WASHINGTON -- In 1976, Fred Harris -- a populist precursor of this year's version of John Edwards, championed "the little people." When he finished fourth with just 10.8 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, he cheerfully explained that the little people were too little to reach the levers on the voting machines. Soon Edwards will join Harris in the book of presidential trivia. (What presidential candidate was known as "Little Lyndon from Lawton"? Answer: Former Sen. Harris from Lawton, Okla.) Meanwhile, note this:
Although Edwards got just 18 percent of the vote in the Democrats' South Carolina primary -- which he won four years ago, beating John Kerry with 45 percent -- he received the support of half the white voters who made up their minds in the week before the voting. Many of these surely were recoiling from Hillary Clinton, who had been reduced to the role of surrogate speaker for her husband, the king across the water, restive for a Restoration with her tagging along.
The week before South Carolina voted was the week when, at last, even some Democrats noticed. Noticed, that is, the distinctive cloud of coarseness that hovers over the Clintons, seeping acid rain.
That cloud has been a constant accouterment of their careers, and has been influencing the nation's political weather for 16 years. But by the time Bill Clinton brought the Democratic Party in from the wilderness in 1992, the party had lost five of the previous six, and seven of the previous 10, presidential elections. Democrats were so grateful to him, and so determined not to resume wandering in the wilderness, that they averted their gazes to avoid seeing, and hummed show tunes to avoid hearing, the Clintons' routine mendacities.
Then, last week, came the radio ad that even South Carolinians, who are not squeamish about bite-and-gouge politics, thought was one brick over a load, and that the Clintons withdrew. It was the one that said Obama endorsed Republican ideas (because he said Republicans had some ideas). The Clinton campaign also accused Obama of praising Ronald Reagan (because Obama noted the stark fact that Reagan had changed the country's trajectory more than some other recent presidents -- hello, Bill -- had done).
This was a garden-variety dishonesty, the manufacture of which does not cause a Clinton in midseason form to break a sweat. And it was no worse than -- actually, not as gross as -- St. John of Arizona's crooked-talk claim in Florida that Mitt Romney wanted to "surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do" in Iraq because Romney "wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster."