Monday, August 20, 2007

Edwards Gets a Bump from an Unexpected Source

A recent New York Times column sings the praises of former Senator John Edwards. Its source might surprise you: David Brooks, the Times' conservative voice, appears to really like Edwards.

The portrait he paints is very interesting. I should point out that I wasn't able to read the entire article because it's in the "Times Select" selection (think ESPN Insider) and requires a subscription. But there are a bunch of summaries and reviews online.

Brooks talks about how every candidate has a story they tell on the stump, "Some talk about being part of a great movement [Obama]. Some talk about surviving an ordeal with a band of brothers [Kerry]. John Edwards’s stories begin with family, continue with work and solitary struggle and conclude with triumph over privilege." Edwards' stump speech, which Brooks calls "the best of the last decade," basically won him his nomination as vice president in '04.

But 2008 isn't 2004, certainly not for Edwards. The people have heard the speech, have met the man. So in reshaping his campaign 4 years later, Brooks expected Edwards to move left, outflanking Clinton and Obama. But, instead, Edwards has stayed true to his populist economic message:

"’s clear that the Edwards campaign is based on the same conviction that organized his last campaign: no one understands regular people the way he does. No one else can get out of a bus in places like Pocahontas, Iowa, and bond with the farmers, nurses and hairstylists the way he can. No one else comes from their ranks the way he does." According to Brooks, Edwards' disdain for children of priviledge created a rift between him and Kerry that was palpable in 2004.

In fact, Brooks calls Edwards "a culturally conservative anti-Washington liberal," as evidenced by that "2 Americas" stump speech, which takes Washington to task for creating our country's extreme wealth disparity. The point is that Edwards is a Democrat because he grew up a poor boy in North Carolina; he wants to do for people like his parents, people like the ones he's desparately trying to convince in Iowa.

The major difference between Edwards then and now is that "This time, Edwards is not as exciting a campaigner. But he is more substantive. He seems to have concluded that eloquence alone can’t make him presidential. So he talks less about himself and mixes his bromides with wonkery. His answers on everything from China to ethanol are filled with complex, multipart arguments. He passes on opportunities to be demagogic."

So Edwards seems to be a more attractive candidate now. But the star power of Clinton and Obama and the stench of 2004's disappointment are conspiring against him. Whatever the outcome, he's got an unlikely fan at the Times.

No comments: