THE DOWD MANIFESTO. John Edwards, you're on notice: Maureen Dowd has proclaimed her intention to do everything in her power to destroy your candidacy.

No one should be surprised that Dowd would be all over the story of Edwards's $400 haircuts. After all, she is the least substantive of columnists, the most eager to grab on to some sartorial or personal grooming tidbit about a candidate and present it as not just a symbol of some larger deficiency of character, but as the very essence of the man or woman in question, the reason we should all sneer at the candidate in disgust.

And there's nothing Dowd loves more than calling politicians sissies. So this was how her Saturday column (available here to snooty elitist Times Select subscribers) began:

Whether or not the country is ready to elect a woman president or a black president, it's definitely not ready for a metrosexual in chief.

So Dowd will make it her personal mission to ensure that everyone within reach of her keyboard will be sure to know that John Edwards is just such a man, and therefore unworthy of the presidency. Let's take another taste of Dowd's delectable truffle of contempt:

Following his star turn primping his hair for two minutes on a YouTube video to the tune of "I Feel Pretty," Mr. Edwards this week had to pay back the $800 charged to his campaign for two shearings at Torrenueva Hair Designs in Beverly Hills. He seems intent of proving that he is a Breck Girl -- and a Material Boy.

"Breck Girl," huh? Where have we heard that before? Oh yes -- from the Republican National Committee! They're the ones who invented the slur, which they first shared with Adam Nagourney and Richard Stevenson of the Times, who put their juicy scoop into an article the paper ran in April 2003. No one much noticed, until six weeks later Dowd dropped it into her column, when she said, "the Breck Girl, as the Bushies call John Edwards, merely musters limp trash talk." ("Limp" -- get it? Ha ha!)

Since then, Dowd has called John Edwards "Breck Girl" in five separate columns.

The idea that the Democrat is weak, effeminate, and just plain girly is more than just the attack the Republicans will use against Edwards, it's the attack they have used against every Democratic presidential candidate since 1968. It is the essence of Republican presidential politics, the plea to white men that if they vote Democratic, people might think they're light in the loafers. And it works because of the enthusiastic cooperation of commentators like Maureen Dowd, queen of the Heathers, casting her lighting bolts of snide psycho-sexual humiliation down on anyone who fails to win her favor. Quite worthy of the Times op-ed page, the most valuable piece of real estate in the pundit universe, don't you think?

--Paul Waldman

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