In November of 2004, after People Magazine named John Edwards ‘the sexiest politician alive’ and John Kerry lost, I thought Edwards’ fifteen minutes of political fame were over. Instead, he leads Hillary Clinton in two polls in the crucial Iowa Caucus and may be elected President.
John Edwards’ campaign is a study of style over substance. He’s charming, charismatic and takes glib stands on safe issues like the virtues of home – but, relentlessly, dodges speaking out on any controversial issue.
Lately, he’s been posting videos of himself on his website. ‘Webisodes’ of John grinning on a private jet; John riding in a truck in Uganda, with natives lining the road waving palm fronds at his passing caravan; John at a podium above the words Inspiring Politics. These vignettes of a charming but an extraordinary self-absorbed, vain, narcissistic candidate are the ‘beef’ of Edwards’ Presidential campaign. But Gary keeps telling me it’s a mistake to underestimate John Edwards, and Edwards’ relentless courtship of the unions and the Iowa polls seem to say Gary’s right.
Edwards also has one peculiar blessing the fates bestow on certain politicians. He’s lucky. I don’t mean that facetiously. Some politicians are just lucky. Jesse Helms was lucky (except for Jim Hunt) in the opponents he drew in his five Senate elections.
Edwards was lucky in 2004. The Democratic Presidential primary split into two elections: One for the leadership of the liberals, the other for the leadership of the moderates. Half a dozen candidates – Kerry, Dean and others – battled to be the liberal’s choice. Edwards ran virtually unopposed – except for Wesley Clark – to lead the moderates. He won which made him the only alternative to Kerry after the Iowa Caucus, which propelled him to political stardom.
This election Edwards did draw two real moderate opponents: Senator Evan Bayh and Governor Mark Warner of Virginia. But both dropped out of the race before it even started. That’s political luck. As a result, Edwards is now moving left to attract voters in the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party, rather than defending his base.
The other day Gary sent me the link to http://www.americanrhetoric.com/, a website that publishes speeches: Lincoln’s speech on slavery at the Cooper Union, FDR’s speech on the Depression, Reagan saying, “Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall.” In comparison, John Edwards’ most daring stand is calling on Americans to drive smaller cars. That’s a harsh comparison, but the question is can John Edwards be elected President without taking serious stands on controversial issues?
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