Tactics and Substance in the 2004 Elections GoogleNews: Howard Dean

December 13, 2003

by J

Edwards' Latest Speech

John Edwards gave a speech the other day attacking Dean's campaign. Oh, he called it "In Defense of Optimism" but it was an attack on what the Dean campaign is trying to accomplish. The unfortunate part for me is that I really want to like John Edwards. I really like his "war on work/wealth over work" rhetoric, and I have the vague sense that he's not a complete phony. But this speech was half really good stuff, and half vague innuendo and not-quite-truthful attack on what he perceives to be his major opponent's message. A few examples of where he goes off the rails a bit:
We hear a lot about which candidate can engage the most partisans in December of 2003, and thatís important. But whatís more important is which candidate will help the most Americans, because thatís what matters in November 2004. It's great to engage people through the Internet, but we need to make sure we reach every American: not just those who can afford a computer, but those who canít and those who have no interest in signing up in any campaign. People like that matter, too.

Politically engaged citizens are great Americans; but these quiet families are great Americans, too, struggling to put food on the table each night, going to church or synagogue or mosque every week; wondering whether their hard work still means something in America. If some of us don't hear their voices, maybe that's because you're not listening.
The implication that some campaigns are only reaching people through the Internet is bogus. The campaign which is making the most use of the Internet also has the most volunteers on the ground - leafletting, phonebanking, and wearing out shoe leather. So, it's a false premise. The second paragraph annoyed me very much.

Here's the thing: I believe that it is every citizen's duty and obligation to be "politically engaged." For Edwards to imply that it's just fine not to be is exactly the wrong message to be sending. The Democratic party should be reaching out to people and imploring them to become engaged in the process and to be active citizens in a participatory democracy, not giving people a pass and patting them on the head and saying "don't you worry, I'll fix everything." Governor Dean's stump speech closer (paraphrased):
The biggest lie that people like me tell you during an election is 'if you vote for me, I'll solve all your problems.' The truth is you have the power...
This is important and illustrates a central component of Dean's appeal; not to be trite, but I don't think John Edwards really understands civic participation - he just doesn't get it.

Later, Edwards tries out another line of attack by claiming that "some" want to avoid a values debate:
Some in my party want to duck the values debate. They want to say to America: weíre not interested in your values; we want to change the subject to anything else. Thatís wrong. You canít tell voters what to believe or what to vote on.
That's, of course, a mischaracterization of what Dean is trying to accomplish. He goes on:
We need to take on these issues. This president says he wants to have a values debate, and thatís exactly what I will give him. On almost every issue, George Bush's values are not America's values. This administration values wealth over work...special interests over our interests, secret meetings over open debate, the privileged few over the rest of us.

Some Democrats want to leave these tough issues alone. I say let's take them head on because that's the only way we can replace what comes out of Washington today with what America really values.
Which Democrat wants to leave wealth/work, special interests, and transparency alone? This is one of the most intellectually dishonest parts of this speech. Originally, of course, Edwards is referring to Dean saying that we need to talk about what unites us and what challenges we can solve together (health care, the economy, and so on...) instead of "guns, god, gays", but then he somehow tries to imply that, no, the values issues that other Democrats are avoiding are special interests? Come on John Edwards, which Democrat doesn't want to fight the special interests? You're making stuff up here. I work with a lot of honorable smart lawyers, but this is slippery lawyer rhetoric. Cut it out. Later:
When I am president, [...] weíll have a president who stands up for your values, not runs from them.
Which values are those, John Edwards? And which of your Democrat colleagues would not also stand up for the values that you say you'll stand up for?
Posted by J at December 13, 2003 06:51 PM
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