How Holy Art Thou?
It has become the epithet of the 2008 presidential primaries, at least in the early going: "holier than thou." First there was Mitt Romney, showing a rare flash of pique in his usually unruffled front at last week's GOP debate in Iowa as he fired back at criticisms of his pro-life credentials from Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have," Romney snapped.
Today arrived the latest charge of overdone piety. In an interview published in the August issue of The Progressive magazine, Elizabeth Edwards complained that Barack Obama has been going overboard in lording his initial opposition to the Iraq war over his chief Democratic rivals John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, both of whom voted for the war in the Senate in 2002. By wrapping himself in his initial opposition, Elizabeth Edwards suggested, Obama is obscuring the fact that he has supported funding for the war since arriving in the Senate, in contrast to John Edwards, who since leaving the Senate has turned sharply against the war.
"Obama gives a speech that's likely to be extraordinarily popular in his home district, and then comes to the Senate and votes for funding," Elizabeth Edwards said in the article. "So you are going to get people behaving in a holier-than-thou way. But John stood up when he was in the Senate for exactly the thing he's asking these people to stand up for now."
The Progressive interview was Elizabeth Edwards' latest swipe at her husband's rivals; she's previously criticized Clinton for not taking a strong enough stand on women's issues. And in an article just published in Rolling Stone, Edwards again took Clinton to task. "Health care is a woman's issue; the face of poverty is a woman's face. Yet she's got nothing on these issues? Where are the programs? They're completely missing," she told the magazine.
It is probably no coincidence that the two recent uses of the holier-than-thou epithet occurred in roughly equivalent contexts -- a candidate (or candidate's spouse) taking umbrage at criticism from a rival who arrived at a given position earlier. The leveling of the holier than thou charge also provides one more point of similarity between Romney and Edwards, candidates who, as some commentators and wags have noted, share several cross-party traits in common: extraordinary wealth, good looks, impressive hair, smooth delivery and -- to the possible consternation of their rivals -- an ability to pitch to their parties' base despite previously moderate reputations.
--Perry Bacon Jr. and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post editors
August 14, 2007; 2:13 PM ET
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