WASHINGTON -- Well, at least they didn't kiss.
I was bracing myself for the lip lock Wednesday when John Edwards endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Don't look at me. None other than David "Mudcat" Saunders, Edwards' former rural adviser, came up with the idea when he said Obama should kiss Edwards on the lips "to kill this 41-point loss," referring to Hillary Clinton's landslide victory Tuesday in the West Virginia primary.
Instead, the two men exchanged a manly air-hug to commemorate the moment when Edwards threw Clinton under the upholstered sofa on his grandmama's front porch and anointed the Illinois senator with snake oil left over from his own campaign.
As Edwards gave what amounted to a stump speech highlighting his favorite subject -- John Edwards -- and his own anti-poverty initiative, Americans were reminded of why the North Carolina son-of-a-millworker won't be their presidential nominee.
Enraptured by his own message, Edwards seemed reluctant to hand over the microphone. He finally relinquished the stage, after describing, yet again, the "wall" that he says divides Americans: "There is one man who knows in his heart that it is time to create one America, not two. And that man is Barack Obama."
There he goes again.
The "wall" refers to the one Edwards erected in the hearts and minds of Americans who hadn't yet realized they were miserable, disenfranchised and seething with rage -- not the wall that used to run through Berlin.
Obama and Edwards make an attractive picture -- Ultra Brite coverboys of youth and glamour united against old men (and women) who worship the status quo. Fraternal twins of yin and yang, one is the healer, the other a fighter. Obama -- the man who makes Chris Matthews feel a thrill up his leg -- wants to "do the Lord's work," lately pictured in front of a Christian cross illuminated with vanity lights on a flier aimed at Kentucky voters, while Edwards wants to roll out the catapults and nuke the Coliseum.
But their message of unity gets lost in a din of cognitive dissonance. To succeed, they must first create a divide of resentment the size of Montana among the have-not-enoughs toward those perceived to have too much. No one has tried this more brazenly than Edwards with his "two Americas" presidential campaign, which failed twice, by the way.
The question -- should this duo have their way -- isn't when will the poor be wealthy enough? But, when will the wealthy be poor enough?
While we're waiting to find out, Edwards' tortured Southern shtick is supposed to help Obama with the demographic of white, rural, working-class (non-college) Americans he's been having trouble with. Green room translation: poor, ignorant racists.
Presumably, Edwards knows how to relate to these folks, given his heritage and his years as a trial lawyer representing the little people against corporate America. Notwithstanding his 28,000-square-foot house and $400 haircuts. And ignoring the fact that one reason health insurance rates are so high -- and that so many poor rural folks lack quality medical care -- is because of Edwards' and other trial lawyers' success in convincing jurors that doctors owe the world always-perfect results.
His medical malpractice specialty often focused on OB-GYNs and his multimillion-dollar awards resulted from emotion more than science. Edwards' underappreciated acting skills, including an uncanny ability to channel the voice of a dead child, helped raise malpractice premiums so high that many OB-GYNs have fled the profession.
Thanks in part to Edwards, some of the poor folks about whom he cares so deeply can't easily find a doctor to deliver their babies.
Whether Edwards helps Obama seems questionable. A few of Edwards' 18 pledged delegates may slide over, though they don't have to. At best, he helped momentarily by stealing Clinton's thunder. The timing of the endorsement during the evening news hour -- the day after her landslide win in West Virginia -- provided Obama live coverage followed by a full evening of commentary.
Clinton, who got a little face time as reporters took her temperature, was (as always) smooth and cool as a cucumber martini.
Which puts new thoughts in motion as voters project down the road. Obama and Edwards look and talk pretty, but Clinton exudes pure brawn, unflinching and steely. When the time comes to sit across from the likes of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a chill in the heart may beat a thrill up the leg.