Poison ivy

By STEVEN STARK  |  August 1, 2007

Meanwhile, the elite press is now dominated by former classmates of the candidates. That’s a marked change from a generation or two ago, when the best reporters often didn’t finish college, but instead worked their way up from the police to the political beat.

To these people, Edwards doesn’t pass muster. It’s not that he’s not smart — he clearly has an impressive intellect. It’s much more subtle and insidious: if there’s one unstated lesson these select schools teach you, regardless of how much money your family actually has, it’s how to act like a member of the upper class.

The rules are clear: you should fluently appear to have money, but not appear to make money (which is why an entrepreneur like Michael Bloomberg would never go anywhere in a Democratic primary). And you should never flaunt it. Thus you can own an inherited family palace or a nice vacation house on Nantucket, but building your own ostentatious abode is utterly out of the question. The overriding lesson is to make it all seem effortless — to never seem too ambitious or grasping.

Perhaps Edwards does strive a little too hard; kids who grew up without a lot of money often do. That puts him in the same straits as Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson — two other Southern Democratic politicians who didn’t grow up in a wealthy family and never attended an Ivy. Though both won the presidency — albeit in different political eras — both felt that Northeastern political and journalistic elites destroyed them. They had a point.

In the same vein, Ivy grads know that your intellectual compass must always point toward New England, even if you live somewhere else. The putative cabinets of many Democratic candidates and nominees are chock full of Yale and Harvard profs — which is probably why Cambridge and New Haven have so many wannabe Secretaries of State, but few real ones.

Similarly, in this circle of privilege, you can go into corporate law or academia, but how many Harvard and Yale law grads become plaintiffs’ lawyers or, as their critics call them, “ambulance chasers,” as Edwards did? That’s what the simple folk do.

Because it’s all so subtle, Edwards probably won’t be able to resolve easily this perceived shortcoming. He could point out to Democratic voters that nominating Ivy elites doesn’t tend to be a winning strategy. (Although now even the GOP has gone for these sorts of candidates with the two Bushes. Of course, look where it got them.) The populist Edwards could even run against Harvard and Yale specifically, in the same way that Carter once boasted that he wasn’t a lawyer. At a minimum, it might make things interesting.

Unfortunately, it’s an argument likely to fall on deaf ears in a Democratic universe that worships at the altar of Stanley Kaplan.

Edwards does have one consolation, however. His daughter is a student at Harvard Law. So maybe one day she can be the Democratic nominee.

RUDY GIULIANI Odds: 5-3 | past week: same
MITT ROMNEY Odds: 7-2 | same
NEWT GINGRICH Odds: 5-1 | same
FRED THOMPSON Odds: 6-1 | same
JOHN MCCAIN Odds: 9-1 | same
MIKE HUCKABEE Odds: 100-1 | same
SAM BROWNBACK Odds: 1000-1 | same
TOMMY THOMPSON Odds: 20,000-1 | same
DUNCAN HUNTER Odds: 50,000-1 | same
RON PAUL Odds: 100,000-1 | same
TOM TANCREDO Odds: 150,000-1 | same

Odds: 4-3 | past week: same
HILLARY CLINTON Odds: 3-2 | same
JOHN EDWARDS Odds: 6-1 | same
BILL RICHARDSON Odds: 65-1 | 60-1
JOE BIDEN Odds: 85-1 | same
CHRIS DODD Odds: 150-1 | same
DENNIS KUCINICH Odds: 100,000-1 | 50,000-1
MIKE GRAVEL Odds: 2 million to 1 | 1 million to 1

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