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.