Thursday, January 22, 2004

The John Edwards Buzz

We've made no secret of our disappointment with John Edwards for giving up his Senate seat after only one term and setting out on a quixotic quest for the presidency. Dumb, dumb, dumb! And actually a betrayal of the people of North Carolina. We've felt that strongly.

And we haven't been inclined to take it all back just because Edwards came in second in Iowa and is "flavor of the week" among some elements of the national press, a.k.a. the media whores, whose opinions we don't trust nor value.

But Josh Marshall is another matter. Josh's "Talking Points Memo" is a daily stop for us, must-reading, so I'm going to quote him at length on the subject of Edwards, campaigning in New Hampshire. It's food for thought, gives one pause, since it's coming from someone that I DO trust:


As noted in the earlier post, we went tonight (this was written Wednesday evening) to see a John Edwards town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A few days ago I saw James Carville say that Edwards was the best stump speaker he'd ever seen, even better than Clinton, or something to that effect. So I wanted to see what all the commotion was about.

I had a mix of reactions and opinions. Or, really, I had an arc of opinions over time.

For most of the time Edwards was doing his presentation, putting on his show, I hadn't the slightest question what Carville was talking about. While I was watching, in the moment, that is, I also didn't have much question that Edwards would be the eventual nominee. He's that good.

His comfort level with a crowd, his ability to roll with and into their moods and reactions, and his ability to craft his talk into a resonant story (a narrative, as we used to say) is simply light years beyond what Kerry or Clark can manage. (Dean is sort of in a whole different category -- he tries for something different.) He's down-to-earth, gesticulating all over the place, with folksy aphorisms and punch lines all put in the right spots, but in an unforced, uncontrived matter.

He’s funny and folksy, in a campaign sort of way.

With most politicians in these sorts of settings I watch and see the disjuncture between what they are doing and what they should be doing, what they're supposed to be doing. It's something like their discomfort quotient, or perhaps the way you can see into their grasping for what the right way is to connect with the crowd or a given voter. With Edwards there's none of that. He's a natural. His ease seems total -- and you can easily see the echoes of years of working juries in the court room.

When you hear his talk about 'the two Americas' (with one living in perpetual insecurity and another 'having whatever they need whenever they need it') you think: Yes, he explains it all exactly right, in a way that would cut right into the president's deepest political vulnerabilities.

When I watch these guys one of the things I also watch for, either semi-consciously or quite deliberately, is, how will the Republicans go after this guy -- either on substance or on tone and demeanor and life story? With some of the contenders it is painfully obvious. But watching Edwards I had a pretty clear sense that he'd scare the president's political advisors -- a lot. They talk up the trial thing. They make that clear. But I've never thought that would get them much traction.

And yet, an hour or so later, after his presentation and after and Q & A, I had a bit of a hard time remembering quite what I was so dazzled by. It put me in the mind of one of those old cliches about light Asian food: filling at the time, but a few hours later you're hungry again.

These are just quick impressions from observing one event. I wanted to write a post which conveyed -- in as unmediated a fashion as possible -- my immediate impressions of watching Edwards work a room for the first time. The above isn't intended as a blanket judgment about a whole campaign and a whole candidate. But in this one case I did have the experience of being truly wowed and then, later, feeling that the whole thing was somehow a bit thin.

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