Tuesday, March 20, 2007

EDWARDS’ UPHILL STRUGGLE

Maybe it’s because he’s the only person running for President who I’ve actually voted for (in the ‘04 Democratic primary), but John Edwards has a special place in my heart among the wanna-be’s in ‘08. I’ll go further than that, even: I actually believe that unlike every other candidate aside from Obama and Clinton, Edwards has a real chance to win the Democratic nomination.

He’s smart. He’s polished. He’s good looking. He seems like a nice guy. He’s from a region of the country in which the Dems sorely need a foothold. And, he’s experienced at running for this job. In fact, because of that experience, he has wisely recognized the need to stand out from the pack, and I even like his chosen method for doing so: speaking out on behalf of on issue (economic equity) that deeply moves me and my fellow liberals.

Sounds like a contender, huh?

Indeed. I sense among some of my Democratic friends that Edwards is one guy we all could live with as our standard bearer. And yet … if I had to put money on a candidate – and I mean if I had to handicap the race – he’d still run a distant third.

Edwards, you see, has some major hurdles to overcome. The first of which is his initial vote to authorize the Iraq War. For a liberal, he sure didn’t vote like one. In fact, I suspect he voted out of cowardice. Then again, unlike a certain other pandering/calculating opponent, Edwards has at least apologized for his vote.

The second hurdle is the perception that he lacks gravitas, in sharp contrast to his two main rivals. Edwards seems like he’s perpetually 21 years old. OK, so maybe he looks 25, but he sure doesn’t look like a President. And I don’t say that because he’s short. There’s something about him that’s reminiscent of a game show host or a traveling salesman. Despite the fact that he doesn’t come from money and that he has had to deal with severe illness in his family, you still get the visceral impression that life has come a tad too easily for him. In short, you can help but wonder if, as a champion of liberal causes, he’s the genuine article.

That leads me to the third hurdle. I suspect it’s related to the first, only it’s more important. Most of us have memories of Edwards debating Cheney in ‘04 and not laying a glove on the guy. We kept hearing about what a great trial lawyer Edwards was, and yet when the chips were down, he couldn’t summon the balls to go toe to toe with Cheney in a way that could actually score some points. In Edwards’ defense, maybe he didn’t think he had to win that debate; maybe he thought a draw would suffice (and he did earn one). Who knew the Republicans’ get out the vote drive would be so successful? Still, Democrats have this lingering memory of John Edwards acting like a perfect gentleman in the presence of a man whose policies have been bare-knuckled from the get-go. If Edwards can’t fight tough under those circumstances, why should we believe he could be tough enough when an international crisis develops?

So there you have it, three hurdles. I presented them in increasing order of importance. But I have one more hurdle to mention, and I believe it’s the most important of all.

Allow me to hearken back to my days at Harvard Law School in the early 80s. I was a student activist then, and one of my causes was the lack of minority hiring on our law school faculty. I’ll never forget interviewing law professor and future Solicitor General Charles Fried. When I questioned him on why the school had hired so few minorities, he said that he would hate to see us lose our standards and turn the place into a school “no better than Berkeley.” Even a Stanford grad like me was offended by that comment … but I digress.

The point is that as a liberal, I recognized value in diversity. And I adopted the philosophy that if you have historically stayed away from hiring anyone but white males, you’d better hire someone else next time unless a white male is clearly the most qualified candidate.

And that is John Edwards’ problem. We liberals recognize that we have a historic opportunity in ‘08. We can actually elect a woman or a black man to be President of the United States for the first time. We have two candidates who are exceptionally intelligent and who even have gravitas. Some of us like Obama (me included!) and others like Hillary (ah … that wouldn’t be me), but virtually everyone would agree that there is no white male candidate who stands clearly above them in terms of the objective skills that make people qualified for the White House.

If you like an analogy, consider boxing. If it’s close, the decision should go to the champ. That’s an unwritten rule of the sport. Well, whether liberals would like to admit it or not, if it’s a close call between the contenders, most of us would want to see a woman or a minority get the chance to lead our country for the first time. I don’t apologize for having that sentiment either. In fact, I suspect that if John Edwards were in my position and not his, he’d feel the same way.

5 comments:

Finding Fair Hope said...

Like you, I can't help thinking Edwards deserves a better shot than he has. I remember how light in weight Jimmy Carter looked, and George W., and even Bill Clinton, when they took office. Hell, I even remember when JFK took office, and what a thrill it was to have someone young and bright in that old office.

But all too many people just kind of forget about Edwards, no matter how hard he tries and how profound the causes he feels passionately about. He seems to be a good man on the stump, so maybe the primaries will shake out in his favor.

Let's face it, we could do a lot worse. And we probably will.

Daniel Spiro said...

Will he even last up to the primaries? We might get a sense of the answer to that question in a couple of weeks, when they announce the fundraising dollars for this past quarter. You can't stay in the race as a legit contender unless you can raise the money. I have no inside info as to who is raising what. It should be interesting to see the results.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Got to say how impressed I was with the Edwards' press conference this morning. What would you think about an Edwards-Obama ticket?

Daniel Spiro said...

I missed the press conference, but I heard the people raving about it on the liberal radio show that I was listening to on the way home from work.

I really like Obama and would be saddened to learn that anyone but him would be our next President.

Or let me put it another way -- I briefly met Obama last night and donated three copies of my book to his campaign, because I consider him the personification of a politician who can unify the country in the manner that my book was preaching.

All that said, if I couldn't get my first choice, then my (distant) second choice would be Edwards-Obama. I do like Edwards, and voted for him in the primary in 2004. I'm just REALLY ready to see if this country would elect its first black President. We've learned back in 1988 that Vice Presidents don't matter.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Vice Presidents do sometimes get to be Presidents. What a coup for the Democrats if they ran either Gore-Obama or Edwards-Obama and got eight years in the White House as a result! And I do mean for the head man in both cases to take the job for only one term, which might be a hard sell, considering.