Con: Edwards is unelectable, and Democrats know it
I want to believe in the John Edwards campaign.
It’s not that I agree with the man about much. When it comes to taxes, labor relations and trade policy, Edwards is a reliable champion of the most innovative ideas of the 1930s.
No, my interest is entirely selfish. Four years ago, I was nearly alone among conservative writers in forecasting early success for Edwards in the presidential campaign—even predicting that the ticket would likely be Kerry-Edwards. He made me look prescient—and, of course, having a presidential nominee from my own state of North Carolina would be a punditry gold mine.
But I can’t will my self-interest into reality. The second Edwards campaign is going to fail.
The John Edwards of 2004 doesn’t exist anymore. That candidate mixed traditional Democratic populism on economics with foreign-policy pragmatism and cultural moderation.
Unfortunately, the John Edwards of today is a full-throated leftist, bashing Hillary Clinton of all people as too conservative and irresponsibly calling for immediate withdrawal from a war that America and its allies are in the midst of winning.
I still admire Edwards for what he is: a peerless plaintiffs’ attorney. That doesn’t make him a leader.
Within the post-2006 Democratic Party, overconfident after its mid-term victories and harboring new Great Society dreams, there appears to be no room for free-traders, welfare reformers or advocates of military action to confront tyranny.
In other words, there’s no room for Clinton/Gore ’92. Edwards has read this new primary jury. He’s telling them what they want to hear—that Republicans aren’t just mistaken but evil and crooked, that America’s economy can prosper by becoming re-unionized and walled off from competition, and that radical Islamists will respond to a panicky surrender in Iraq by leaving us alone.
It’s all a fantasy. A leader would try to dispel it and refocus the Democratic Party on more reasonable premises and objectives. Every so often, Sen. Clinton shows brief flashes of such leadership. Edwards does not.
For example, at a recent campaign event in Iowa, Edwards criticized Clinton for her Senate vote in favor of a measure to classify the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. His argument, as best as I can figure, is that because President Bush says the IRG espouses and sponsors terrorism, it must be false—nothing more than propaganda to justify another war.
“Can we finally show some backbone and courage as a Democratic Party?” he bravely asked a friendly campaign crowd predisposed to such paranoia.
Of course, there is no reasonable doubt of the IRG’s terror ties. Clinton knows that, as president, she might well have to assemble a coalition to isolate or punish Iran.
Before that, Clinton realizes, she will need to attract the votes of moderates and independents who might be fed up with the Bush administration and frustrated with the war but are hardly pacifistic or oblivious to Iran’s threatening behavior.
Basically, Edwards has turned his greatest strength into a weakness. By focusing like a laser beam on the most strident members of the Democratic primary jury, he seems to have forgotten that the general election will be held in an entirely different court of public opinion—and that many Democrats, while personally thrilled by talk of impeaching Bush or assaulting Wall Street, are mostly looking for someone they think can win.
Don’t feel badly for Edwards. After spending years on the campaign trail bashing opulence and privilege, he and his family will return home to private life. I wish him and particularly his impressive wife well. But I’m disappointed. He coulda been a contenda!
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative, free-market think tank. Readers may write to him at JLF, 200 W. Morgan St., Suite 200, Raleigh, N.C. 27601; Web site: www.johnlocke.org.