While top Democrats scrap in schoolyard, Edwards plays grown-up

No one will mistake John Edwards for Henny Youngman, but he uttered the most humorous line of Campaign ’08 following last week’s Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina.

“Between all of the allegations of Hillary serving on the Wal-Mart board and Senator Obama working for a slumlord, I was proud to represent the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party last night,” Edwards said.

I know what you’re thinking: So that’s what the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party looks like. It looks like the guy who holds the coats in a schoolyard scrap. It looks like the gelding who fades a half mile from the finish line.

With lines like that coming from Edwards free of charge, who needs the Hollywood writers strike to end?

To late-night talk show hosts hungry for material, Edwards’ observation was a ticket to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The comedian went on to make a salient point about the increasingly mean personal attacks between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama following the Jan. 19 Nevada caucus: “All that bickering is not going to get a single child health care.”

But it does slice through the phony veneer of civility candidates like to flash for the cameras as they wrestle with one of the toughest questions of the campaign: How do I kick my opponent’s butt and still manage to look presidential?

If history records the Nevada caucus as more than a footnote, it could be because it was the moment in the campaign when the front-runners finally dropped the last pretense of collegiality and started gouging eyes and biting ankles. I find the heated rhetoric between Clinton and Obama, and Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney as well, refreshing. It should serve to remind us all — breathless stump speeches to the contrary — the candidates want this job so badly they’ll do almost anything to get it.

If you don’t believe it, check the lounge comedy that passes for the latest barbs emanating from camps Obama and Clinton. Nearly 118,000 Democrats participated in an admittedly chaotic political process here that had its shares of flaws and failings, but overall was an enormous success.

Clinton won the popular vote, 51 to 45 percent, and Obama scored a 13 to 12 delegate edge. (Edwards might have been overheard saying, “Take my delegates, please” after winning just 4 percent of the vote.)

It’s rare two candidates both get an opportunity to declare victory and move on, but that wasn’t good enough for Clinton and Obama. Their addled minions continue to simper about the Nevada process.

Both sides are claiming — dare it be said in a family newspaper — to be victims of dirty politics.

In a letter to Nevada Democratic Chairwoman Jill Derby, Obama lawyer Robert Bauer alleges doors were shut early on his candidate’s supporters and voter cards were mishandled. Obama’s camp claims to have logged 1,600 complaints. Bauer griped, “This certainly suggests that, for the Clinton campaign, the operative standard was, simply and only, what it could get away with.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s supporters were doing their best Gandhi imitations. Oh, please.

If they’d been that efficient at getting their supporters through the doors early, they might not be stuck mashing sour grapes a week later.

Not to be outdone, Clinton lawyer Lyn Utrecht claimed Obama’s supporters “engaged in a planned effort to subvert the party’s caucus procedures to its advantage.”

You mean, they tried to bend the rules in an effort to win? Oh, heavens. Anything but that.

Obama supporters, Utrecht said, miscounted votes and gave Clinton backers wrong information and even used intimidation.

Obviously, Obama’s people have work to do on their methods of intimidation. It didn’t work.

As for giving the opposition misleading information, isn’t that the whole point of this American exercise? Candidates mislead voters every day of the campaign. We should expect no less from their rabid sycophants.

Although Derby is compelled to pay lip service to these cornball complaints, expect nothing to come of it. Fact is, the nation’s press circus pulled up stakes in Nevada a week ago, moved on to South Carolina, and is barreling toward Super Tuesday.

Just when the antics of Clinton and Obama make you wonder whether to start taking Edwards seriously, he schedules interviews with two hard-hitting political pundits.

David Letterman and Tyra Banks.

Grown-up wing of the party, indeed.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.

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