The full tilt crazy-thon now being driven into the mainstream media by the purveyors of right wing shame porn is -- for the moment -- focused on the campaign of John Edwards. On the surface, the purpose of the attack is to portray the Edwards campaign as out-of-step with mainstream political thought, by holding up the most strident examples of his bloggers' writing, and then hoping the audience will play the guilt by association game.
But the real power of this game is that it separates Edwards from the Democratic pack, and isolates him. It allows the other Democratic candidates -- after mopping their brows and thanking their lucky stars that they're not (currently) in the cross hairs -- to do the right's work for them by taking the path of least resistance and either watching silently from the sidelines, or actively distancing themselves from him.
That gives the right undue leverage on our side of the aisle. Leverage to which they are not only not entitled, but which is revocable at our say-so.
The loudest voices calling for Edwards to dismiss his bloggers are -- and no one can doubt this -- never in a million years going to vote for him, either in a primary or a general election. So why are they allowed to drive his decision-making? Not because they can withhold votes from him, but because they can cause Democratic voters to do so instead. Among more conservative (and by extension, perhaps less blog-savvy) Democrats, the hope of those on the right is that the writing they're focusing on will generate outrage, both against the bloggers and those who hired them. Among blog-savvy Democrats, who tend to be a more progressive lot, the opposite may obtain. Even among bloggers and blog readers who have differences with what was written, there's a sense that Edwards needs to stand up for his hires, or be viewed as abandoning the netroots.
But to the extent that the netroots seek to demand a show of loyalty by Edwards, that same demand must be made of every Democratic campaign. Today, the target is Edwards. Tomorrow, should this vendetta prove successful, the target could be anyone.
Keep in mind that those targeting Edwards simply don't abide by the same standards when it comes to defining what's reasonable discourse and what's not. Perhaps more to the point, they are perfectly willing to say that whatever they're pointing to is beyond the pale whether most Americans would agree or not, if they think it could possibly result in the firing of a Democratic campaign staffer, and by extension, damage to that campaign. So it's just as likely that tomorrow's target will be Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or Tom Vilsack, or Chris Dodd, or any of the other candidates. That the attack may have to hinge on something that most people would see as perfectly reasonable won't much matter, so long as the professional outrage machine is turned up loud enough.
This fight, if Edwards is going to be called upon to make it, must be everyone's fight. If the other campaigns cannot demonstrate that they would have displayed the same courage we call upon Edwards to display, then they benefit from the right's strategy of divide and conquer. And to the extent that they benefit, they give a pass to and encourage such attacks in the future, and are powerless to stop them when the next one comes. All they can do is hold on tight, cross their fingers, and pray they're not the next target. And that's no way to win anything. Certainly not the White House.
So keep an eye on who says what here. If you want Edwards to stand up, realize that you're going to have to demand that all the campaigns stand up. Literally. They're going to have to say that they stand by Edwards. Because these attacks only really hurt campaigns among primary voters. That's us. The people who launched this thing aren't ever going to vote for Edwards, or any other Democrat. They're pulling your strings. They're influencing your primary vote. But the minute this vendetta loses its ability to influence the primary, it loses its power. It becomes just another bunch of right wing foamers ignoring the craven embarrassments they harbor in their own dark corners.
And that only happens when Democrats as a bloc decide to close the doors on these shriekers, and tend to their own affairs based on real discussion about real issues.
So if you view this as a gut check for Edwards, don't forget that the other campaigns have a role to play in this. Right now, they all regard this as someone else's problem, though they're probably all frantically re-vetting their own bloggers right now. But if we expect to see Edwards stand strong, we ought to expect to see them all stand strong. And to the extent that they stand strong, Edwards will be able to do the same.
All of the other candidates ought to take the opportunity to preemptively hit back at the right, and give Edwards cover to retain his bloggers if that's what he opts to do.
This can't be left on Edwards' plate alone if we really think it's about something bigger than the way this particular campaign deals with its individual bloggers.
Until Edwards is immunized by the rest of the Democratic field, the right has leverage on our side of the aisle that they're not entitled to.