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John Edwards: Discuss

In a lot of ways, the idea that John Edwards should be President of the United States was always a little ridiculous. A few years from now in 2008, I think it's going to look even more prima facie ridiculous. Nevertheless, for those of us who feel that the Democrats have been ludicrously unable to devise a persuasive, accurate, and potentially effective rhetorical critique of the contemporary Republican Party and tie it to a reasonable account of what values would motivate a decent governing party, I think there can be little disagreement that Edwards has done much, much better than the rest. This certainly has the look of a campaign site. On top of all that, I have a lengthy diatribe that's been burbling around in my guts somewhere about the essential vacuity of much of the liberal approach to politics and policy and a vision for a better way forward that I've chosen to project (not entirely without reason!) on to the Former Senator. More on that later.

April 11, 2005 | Permalink


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» Edwards '08 from i'm just waiting for the robot invasion
Big Media Matt is right, this really does look like a campaign site. I mean it even introduces his family . . . Edwards has some appeal to me as a '08 candidate. Mainly it's that he could actually make it across the finish line in some of the southern ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 11, 2005 8:48:07 PM

» Matt Yglesias contemplates John Edwards from Battlepanda
"Prima facie ridiculous" as opposed to plain ol' vanilla ridiculous? Is that just a fancy way of saying "jaw-droppingly redonkulous", like, lets say, a bad actor who's worldview has all the nuance of a black hat/white hat western becoming president i... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 12, 2005 12:50:00 AM

» All you need is Edwards from The Ethical Werewolf
I love the story of what Bill Clinton said after Robert Rubin and other aides explained the economy to him: "You mean to tell me that the success of my program and my reelection hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?" But... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 12, 2005 5:20:36 AM

» Morning Links 4/12 from Pseudo-Polymath
Top of the morning. David Wayne (Jollyblogger) with an idea of how Christians might improve their poor public image. Mike Russell (Eternal Perspectives) takes on Paul and the Law, not exactly the least thorny topic. Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) notes t... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 12, 2005 8:13:05 AM


In a lot of ways, the idea that John Edwards should be President of the United States was always a little ridiculous. A few years from now in 2008, I think it's going to look even more prima facie ridiculous.

Please elaborate and support.

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 11, 2005 7:33:07 PM

Yea, what do you mean? If Sen. Edwards decides that pursuing the presidency is the right thing to do, the opposite is true: with each passing day, it will be even more likely.

Posted by: Alex | Apr 11, 2005 7:38:02 PM

Does anyone actually think John Edwards would make a good president? Does anyone actually like him, or does everybody just assume everyone else likes him?

If anyone catches themselves thinking "I bet those dumb rednecks would really go for a guy like this", please stop.

I don't know, perhaps there is more "there" there, but I don't see it.

Posted by: Mark | Apr 11, 2005 7:39:35 PM

I cannot believe Petey didn't have the first fifteen comments on this post.

Posted by: washerdreyer | Apr 11, 2005 7:41:14 PM

Does anyone actually think John Edwards would make a good president?

I do. That's why I voted for him.

Does anyone actually like him, or does everybody just assume everyone else likes him?

Given the 2004 primaries, I assumed that most everybody else, at least in the Democratic Party, doesn't like him.

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 11, 2005 7:47:08 PM

Say, Mark,
This dumb redneck absolutely loves John Edwards, and it's not the Carolina accent. When he elaborates on his economic platform, it includes a spate of specific measures designed to increase the economic stability of poor and marginal income people. He has a narrative, and though it includes "Bush is a tool," it is more than that.

And cmdicely,
MY probably means that Edwards seems a little one-dimensional and people should probably have more than a couple years political experience before becoming President. Given MY's focus on foreign affairs and Edwards' almost total focus on domestic issues, that impression is possibly more pronounced for him.

Posted by: Kiril | Apr 11, 2005 7:47:14 PM

Edwards looked like a blow-dried lawyer-politican/model/actress from day 1 to me. When Kerry picked him I thought, "He had better know something I don't know". He didn't.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 11, 2005 7:51:03 PM

In a lot of ways, the idea that John Edwards should be President of the United States was always a little ridiculous. A few years from now in 2008, I think it's going to look even more prima facie ridiculous.

Come on, Matt, you can do better than that. I was never an Edwards supporter and can think of reasons why he would not have been the best choice, but I don't know what you mean by "prima facie ridiculous."

Posted by: blah | Apr 11, 2005 7:53:47 PM

You raise an interesting point. It is bizarre (to me) that rich children of the elite are sometimes more adept at appearing one of the common folk than self-made achievers do.
Case in point: while Bush was waving his Bible and decrying the liberal war against Christianity, Edwards -- who actually is devout -- refused to let the media film him going to church, which, unlike Bush, he actually does.

Posted by: Kiril | Apr 11, 2005 7:55:26 PM

It's prima facie ridiculous that GWB should be president of the United States, too, but that didn't stop Republicans from nominating him. I don't know if he'll look like a strong candidate in late 2007, but if he does, I'll support him. Do you say this because he doesn't have much political experience? Is that all? I dunno, I don't see the ridiculous factor here.

Posted by: djw | Apr 11, 2005 8:15:14 PM

"I cannot believe Petey didn't have the first fifteen comments on this post."

You spend an hour thinking about a long Mark Schmitt post, and look at what happens...


If I were trying to invent a Democratic Presidential candidate in a laboratory, I'd come up with John Edwards. Except he'd have been a Governor instead of a Senator.

The Promise of John Edwards

In short, he can neutralize values voters while through both message and biography he can focus the debate on lefty economics. Think of RFK, if you know the history.

Hillary can conceivably win the Presidency, but she'd win ugly like Bush. Her ceiling is above 50%, but just barely. Edwards is only Democratic candidate in a long time who could conceivably get 55% of the vote.

Why is that important? If we want to evangelize the liberal faith, and actually start shifting the conservatives' decades-old advantage in self-identified ideology, we need a front man who can actually sell the faith to the unbelievers. A lot of folks who haven't seriously considered a Democrat in 25 years would at least give Johnny Sunshine a real look.

And don't discount the overwhelming importance of TV presentation skills in the weird hothouse world of Presidential general election campaigns.

All that said, I'm not sure how he wins the nomination. The '08 race looks to me like a repeat of the '00 GOP race, with Hillary in the Bush role, and Edwards in the McCain role. And if Warner runs, that will screw up Edwards' chances even further.

I dunno if Matt is just being provocative, or really believes what he's saying. If the latter, he ought to stick to wonkery and pimping the Bayh juggernaut.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 11, 2005 8:22:28 PM

Johnny Sunshine Now, Johnny Sunshine 4ever. Not that he is strictly "qualified," which is what Matt is probably alluding to, but he does show very good judgement for the most part. I do think his convention speech was utterly over the top, though.

Posted by: praktike | Apr 11, 2005 8:26:37 PM

I don't understand why the idea of Edwards being president is 'ridiculous' and the idea of W Bush (or Frist, or Hilary Clinton for that matter) isn't. Democrats are so fucking clueless in a way Republicans aren't: Repubs. run whom they want to run, and usually win, while Dems. dither and worry about 'gravitas', 'toughness' and all that. I remember when Reagan was running in '76 and '80; the CW was that he was a joke, was not suited, not qualified, etc. I laughed, too. Who remembers any of that crap now? Is there any modern president less qualified for the job than W. Bush? I don't think so. Politics per se isn't just the 'embarrassing but necessary part' of governing: politics per se is an essential part of a president's job.

I'm not suggesting that dems run telegenic dolts just to win. But Edwards (who I'm not married to, BTW) is no dolt and not nearly as 'light' as some like Mark seem to think. (Go read his policy speeches, Mark.). Other than Obama, who really is too green, I don't see any other national dem. than Edwards who knows what the hell they're doing, politically. Democrats need to pop their heads out of their asses already. Whether it's a good thing or not, most people vote about a candidate's character, not their resume. George W. Bush is an object lesson which Democrats, for some reason, refuse to appreciate. So is Reagan, to a lesser extent. You have to run someone who is intelligent and able enough, but who can also win, and hold a coalition together thereafter.

(full disclosure: I like Edwards and did volunteer work for him during the primaries. I still like him, but would be just as happy with someone else good enough who could win).

Posted by: jonnybutter | Apr 11, 2005 8:27:02 PM

We need to find a can't-lose candidate the same way the Republicans found for Collie-fornia. Yes, I mean a big fucking star! A Tom Hanks! A Paul Newman! A Denzel Washington! No, I'm not joking.

Posted by: Roxanne | Apr 11, 2005 8:33:34 PM

I don't understand why the idea of Edwards being president is 'ridiculous' and the idea of W Bush (or Frist, or Hilary Clinton for that matter) isn't.

Well, MY never said the latter idea wasn't ridiculous. Ronald Reagan was ridiculous too. Lots of people are ridiculous.

Personally, I can see where Matt's coming from. I know lots of highly intelligent and highly successful lawyers, doctors, bankers, etc., but that doesn't mean I'd think it was normal if any of them became president of the United States within six years.

I'm not saying that Edwards couldn't be a great president (as well as presidential candidate) - he's smart and a good communicator and he stands roughly where I stand on the political spectrum. But that's only after thinking about it for a while. As an instinctive reaction, I still find the idea to be kind of weird.

Posted by: JP | Apr 11, 2005 8:45:19 PM

Have the Democrats ever won the presidency with anyone not from the south in this last millenium or so?

How good a candidate he is will depend on who slouches toward the podium at the Republican convention in 2008. Edwards sure looks purdy good compared to Dick Cheney...

Posted by: monkyboy | Apr 11, 2005 8:51:38 PM

1) Couldn't we just, for once, stop stabbing each other and focus our attention on the other guys? Geez, I know we have work to do, but we're not so hopeless as all that stuff about "vacuity" suggests. There may be an older guard that's resistant to new voices, but that's no reason to keep saying Democrats are simply hopeless.

2) John Edwards biggest strngth and his biggest liability is that he's pretty - not classic handsome, but sincerely pretty. It undermines his efforts at being taken seriously, while at the same time serving as a perfect shield from his opponents. Americans like it when pretty people speak in public. (We may not be alone in this, but I think we are the high water mark of treating the pretty as if they're smart for no other reason than the fact they're good looking.) I think Edwards would (and will) be a fine candidate when his prettiness is toned down a bit by age - the fact that the 2004 campaign aged him rapidly was, I think, part of the reason he gained credibility as the campaign season wore on.

And because of 2, I am suspicious of Matt's planning to pin #1 on Edwards. I know I tend to lump the party's sins (of not having a deep enough back bench) on Edwards in paret because it's clear his rapid success has everything to do with looks. And that's shallow. We should be honest about that, at least.

Posted by: weboy | Apr 11, 2005 8:52:23 PM

Yeah, Edwards isn't ideal, but I can't think of any prominent Dems who would make an ideal candidate. If I could personally appoint the President, (I'm still working on clearing that with the appropriate authorities), I'd probably want someone like Joe Biden. Biden is a serious guy with plenty of experience who doesn't come off sounding like a robot. However, I have my doubts Biden would win the election. I have a feeling that Edwards, qualified or no, would have a good chance of winning.

Posted by: Ricky Barnhart | Apr 11, 2005 8:56:42 PM

It's true that Edwards is short on executive experience, but
he's a brilliant guy. On national security, W was equally
inexperienced and got away with it by trading on the assumption
that he would be just like his father.

In the biggest test, Edwards trounced Cheney in the VP debate -
if Lieberman had bothered to show up for the 2000 VP debate and
had performed half as well as Edwards, we wouldn't be in the
current mess.

As always, it doesn't seem productive to put down Edwards unless
you can propose a better candidate - allowing for the fact that
the Repugs will lie ruthlessly about whoever you pick. Edwards
does at least have a coherent theme and reliably progressive
instincts. I'm really down on Hillary after the way she's put
herself firmly in the "let's kill and torture lots of Muslims"

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Apr 11, 2005 9:00:16 PM

I agree with Petey, and I would add that as attractive as Edwards is on domestic issue, and as natural a politician he is I just don't know how he gains the kind of national security creds he would need by 08 (although if they keep raising the ceiling on enlistment maybe he could join the marines). But in the unlikely event he was to get the nomination, and was elected president, does anyone doubt that he'd be a far more unifying and soothing presence in the White House (and that I could stop drinking so much) than either Hillary or *anyone* the GOP could trot out?

Posted by: Robin the Hood | Apr 11, 2005 9:07:15 PM

Ditto that, Roxanne.

But I've got an even better celeb-Dem candidate: Jon Bon Jovi.

And, yes, I'm deadly serious.

(Of course, JBJ first needs to convince Corzine to drop out of the race for NJ gov -- and then win the nom and the race.)

Posted by: The Confidence Man | Apr 11, 2005 9:09:26 PM

This begs a wider question: why, given a pool of ~200M people, was the public offered a choice between two such appallingly bad candidates?

Posted by: am | Apr 11, 2005 9:15:20 PM

Edwards, for everything I like about him, doesn't seem like much of a brawler, and that's who we need in 2008. A certain toughness should come before media skills even. How to talk on TV can be learned, but political streetfighting really, really can't. Edwards won 1 election in his whole life, by a small margin in a Democratic year. He's had no sustained popularity in North Carolina or the upper south, no desire to get back in middle of the partisan ring, no additions to his foreign policy experience, and he let the GOP tear down his running mate.

Having watched Edwards in campaign 2004 and having voted for him for the nomination, I can't see him doing what it takes to win a presidential election (or even the Democratic nomination, where he didn't go negative). Edwards is probably by temperment too nice for politics. I guess he's fine for the courtroom, and the guy was a badass in high school and on the football team at Clemson for a year, but I don't see in him the hunger and the toughness it's going to take for our hypothetical candidate to win. Maybe I'm worried too much about the last battle and 2008 will be a vaucous, pre-9/11 event. But I wouldn't bet on it, not for a second. Foreign policy and brass nuckles are the keys. Edwards comes up short on both, and I don't see that changing.

Just to be contrarian to my own post, Edwards on security policy was more hawkish than Kerry, and his speech at the DNC had parts that were quiet tough. I think he gets that we live in a post 9-11 environment and how the GOP exploits that to a degree more than most other Dem pols, but that just doesn't seem to translate to his public standing. His focusing on poverty the next few years doesn't help with that.

Posted by: SamAm | Apr 11, 2005 9:27:58 PM

I can't think of one good reason why John Edwards shouldn't be president. Not one. Of course, I can't think of a good reason for the current occupant either.

Posted by: Oliver | Apr 11, 2005 9:34:10 PM

Sen. Edwards, who should know better, voted to confirm John Ashcroft and for the USA PATRIOT Act (no, it's not entirely a bad law, but should have been improved rather than rushed through the Hill), not to mention the execrable No Child Left Behind Act.

For these reasons and because of his facile campaign strategy relying on his biography, I see him as a follower rather than an innovative thinker, notwithstanding his too-vague but important alarums about poverty during the campaign and his sometimes-effective delivery of his stump speech, with its important messages about equal access to opportunity for both of the "two Americas". The biography spiel fell short for me not only because I heard it ten thousand times but because it's cleverly employed as an obstacle to argument and is bound to elicit irritation from those who can't relate to his particular story but still need government to play a role in their lives (i.e. most of us).

His story obstructs argument and manifests false modesty the same way President Bush's invocation of how Jesus "changed my heart" did, or Sen. Kerry's finger-wagging to Joe Lieberman at one debate on the order of "I have an experience that you don't have" (combat military service) as justification for his own vote against war funding. Even though these claims are true (leave aside the philsophical and theological quandries raised by the Bush example) and, considered in the abstract, perhaps even inspiring, what isn't inspiring is Edwards' use of his Horatio Alger tale as a substitute for innovative policy ideas and an interesting, flexible repertoire of ways to talk about them.

Finally, although this is less important, I don't like the sense of entitlement implied by his deferring public service until his mid-40s and then serving a whopping four years in the Senate before deciding he was ready for the presidency. And he didn't even run for re-election. Now a Republican holds his seat. This pattern does say something about him, I think.

Posted by: inip | Apr 11, 2005 9:35:53 PM

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