In New Hampshire, Howard Dean lowered the decibel level of his implausible assertions, but not their implausibility. He said the No Child Left Behind Act constitutes ``a federal takeover of the school system.'' He said the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive war means ``we're going to go in if we even think you're looking at us crosswise.'' By such effusions, Dean makes Kerry seem Solomonic.
Dean's campaign is both a cause and an effect of the polarization of the electorate, which continues apace. Eight presidential elections ago, in 1972, almost half of the 435 members of the House of Representatives -- 44 percent -- represented districts that voted for the presidential candidate of the other party. In 2000 that number was less than 20 percent.
John Edwards' campaign derives strength from this fact: In the 44 years since a Northeasterner was elected president (John Kennedy of Massachusetts), only one Northeasterner has received a presidential nomination -- Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was defeated by George W. Bush's father. Who was Dukakis' lieutenant governor? John Kerry.
Edwards, who certainly has conquered his autobiographical reticence, is no slouch in the implausibility sweepstakes. His campaign's theme song is ``Small Town'' by John Mellencamp: ``All my friends are so small town. ...'' Oh?
More than any presidential campaign in memory, Edwards' crusade against ``special interests'' is beholden to an interest group -- his fellow trial lawyers -- whose lucrative rapacity depends on thwarting reforms from Washington. He uses their millions to advertise his hardscrabble origins and oneness with the masses. His Uriah Heep candidacy should pay royalties to Charles Dickens: ``The umblest persons, Master Copperfield, may be the instruments of good. ... I have risen from my umble station since first you used to address me, it is true; but I am umble still.''
The pedigree of Edwards' campaign about his humble origins traces to the ``log cabin and hard cider'' theme of William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign, which was successful. And preposterous: Harrison was born not in a cabin but in Berkeley, a three-story manor house on a Virginia plantation. He died after a month in office, from an illness brought on by delivering a one-hour, forty-minute address on a bitterly cold Inauguration Day. Perhaps -- Edwards, be warned -- Harrison died partly of embarrassment.