The Two John Edwards

How the '08 hopeful's PlayStation misstep undermines his "Two Americas" meme.


Everyone loves a good hypocrite; they make us feel superior just for being consistent, if not competent. Accordingly the Internets are getting a good snort out of Wal-Mart basher John Edwards getting caught looking for Wal-Mart to hook him up with a Playstation 3.

Edwards explains that an overzealous campaign staffer – is there ever any other kind? – took his family's longings for a Playstation 3 a little too seriously. A call was placed to Wal-Mart to see if the Edwards clan could somehow jump to the front of the line for season's hottest gotta' have gift. Aside from the staffer's positively insane decision to reach out to a Raleigh Wal-Mart given all of Edwards' repeated slams of the company, nothing too surprising here. Just garden variety American ruling class behavior.

But Wal-Mart took that request and did something very unusual – it went on the offensive, issuing a mocking press release on the incident:

Just like the millions of Americans who turn to their neighborhood Wal-Mart for their holiday shopping needs, Wal-Mart announced today that former Sen. John Edwards is seeking to be one of the first to get a Sony PlayStation3, one of the most coveted holiday gift items this Christmas season.

That the Edwards request actually made its way to Bentonville, where a decision was made to respond, and to respond forcefully again sets Wal-Mart apart from most of corporate America. Try to imagine that happening with a Big 2.5 automaker, for example. News of the request would take a week to get past an iron guard of executive VPs. Wal-Mart acted in hours.

However, the slapstick of the Edwards misstep should not obscure the really big picture, the fatal flaw in his "Two Americas" spiel. Many thousands of Americans evidently have $600 to spend on a video game machine. What's more, this Christmas is expected to usher in the year of the flat-panel. With price points dropping below the $1000 mark, high-end TVs are moving down-market fast with Wal-Mart leading the way.

Contrary to the Edwards' pitch that labor-hostile companies are leaving American workers destitute, somebody is making some money out there in America. More importantly, they are making it in many, many cases without a union card.  This reality will very hard for union-funded Democrats like Edwards to ignore as the 2008 presidential campaign unfolds. Hewing to the union rules, clear evidence of prosperity, like perhaps a shortage of $600 game machines, will have to be swept out of the campaign.

Impossible you say? Edwards has a head start. From his perch at the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC Law School, Edwards has spent the past year and a half flying around the country telling everyone how bad things are. Predatory lenders, for example, are lending too much money to poor people who in some cases cannot pay the money back. Yes, things are bleak indeed.

The alternative to a Democratic presidential campaign marked by a downward spiral of Pythonseque depravation one-upsmanship might actually address issues like the federal entitlement explosion or comprehensive income tax reform, two areas where Republicans have failed miserably to advance any coherent solution. Should Edwards or Hillary Clinton or someone find away to talk about these things without class-warfare cant, they'll have a head start on the general election.

In any event, maybe the best thing for Wal-Mart to do is stop chortling and go ahead and give John Edwards a PS3 and a couple games. Throw in a flat-panel too. Maybe that way he'll reacquaint himself with American prosperity and abundance and be a better candidate for the experience.

Jeff Taylor is editor of ReasonExpress.