some statewide party leaders, see him the same way. They’ll just never say so on the record, which sort of leaves me with nothing more than my own personal observations to back up the assertion — that’s enough for me, but obviously not for you or quite a few other people, which is why I’ve made a couple of (unsuccessful) stabs this week to get some of those folks to come out of the shadows and be honest about what they think. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in it for them. But their private opinions expressed to me provide me with far more certainty of my assessment than I needed to write what I did.
You should know that I don’t have to go looking for such affirmation from these anonymous folk; it finds me regularly. I had lunch yesterday with Teresa Wells from the Edwards campaign, and while I was waiting for her to arrive, someone who was the Democratic nominee for a statewide office in 2004 told me that he agreed completely with my assessment. But he wasn’t around when Teresa arrived…
OK, now y’all jump in.