The irrepressibly witty Maureen Dowd had a field day with John Edwards’ haircuts in a recent column. First she dropped enough expensive brand names (Zegna, Christophe, Marc Jacobs), tabloid gossip (about Brad and Jen), dismal facts (the GDP of Burundi, working class energy costs) and her own working class background (Dad was a cop, and got cheap haircuts) to show that she’s no fool. Then she lectured Edwards that “You can’t sell earnestness while indulging in decadence” and reminded readers that “All the haircuts in the world may not save John Edwards from a blowout.”

No kidding. Excellent point. Your hair doesn’t make you president. Edwards should certainly pay for his own cuts, and shave the head of the idiot (maybe himself) who let these first be covered by the campaign. He might want to lose that little mirror too. But what else to do? Mostly just stay on message — Iraq, health insurance, fair taxes and trade, education and good jobs — and ignore all this. If reporters continue to hound him about haircuts, he should just say that he’s going to keep talking about the issues. If they want to know about his haircuts, he’d be glad to give them his barber’s number, but he wants to talk about issues. So it’ll go for a couple of more days. Haircuts, issues. Haircuts, issues. It’ll get tedious, but this too shall pass. Maybe it already has.            But enough about Edwards. How about the press? It’s true that character is important to choosing a president and character is revealed in details. And getting expensive haircuts isn’t a particularly inspiring one. But it’s also not very important. Edwards has already shown his character in ways that matter more. He’s pretty clearly a decent guy who loves his family, works hard, cares about the poor, and wants to improve his country. Nobody seriously doubts that, do they?

So that leaves these things called “issues” — what he’d do if President. Compared to his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Edwards has been the clearest, and most clearly progressive, in answering that question. He was first out with a national health plan, and this week he’ll be the first to lay down a post-Rubinomics marker on trade. This Saturday he’ll demand jettisoning the proposed trade deal with South Korea short of major revisions to protect workers on both sides of that deal. This is not the language we’re hearing from other Democrats, and might be interesting to their fellow American. I wish I could look forward to Dowd saying anything serious about that. But, based on the coverage of the Edwards health care plan, I’m not holding my breath.

It’s pathetic, really. Here we’re at war, with an $800 billion current account deficit, falling wages and rising inequality, a shredded social contract, nearly 50 million people without health coverage, a collapsing housing bubble, and most middle class Americans scared to death of what comes next. You’ve got a serious guy talking about all these issues. And the press wants to talk about his haircut?