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Edwards: A Black and White Perspective

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BOONE, Iowa -- See John Edwards in person and it's not hard to tell what has fueled his recent surge in Iowa. Unlike most politicians who seem habitually concerned with (and constrained by) presenting the gray area in every issue, Edwards is portraying the state of the country and its future in blunt black-and-white terms.

"This is not rocket science," the former North Carolina senator told a standing room only crowd here at the Giggling Goat -- a grocery store turned catering operation and soon-to-be restaurant. "This is easy to understand."

At issue, according to Edwards, is whether or not the American middle class is going to stand up and say "enough is enough" to corporate America. "Are we going to let this corporate power and greed destroy the American middle class?" Edwards asks.

By painting this election -- and the state of America politics more broadly -- in such stark terms, Edwards is smartly tapping into voters' desire for easily understandable and digestible solutions to the problems the country faces.

Universal health care? Stand up to the "big" insurance companies.

Prescription drug coverage? Stand up to the "big" drug companies.

Jobs going overseas? Stand up to "big" corporations.

"This is not hard to understand," Edwards says after listing how he would fight these entrenched interests if elected to the White House. "This is insanity," he adds at another point in his stump speech.

At the core of Edwards's black-and-white message is the sense that politicians aren't (and haven't) played fair with the American people in recent years. Politicians insist that issues are complicated and that easy solutions aren't available. Baloney, says Edwards. The problem is not that solutions to America's problems are too complicated but that politicians are too timid to push for real change, too fearful to fight with all their might.

"You can beat these people," Edwards said, pointing out that he spent decades in a courtroom defending the proverbial little guy. "You can win. Nothing will change without that fight."

The truth of the matter is probably somewhere between Edwards and the status quo he derides. If Edwards is elected president, it's hard to imagine the Democrat bringing about the sort of change he is promising without compromising at some point.

But, it's important to remember that in politics, perception is often more important than reality. Whether or not the world is really as starkly drawn as Edwards is portraying it is less important than whether voters believe it is when they gather here on Thursday night for the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

On the way into Boone, The Fix passed a place called The Venue that promised "unlimited beer wells" from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wow.

Next stop: Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in Indianola at 4:30 central time. In the meantime, The Fix is making a pit stop at an Iowa tradition: Maid-Rite.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 30, 2007; 2:35 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Fix Makes Des Moines (Finally)
Next: Obama Fires Back at Edwards


Being President is not like winning a court case. Edwards has it all wrong. He can't just play to a jury to get verdict. He has to convince Republicans to go along with him to get his programs passed through Congress. He would make a great Attorney General, prosecuting all those corporations, but not a President. Voters have got to see what he is saying in meaningless for the office he wants to hold.

Posted by: goldie2 | December 31, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

'Unlike most politicians who seem habitually concerned with (and constrained by) presenting the gray area in every issue,'

I guess you've never listened to any republican politicans, CC.. they've never heard of the term 'grey'

Posted by: drindl | December 31, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

To Katy7540, if Edwards had gotten a permanent job as a mill worker, would he have been in a position to run for president? You would allege he lacked experience. He is now in a position to fight for the interests of people like his parents. You criticize him for having connections at a hedge fund. Hillary Clinton, for example, was a member of the board of Walmart, that great American company known for its wonderfully suspicious labor practices. She also made a good deal of money in her early career trading cattle futures contracts. Where does Hillary Clinton get all the money she uses in her campaign?...Why did she say that it is okay to fight for lobbyists' interests instead of for voters' interests? Should lobbyists really have the same or more influence than voters? And what kind of great experience did Hillary Clinton have before running for office? She did extremely well financially as a first lady of Arkansas and then as first-lady at the White House... Do you really think, Katy7540, that she is going to bring back HONEST government? There is a happy medium between having political experience and having too much political experience, and Edwards is there.

Posted by: ttj1 | December 31, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

To you critics, especially "nerdoff," if Edwards is a phony because of his Senate votes, what does that make his chief rivals? Recall that Hillary Clinton also voted in favor of the Iraq use of force resolution and Obama only didn't vote for it because he wasn't a member of the U.S. Senate at the time. In fact, Obama has a convenient way of avoiding votes that are difficult. He simply doesn't show up to vote! He missed more than 70% of roll call votes between August and December this year because he was too busy running for president. And while he was a member of the Illinois Senate, he voted "present" on matters in which it was too politically dicey to make a "yes" or "no" vote. Honesty is fundamental in politics, nerdoff, so take your "POP," "SMACK," and "WHACK," and try to "get the picture."

Posted by: ttj1 | December 31, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I guess what this article is trying to say is that Clinton or Obama are the people to vote for. Hillary has taken tons of money from lobbyists and corporations. She owes them favors, not us. Obama has taken lots of money from lobbyists and owes them favors, not us. Edwards hasn't taken money from lobbyists and corporations and he will represent us, so don't vote for him.

Posted by: raymichael | December 31, 2007 2:29 AM | Report abuse

Craig, Cunningham, Gore, and Murtha, and Edwards? All mentioned in the same breath? Isn't there a difference between Cunningham and our recent Nobel laureate?

There are a lot of people on this blog who are calling Edwards a fake. It isn't wrong to make money, is it? Is it possible he still has populist values? Roosevelt was wealthy but did more for the small person than any other president. Politics has made us skeptical.

Posted by: thomasmair | December 30, 2007 10:53 PM | Report abuse

John Edwards is a fighter with a plan-- to give Americans back our democracy. Right now, our country is governed by lobbyists, all 34,000 of them in Washington. The money changers and favor brokers in DC have an iron grip on what legislation gets passed and what no bid contracts Halliburton and others "win".

John Edwards accepts no money from lobbyists and PAC's. Someone once said "politics is the only profession where you're required to take money from strangers and pretend you don't owe them anything"

Voters know this. What's amazing is that a candidate is finally standing up and telling the truth about it.

Posted by: marsha.sompayrac | December 30, 2007 10:49 PM | Report abuse

nerdoff and katy got it right. Mr slip-n-fall is a hypocrite in the same fashion as Larry Craig, Duke Cunningham, Al Gore, and Murtha.

So this trial attorney/politician is claiming to make his life's cause fighting for the little guy while living like a fat cat. Surprise surprise.

Posted by: JD | December 30, 2007 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Edwards is a Populist with nothing to lose. No other candidate can, or is willing, to take that stance. Just ask yourself: Where will Hillary and Barak be should they lose the primary? In the Senate, maneuvering and compromising. Where will Edwards be? More politics and another run in 2012? I don't think that's in the cards.

Clinton and Obama have a political contingency plan. Edwards has a go for broke plan. Clinton and Obama steer to the middle of the road. Edwards has his eye on the people in the economic ditches along the road.

Interestingly, we have a chance to choose a candidate with everything to win for us and nothing really to win for him/herself. Edwards is looking for a place in history as an anti-corporate power, pro-health care revolution, out of Iraq now leader. Nothing "careful," nothing "there's always the next election," about any of the detailed stances he takes on the big, divisive issues of the day, the issues and problems of the many days to come beyond the days of electioneering compromising.

Populists are often labeled by the unthinking as "demagogues." But you're not a demagogue until you fail or refuse to deliver on your promises. Edwards appears to be an individual who is at a point in his life's arc where delivering on promises, programs, proposals is more important than hedging and compromising his deeper beliefs and values in order to gain the attention of pundits, bloggers, TV personalities, and the moneyed classes.

Democrats talk "change." Will Democrats vote for it when it comes at them in shirt sleeves and a smile?

Perhaps the timid should take a different perspective on "change," that magical something for which we are all salivating. Real change is always a fight and only Edwards is ready to accept this reality. Clinton is without hope of ever escaping her "let's meet in the middle of the road" stances; Obama, whom I admire immensely but is only at the start of his careful career path, should recall his Frederick Douglass lesson: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. . . ."

Edwards' fire is real, his willingness to fight is real, and the change he supports is real--not watered down, greasy hands across the aisle stuff. This can be a turning point, but too many Democrats are still with the failed mindset of Gore 2000 and Kerry 2004.

gary daily
Terre Haute, IN -- home of Eugene V. Debs

Posted by: garyd63 | December 30, 2007 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Maid-Rite is a fixation in our HQ -- half our staffers practically live at the Skywalk location in downtown DSM.

Posted by: | December 30, 2007 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Ah yes, the old Manichean approach. There's black, and there's white, and anything in between is suspect.

Tell me, good Senator, I have several members of my extended family who are management figures for some of the largest, most successful corporations in America. These companies provide jobs to literally tens of thousands of Americans. Are these family members, by dint of their service to "big business" also part of the evil cabal that seems intent on destroying America?

It only gets more interesting when you look more closely, since the major shareholders in those companies also include most of the largest pension funds in America. Would those pensions be served better if 'big business' found a way to lose money every year?

This type of simplistic posturing might work in front of civil trial juries, who aren't always known for their acumen, but it shouldn't work among the larger public. Iowa Dems, reject the appeal to your outrage and use your heads instead. Choose a candidate who doesn't demonize his enemies, and who understands that complex situations have complex solutions. Trust me, that candidate won't be named Edwards or Clinton.

Posted by: Marcus3 | December 30, 2007 7:33 PM | Report abuse

John actually did work in the mill with his father when he was in high school. He was the first person in his family to go college - where he worked his way through and then attended law school.
And, yes, when he represented that young girl - it was a big deal and a battle - at the time, courts were consistently ruling against the individual and proving that the big corporation was at fault, was not an easy thing to do.
Also, the 527 ads are not against any candidate - they are just pro-edwards ads

Posted by: issabellcobb | December 30, 2007 6:58 PM | Report abuse

By the way, Edwards never said he wouldn't compromise at some point in the future. But when he does, it will be on his terms not the insurance and drug companies terms.

You don't go into a battle telling your opponent from the start that you will compromise. If you do that you automatically weaken your negotiating hand and end up getting much less than what you could have gotten.

Edwards is a skillful negotiator. He's not going to give up any of his power without getting something in return. He's not going to tell lobbyists that they get a seat at the table before they've earned a seat at the table.

Posted by: pmorlan1 | December 30, 2007 6:57 PM | Report abuse

"The truth of the matter is probably somewhere between Edwards and the status quo he derides. If Edwards is elected president, it's hard to imagine the Democrat bringing about the sort of change he is promising without compromising at some point.

But, it's important to remember that in politics, perception is often more important than reality. Whether or not the world is really as starkly drawn as Edwards is portraying it is less important than whether voters believe it is when they gather here on Thursday night for the first-in-the-nation caucuses."

Your statements above clearly show the reason why you and so many in the media don't get Edwards. You guys just can't grasp that sometimes there is no middle position and that some issues really are black & white and really aren't that complicated.

Because Edwards is surging in Iowa and you guys in the media had all but written Edwards out of this election you're now scrambling to find some way to explain why you "experts" were so wrong about Edwards. But instead of saying you were wrong you want your readers to believe that if Edwards wins it's not because he's right on the issues it's because voters are so simple minded that they have some sort of perception problem that keeps them from recognizing "reality". I got news for you Chris, the voters don't have a perception problem, you do. The voters know entrenched interests DO control Washington just like Edwards said and that's why he has a shot at winning Iowa. His vision for America is resonating with Iowans because it IS reality.

So please, don't talk down to us when it is you who have the perception problem not the voters. And please, stop trying to make black & white issues complicated.

Posted by: pmorlan1 | December 30, 2007 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I like but, don't trust Edwards. He keeps being shown as a phoney.
Like how he rails against special interests but, it's known his campaign was dealing with the 527s right before they set up shop.
He is getting money from 97 years old Mrs. Mellon, who is a conservtive who never gave to a campaign before. Her atty has power of atty and suddenly she is giving half a million to Edwards 527 group?
Something is very fishy and you guys should be looking into it.
Ben Smith is.

Posted by: vwcat | December 30, 2007 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I dont believe that Edwards made his 55 million fighting for the little guy. He absolutely represents the rich in this country, not the poor. His Father worked in the mill, John didnt! No judge or jury would've ever ruled against the litte girl he represented who was disemboweled by a faulty swimming pool system, yet John takes her parents out on the campaign trail as an example of a difficult fight. Despicable! He has the least experience in public office than any other candidate, and has apologized for too many votes: The Iraq war, Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, Yucca Mt. Nuclear waste dump. He hasn't held a public office position since he left the senate. John promised to fight the hedge fund companies in 2004, but earned $500,000 as consultant for Fortress, a known hedge fund company right after he lost the last election. Now he convinces voters he doesnt take campaign funds from special interests, but this "fighter" just cant stop the 527's his former aide has organized to run attack ads against his opponent. This is a replay of 2004 when his manager quit the campaign just before the Iowa caucus to form a 527. He just benefited from a $550,000 unregulated donation yesterday. I dont believe John is the one who is going to escape the swift boating in the general election or bring back HONEST government.

Posted by: Katy7540 | December 30, 2007 6:40 PM | Report abuse


Just wanted to say thanks for the great report. The quick turnaround on the video is awesome for those of us who can't make it to Iowa.


Posted by: Nate1212 | December 30, 2007 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Edwards is as phony as a three dollar bill, but don't tell one of his supporters, they might punch you. "Edwards voted for the Iraq force resolution, then flip flopped when it was politically popular to do so." POP! "Edwards sided with the credit card companies and voted for the bankruptcy bill, doesn't that conflict with his populist message?" SMACK! "What about Edwards' hedge fund past, doesn't that..." WHACK! You get the picture.

Posted by: nerdoff | December 30, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Edwards is a populist with a background problem. Going straight for the jugular of "big business" and "corrupt health care" is merely a ploy to juice up his supporters so much that they won;t notice his hedge fund past and major ideological shift of the past 4 years.

Nothing wrong with that - especially when he stumps with such conviction. It appears that he really has become genuine in a lot of areas. Not sure if his raving trail stops are the real deal...

Posted by: parkerfl | December 30, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Good luck and stay warm in Iowa, Chris.

John Edwards seems like he's just ranting, IMO.

Posted by: Malia2 | December 30, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Chris Are you wearing a hat? You have to wear a hat. I know you think it's going to wreck your hair. But you have to wear a hat. It's cold out there.

Posted by: Miata7 | December 30, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

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