Notes on the Atrocities
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Monday, January 19, 2004  

John Edwards
Edwards has quietly put together an impressive campaign. For a 50-year-old who hasn't yet served a full term in the Senate, he's doing all right. His message is positive and clear, and he's quietly done something only Dean has managed to do--he's broken away from the expectations of a national candidate. In an era of corporate politics, Edwards has tapped into the FDR roots. Still, he has only served five years of elected office, and there are some reasons perspective voters should consider his candidacy carefully.

Policy Positions
Domestically, John Edwards may be the best candidate in the race. Whereas Dean talks populism and Gephardt thinks he's a populist, Edwards has a platform to please the people. He wants to make it easier for people to buy a home, strengthen Social Security and stick it to the corporations. He's great on jobs and health care and may be the greenest candidate in the race. What's not to love, right?

How about foreign policy. He has no concommitant big vision here, and seems content to follow in Bush's tracks. He voted to invade Iraq and believes we must stay the course in rebuilding it. That might wash if it arose from conviction instead of ignorance. Here's where the experience thing comes in, and it's not an insignificant liability. We are confronting some pretty hairy problems in the Middle East and in the terror sphere. Bringing nothing to the table is a pretty big black mark.

I won't go so far as to say I'm not surprised by Edwards' surge in Iowa--it came so late it caught everyone off guard. But I was surprised he wasn't finding traction over the past few months--he's a pretty good candidate. He is, in all the superficial ways we wish didn't matter, the anti-Kucinich: good looking, WASPy, "presidential." He's a southern candidate (which despite its increasing irrelevance, can still matter), has a nice, populist backstory, and is a charming, intelligent guy. Add to that his positive campaign, and it seemed like he could find an audience. He still seems like a very long shot in the primaries, but maybe his Iowa showing is reflective of the support he should always have attracted.

In the general election, however, I think he would get in big trouble. His lack of foreign policy experience would be a ripe target for Rove. He'd also smear Edwards for being a trial lawyer, and for his political and executive inexperience. Edwards would have a hard time staying positive. I think Rove could easily send the campaign into a tailspin--how would Edwards respond?

I give Edwards strong marks here, despite the paucity of experience. He's still green, obviously, but he's stuck to his guns throughout the campaign. Every other candidate turned ugly with Dean's ascent; Edwards kept tacking positive. It shows some moxie that he didn't waver in the face of a faltering campaign.

His charisma and intelligence serve him well in public, and his positive, optimistic message is exactly the approach the US needs now.

Again, he held the line. He could have gotten into the game of flip-flopping, of turning ugly and negative for political advantage. He didn't. I think this is the chief reason he's rallying in Iowa. In terms of political integrity and honesty, he tops the list.

Bottom Line
If this were 2000, when the stakes were much lower, I'd be more charitable toward Edwards. So much has changed, though. Foreign policy experience is critical, both to get elected and in job description. It's also a pivotal moment for the Democratic Party. Choosing a guy with five short years of political experience to lead the revolution just doesn't make sense. Some folks say Edwards is running for Veep. If Clark emerges as the candidate, he could do a lot worse than choosing John.

posted by Jeff | 8:07 AM |
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