Trust the voters?
Posted by metaphorical on 28 December 2006
John Edwards is announcing his presidential candidacy today. The
does a good job of giving the key facts right in the headline:
“Edwards’s Theme: U.S. Poverty – Amid Iraq Talk, White House Hopeful Sticks to ’04 Issue in ’08 Run.”
For the roughly two dozen candidates considering a run for the White House, it is perhaps the jackpot question: What might be the winning message in a contest whose first nominating vote is still more than a year away?
Today, former Sen. John Edwards begins testing his hunch that Americans, though focused now on the war in Iraq, can be won over to a campaign built on what he calls “the great moral issue of our time”—fighting poverty at home. He plans to do so with an unorthodox announcement of his candidacy, not standing on a flag-draped stage, but volunteering his labor in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward, which is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
Edwards’ challenge is getting people interested in economic issues in the Iraq Era.
To judge from a letter he sent to his 700,000-name mailing list yesterday, Edwards is going to talk about Katrina, the minimum wage, the high cost of college, and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. That kind of language is going to sound like it’s from another era—because it is.
Still, Edwards is determined to talk that talk, and moreover, to walk the walk. His candidacy will be announced in New Orleans, where he is spending the week rebuilding housing with a small army of college students he has marshalled for their Christmas Break (he did the same thing last Easter, when he wasn’t making any major political announcements). From the e-mail message:
We worked with thousands of volunteers to raise the minimum wage in six states ˆ and we got it done. We’re making the first year of college free for young people in Greene County, North Carolina. And we’ve been working from the grassroots up to organize workers so they can stand up for their rights and earn a decent living.
There’s two parts to this challenge. First, according by all appearances, the 2006 election was all about Iraq. Second, as Karl Rove has been proving for years, the American voting public often doesn’t vote its self-interest. In particular, the working class often doesn’t vote its economic self-interest. If people won’t vote for what’s best for themselves, how are you going to motivate them to vote for the need of others?
Edwards isn’t going to ignore Iraq. His e-mail listed five points, with the war right at the top:
- Providing moral leadership in the world — starting with Iraq, where we should begin drawing down troops, not escalating the war
- Strengthening our middle class and ending the shame of poverty
- Guaranteeing health care for every single American
- Leading the fight against global warming
- Getting America and the world to break our addiction to oil
The question is, can Americans even hear the language of social change? If something sounds tired, shopworn, or old-fashioned, it just doesn’t register. Will Edwards’ message register? Can you talk about workers’ rights in 2007? Poverty? Hunger?
What you have to like about Edwards is he doesn’t care, or at least he’s running as if he doesn’t care. He’s going to run the campaign he wants to, and if America responds favorably, that’s great. Perhaps he wouldn’t even want to run a country that doesn’t care about the things he cares about. That makes a lot of sense to me.
Perhaps if Bob Dole had listened to himself, instead of a horde of second-rate advisors, and let the country see him as the smart, cynical, funny, social moderate/economic conservative he naturally is, he’d have been elected president in 1996. If Al Gore had run as himself instead of making play-it-safe his main strategy, maybe he’d have won enough votes in 2000 that neither the Florida nor the U.S. Supreme Courts would have had any say in the matter.
What a great idea—candidates run as themselves, on diverse platforms with wildly different campaigns, and let the voters decide where they want the future to take them and who should lead them there. Obama seems ready to run the same sort of campaign. How about it, Hillary?