Category Archives: John Edwards

An Edwards column I had forgotten

Looking in our internal database for something entirely unrelated (what I might have written in the past about Bill Clinton's Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, actually) I ran across a column from 2003 that I had forgotten about. It struck me as interesting for two reasons:

  • It's an unfortunate fact that if you search for "Brad Warthen" on the Web — I did it several days ago as a way of trying out the Grokker search engine — you run across a lot of stuff about a certain column I wrote in 2007 about John Edwards. That column drew 190,000 page views to within the first week (not to the blog version — unfortunately, since the blog version was better). If you recall, it was about three incidents that, taken together, had persuaded me that John Edwards was a "phony." I didn't think all that much of the column when I wrote it, but it looks like it's going to dog me forever in what we once called Cyberspace. Anyway, this previous, forgotten column was the first time I had written about one of those incidents.
  • Criticizing John Edwards was not the point of the column. Oh, I was fairly dismissive of him; he never impressed me all that much. But the point was to criticize some young Republican protesters who had come to try to disrupt his campaign event.

Anyway, it's a mildly interesting footnote to something that caused a lot of hoo-hah, so I share it.

You'll note that I mention the very moment I later cited in the "Phony" column, and call Edwards on it for its general bogusness, which shows even then what an impression it made on me. Of course, I don't zero in on it quite as harshly as I did later, and the reason why is fairly obvious: The other two incidents had not yet happened, so while I had serious doubts about him, and especially about his populism, I had not yet put it all together and made up my mind fully about John Edwards. My impression had not yet, as I later wrote, "been reinforced with steel girders."

Anyway, here's the forgotten column:

State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, September 21, 2003
Author: BRAD WARTHEN Editorial Page Editor

I DON'T GET protesters.
    I'm not talking about political debate, or dissent, or seeking redress of grievances. Those things are part of what our country's all about. They're what my job's all about. We definitely don't want to curtail any of that.
    And I believe that there are rare cases when taking to the streets – in an orderly, peaceful manner – is perfectly justifiable, even imperative. Laws would not have changed in the United States if not for the forceful, nonviolent witness of Martin Luther King and thousands of others.
    What throws me is people who whip up signs and take to the streets at the slightest provocation – or no provocation at all.
    I've expressed my puzzlement about such behavior at the dinner table, only to have one of my children make the very good point that of course I don't understand; I don't have to take to the streets because I have my own bully pulpit on these pages. True enough. But everyone has available more constructive means of political expression than making a public spectacle of themselves.
    Even revolutions can be conducted with dignity. Compare John and Samuel Adams. John, who started as an unremarkable farmer and lawyer from Braintree, Mass., persuaded the Continental Congress to formally declare independence. Cousin Samuel, by contrast, preferred whipping up mobs in the streets of Boston. Who accomplished more? I would say John.
    All of this is on my mind because I went to hear John Edwards announce his candidacy at the Russell House Tuesday. What did I see when I was there?
    Well, a lot of silliness, mostly. But it was to be expected. There are few things more unbecoming than a millionaire trial lawyer presenting himself to a crowd as the ultimate populist. Huey Long could pull it off; he had the common touch. So did George Wallace. But John Edwards is one of those "sleek-headed" men that Shakespeare wrote of in Julius Caesar. He may be lean, but he hath not the hungry look. Mr. Edwards is decidedly lacking in rough edges. Not even age can stick to him.
    His entrance was predictably corny. Other speakers had unobtrusively climbed the back steps onto the platform. Mr. Edwards snuck around to the back of the crowd, then leaped out of his hiding place with a huge grin and his hand out, looking for all the world like he was surprised to find himself among all these supporters. He hand-shook his way through the audience to the podium, a la Bill Clinton , thereby signifying that he comes "from the people." Watch for that shot in upcoming TV commercials.
    His speech was laced with populist non-sequiturs. For instance, he went way over the top exhibiting his incredulity at Bush's "jobless recovery," chuckling with his audience at such an oxymoron – as though the current administration had invented the term. (A computer scan found the phrase 641 times in major news sources during calendar year 1993 ; so much for novelty.)
    Despite all that, I came away from the event with greater sympathy for the Edwards campaign than I might have had otherwise. That's because he and his supporters seemed so wise, thoughtful, mature and dignified – by comparison to the protesters.
    These were, I assume, members of the University of South Carolina chapter of College Republicans, based on that group's stated intention to be there in force. I suppose I could have confirmed that by asking them, but like most of the folks there – Edwards backers and disinterested observers alike – I tried to ignore them. It wasn't easy. When one speaker praised Mr. Edwards, they would yell, "Bush!" When another said Elizabeth Edwards would be a fine first lady, they hollered "Laura!" The signs they carried were equally subtle. Some called the candidate an "ambulance chaser." Two were held side by side: One said "Edwards is liberal"; the other, "S.C. is not." Deep stuff. It apparently didn't occur to them that conservative people don't act this way.
    They settled down noticeably when Mrs. Edwards politely called for a display of "good Southern manners." But the heckling resumed when her husband started speaking. I had made the mistake of standing near the back of the crowd, and some of the young Republicans took up position behind me. Therefore, when the candidate noted yet again that he was born in Seneca, South Carolina, and a heckler hollered a sarcastic "No kidding," it was right into my ear. I was similarly well situated to get the full brunt when someone started shouting some of Mr. Edwards' more well-worn stump speech lines along with him.
    What makes people behave this way? Yes, they were young; I understand that. But why is it that political dialogue has degenerated to the point that even young people find it acceptable to act like this?
    Agree with him or not, John Edwards is running for president of the United States. Why can't people just let the man have his say? What compels them to rush out into public and show their fannies this way?
    Not that anyone did that literally, although there was this one young man off to the right of me who did lift his shirt to flash his ample belly at the rostrum. I have no idea what that was about. Maybe he had something written there; I didn't look that closely.
    What I did see was the huge, cherubic grin on his affable face. He was having a whale of a good time. I suppose I should be glad that someone was.

Write to Mr. Warthen at P.O. Box 1333, Columbia, S.C. 29202, or

John Edwards speaks

Irony of ironies! No sooner do I speak dismissively of all the gossip about political also-ran John Edwards (you know, that guy I dismissed as a phony a year ago), but the guy steps out of the shadows and makes all that trashy, painful personal stuff a news story by talking publicly about it.

The spin cycle enthusiasts will have a field day with this, no doubt. Go ahead, y’all — yak away!

New category: ‘Spin Cycle’ (today’s nontopic: John Edwards)

Frequently, readers get frustrated because they come here all ready to rant about the latest pointless Topic of the Day on the partisan, 24/7 TV "news" spin cycle, and I’m just not into that stuff. People accuse me of being too much into trivia, but to me, there’s nothing more trivial than the latest attack by one side or the other in the endless wars among the Republicrats.

But I do like to make folks feel at home. So I’m going to try a new category, "Spin Cycle," and at least provide a landing place for those of you who want to discuss these things. I’m torn about doing this, because it sort of makes me an enabler — seen in the worst possible light, it makes me like those idiot parents who have beer parties for their teens so they’ll do their drinking at home (never mind all the drunken teenage guests they unleash on the highways). But perhaps I can have a good effect, tossing in the occasional comment as to why the latest spin topic is so mind-numbingly insignificant. Or maybe someone else can do that.

Anyway, let’s kick it off with all the ranting going on out there about John Edwards these days. I’ll start it with an excerpt from a blogger out there who’s trying to bait the MSM into treating this as a serious topic:

    I can think now of five separate angles the mainstream news outlets are missing with the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter scandal story. In other words, by not writing about the charges originally—airing them out and letting their audience assess their validity—the media is now in the position of stamping down not one story, but five. What tangled webs we are weaving!
    Once the story hits the front pages, as it inevitably will, we’re going to hear all the excuses as to why reputable news outlets couldn’t find their way to telling their readers patently interesting news about a major political figure that was widely available on the web. This arrogance will help reinforce the perceptions in the audience that the media is not always looking out for their best interests and continue the move to alternative outlets. I’m as devoted a follower of the traditional media as can be, but this willful non-disclosure makes me want to scream…

Well, I almost screamed myself when I read the bizarre assertion that John Edwards is "a major political figure." Oh, yeah? Maybe you should leave the blogosphere and pick up a few newspapers. The last time I bothered to write about the guy, it was to dismiss him (and boy did the spinmeisters have fun with that), and Democratic primary voters quickly agreed with me, once they actually got to vote.

As relevant news goes, talking about this also-ran’s personal life is like gossiping about, oh, I don’t know, Gary Hart or somebody.

Make a case to the contrary if you think you can, but don’t expect me to stay awake for it…

John Edwards is back

Back to back e-mails this morning:

  • One of the more anachronistic anti-war groups (its stated raison d’être is to pursue a debate, a year after the fact, on whether to have a surge: Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is a major, multi-million dollar national campaign to oppose the President’s proposal to escalate the war in Iraq by sending more than 20,000 additional troops into the violent civil war between Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.) put out a release to the following effect;

    John and Elizabeth Edwards to Join Anti Iraq War Groups to Launch Multimillion Dollar Iraq/Recession Campaign
    ***Teleconference TODAY at 11 a.m. ***
    WASHINGTON – Today former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth Edwards will join top anti-Iraq war leaders to announce the launch of a new nationwide, multimillion dollar campaign aimed at shining a light on the cost of war in Iraq. The new Iraq/Recession Campaign will kick off with a teleconference today at 11am. 
        As economic concerns weigh heavily on the minds of Americans, opposition to President Bush’s reckless war in Iraq continues to grow. The massive cost of the war in Iraq – hurtling toward one trillion dollars – has increased demand for a strategy to bring U.S. troops home. The Iraq/Recession Campaign will highlight the majority of Americans who want to see leadership on investing in critical priorities at home and establishing real security throughout the world.

    … which made me think, either he’s found something other than running for president to keep him busy, or he’s started running for four years from now; let’s hope it’s the former.

  • An e-mail from The Washington Post drew my attention to a story that told of Hillary Clinton’s latest gambit, which is to channel John Edwards:

    PROVIDENCE, R.I., Feb. 24 — Blasting "companies shamelessly turning their backs on Americans" by shipping jobs overseas and railing that "it is wrong that somebody who makes $50 million on Wall Street pays a lower tax rate than somebody who makes $50,000 a year," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton increasingly sounds like one of her old Democratic rivals, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
        Eager to recapture the white, working-class voters who favored her in some of the early primaries but who have since shifted to Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton traded her usual wonky style this weekend for a fiery, populist tone in speeches in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island.
        Instead of giving precise policy details, she repeatedly pointed her finger skyward, declared that Americans "got shafted under President Bush" and cast herself as a fighter, as Edwards often described himself, promising to help most Americans, not just the "wealthy and the connected."

    Personally, I’m hoping that next, she’ll decide to be Joe Biden. Now there’s a candidate I actually miss.

More good news for Obama: Edwards is getting out


No more splitting the non-Clinton (or anti-Clinton) vote. Or do you have an alternative interpretation? I don’t think there is a significant anyone-but-Obama movement out there the way there is for his opponent, but maybe you’re seeing something I’m not.

Anyway, here’s a link about John Edwards’ decision to accept the inevitable — much too late, but at least he didn’t wait another week.

Put this news together with the unequivocally good news for Obama — the Kennedys and Toni Morrison and Kathleen Sebelius (can Al Gore be far behind?), this adds up to some serious Mo heading into next Tuesday.

Given all the good-news boosts Obama has gotten in the last few days, it makes Sen. Clinton’s trek down to Florida to celebrate her "win" more understandable — how else was she going to get a positive image out there?

P.S. — Edwards has now made his announcement; here’s his speech.


Let’s go ahead and have the poll that counts

Zogby said this morning that Obama’s lead over Clinton is shrinking:

UTICA, NY – Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s lead over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton narrowed yet a little more in South Carolina with just two days to go before the primary, the latest Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby tracking poll shows.
    Obama lost a point from the day before and sits at 38% support in the telephone poll, which was conducted Jan. 22-24 and included 811 likely Democratic voters. It carries a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.
    Clinton won 25% support, up one point from the day before but now just four points ahead of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who continued to increase support and now sits at 21%….

These guys say it’s more:

South Carolina Poll

Barack Obama 44
Hillary Clinton 24
John Edwards 19

Which one’s right? I’m guessing the result will lie somewhere between the two, as long as nobody cries or throws a tantrum or kicks a dog or anything on TV tonight. In any event, we’ll find out by this time tomorrow.

Living down our history

MY GRANDMOTHER used to tell a story about when she was a very little girl living in the Washington area.
    Her family was from South Carolina. Her father was an attorney working for the federal government. One of their neighbors was a U.S. senator from South Carolina. When her parents learned that she had visited the senator in his garden, sitting on his lap and begging for a peek under his eye patch, they were shocked and appalled.
    The senator was “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the state’s former governor, and a vehement advocate of lynching who had participated in the murders of black South Carolinians as a “Red Shirt” vigilante.
    Grandma’s people were of a very different political persuasion, as were of the founders of this newspaper, which was established for the express purpose of fighting the Tillman machine. That’s a second personal connection for me, and one of which I’m proud: We still fight the things that race-baiter stood for.
    Ben Tillman launched his rise to power with a fiery speech in Bennettsville, the town where I was born. But we’ve come a long way since then. Two very different politicians have spoken in Bennettsville in recent days.
    In November, Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke there, outlining her plan “to cut the dropout rate among minority students in half and help a new generation of Americans pursue their dreams.”
    John Edwards was there Wednesday. Tillman was a populist; John Edwards is a populist. But there the resemblance ends. Former Sen. Edwards’ advocacy for the poor helped endear him to black voters in South Carolina in 2004, propelling him to victory in that year’s primary here. His appearance in B’ville was in connection with his attempt to repeat that achievement.
    So my hometown and my home state have come a long way in the past century or so, at least with regard to the intersection of race and politics.
    Not far enough, of course. I don’t just say that because a statue honoring Tillman still stands on the State House grounds, a few yards from where the Confederate flag still flies.
    On the day that this newspaper endorsed Barack Obama, our publisher’s assistant passed on a phone message from a reader who was livid because we are “supporting a black man for president of the United States.” He continued: “I am ashamed that we’ve got a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, one of the best cities in America, and yet we’ve got a black operation supporting black candidates…. I am disappointed and upset that we’ve got a black newspaper right here in the city of Columbia.”
    How many white South Carolinians still think that way? Too many, if there’s only one of them. But such people stand out and are worth mentioning because we have come so far, and increasingly, people who think the way that caller does are the exception, not the rule.
    And truth be told, South Carolina is not the only part of these United States where you can still find folks whose minds are all twisted up over race.
    As I noted, Mr. Edwards did very well among black voters in 2004, but not this time. Several months ago, Sen. Clinton seemed to be the heir to that support. The wife of the “first black president” had lined up a lot of African-American community leaders, which was a big part of why she commanded an overwhelming lead in S.C. polls.
    But in the last few weeks, something happened. Sen. Obama won in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white state, and black South Carolinians began to believe he had a chance, and that a vote for Obama would not be “wasted.” This week, according to pollster John Zogby, he’s had the backing of between 56 and 65 percent of black voters, while Sen. Clinton can only claim at most 18 percent of that demographic.
    And as the days wear down to what is an almost-certain Obama victory in South Carolina, Sen. Clinton has gone on to spend most of her time campaigning elsewhere, leaving her husband behind to bloody Obama as much as he can.
    So it is that I would expect the Clinton campaign to say, after Saturday, that she didn’t really try to win here. But there’s another narrative that could emerge: Sure, he won South Carolina, but so did Jesse Jackson — just because of the huge black vote there. To win in November, Democrats need a candidate with wider appeal, right?
    Maybe that won’t happen. It would be outrageous if it did. But those with an outrageous way of looking at politics see it as a possibility. Dick Morris — the former Clinton ally (but now a relentless critic), the master of triangulation — wrote in The New York Post this week: “Obama’s South Carolina victory will be hailed as proof that he won the African-American vote. Such block voting will trigger the white backlash Sen. Clinton needs to win.”
    As a South Carolinian who’s proud of how far my state has come, I want to say right now, well ahead of time: As Joe Biden got himself in trouble for saying, and as Iowa voters confirmed, Barack Obama is no Jesse Jackson. Nor is he Bill Clinton, or John Edwards, or anybody else. He’s just Barack Obama, and Barack Obama is the best-qualified Democrat seeking the presidency of the United States.
    And no one should dismiss South Carolinians for being wise enough to see that.

Obama inspires board, offers hope


A remarkable thing happened this week to The State’s editorial board — again. For us, it was the equivalent of lightning striking the same place, twice in the same month.
    After difficult, agonizing discussions over presidential primary endorsements in both 2000 and 2004, we arrived at a quick consensus on endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for the S.C. Democratic Primary on Saturday.
    We met with Sen. Obama Monday morning, before he and the other candidates spoke at the State House. (Neither Hillary Clinton nor John Edwards ever met with us, despite long-standing invitations — repeated invitations, in Sen. Clinton’s case.)
    Our decision was made easier by the departure of Sen. Joe Biden. We might have been torn between his experience and foreign policy vision, and fresh hope for the future offered by Sen. Obama.
    As it was, Sen. Obama clearly stood out as the best remaining candidate — and he had always been the most exciting and inspiring in the field.
    It’s not just that he might be the first black president — Sen. Clinton would make history, too. It’s that he offers a fresh start for American politics. It is his ambition to be a president for all of us — black and white, male and female, Democrat and Republican. The nomination of Sen. Clinton would by contrast kick off another bitter round of the pointless partisanship that has plagued the nation under presidents named “Bush” and “Clinton.”
    As he did before the Republican primary, Associate Editor Mike Fitts framed the discussion of our Democratic endorsement, and did a sufficiently thorough job that the rest of us merely elaborated on his observations.
    First, he mentioned the support John Edwards had enjoyed among members of our board in 2004, although he did not get our endorsement then (in a grueling three-hour talkathon, I successfully pressed the board to choose Joe Lieberman instead). This time, he was “a substantially different guy” — an unappealing embodiment of class resentment.
    Also, his extreme position on Iraq — wanting to pull all troops out, even those who are training Iraqis — made him a nonstarter.
    About Hillary Clinton, Mike said the same thing he said about Mitt Romney 10 days earlier — “Boy, I wish she’d come in to see us, because I have so many questions.” Mike cited her obvious intelligence, and the fact that she “knows where the levers of power are” — especially within the Democratic Party. She’s worked the corridors of Washington since well before her time as first lady.
    But she could never have built the kind of coalitions that could break the partisan gridlock inside the Beltway — even if she wanted to, and we’ve seen little indication that she would want to.
    And her policy prowess is that of the insider. We saw her failed effort to reform our health care system as emblematic of her style — get a bunch of wonks in a room, close the door, and come up with something too complex and nuanced to sell.
    Barack Obama, by contrast, would be oriented toward — and more successful at — bringing the American public into the debate, and persuading us to agree to a solution. He has that leadership ability that she lacks.
    Sen. Obama has political gifts that are more reminiscent of former President Clinton. Of Sen. Clinton, Mike said, “She’s sort of caught between Obama and her husband, as two of the most evocative leaders we’ve had in a while.”
    While Sen. Obama is completely true to the highest traditions of the Democratic Party, he would have the potential to lead others as well. Sen. Clinton’s main interest in Republicans seems to be beating them, prevailing over them, having things go her way rather than theirs.
    “I would really like us to be talking about Joe Biden or Bill Richardson,” said Associate Editor Cindi Scoppe. That leaves her with what she sees as “an emotional decision,” which initially makes her uncomfortable. Cindi usually prefers the wonkiest option, but in the end she’s quite OK with “going for the exciting person who gives us hope.”
    “Hillary is very smart,” Associate Editor Warren Bolton agrees. But “I think she thinks she is the only one who has the answers.” Publisher Henry Haitz said the same thing, in almost the same words, a moment later.
    In the end, we came to a second quick consensus for much the same reason as the first time: We thought among the Republicans, John McCain had the best chance of uniting the country and leading in a positive direction. On the Democratic side, the one person who offers that same hope is Barack Obama.

(Both photos from the board’s meeting are by Chip Oglesby of To read The State‘s endorsement of Barack Obama, click here. For video about the endorsement, click here.)


New ‘reality show:’ Beat on Obama


Have y’all been watching this debate out of Myrtle Beach? I don’t believe I’ve seen the like of it before, without a certain key supporter of Mike Huckabee being involved. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have a tag-team thing going on the guy in the middle.

Personally, I don’t think Barack Obama’s health care plan goes far enough — but I don’t think theirs are anything to write home about, either.

As for that snarl-a-thon on the economy, I’m not sure I got anything out of it.

Now they’re competing to see who can sound least responsible on Iraq, but Edwards always wins that contest — it’s hard to top a guy who wouldn’t even leave anybody to keep training Iraqis. The sad thing is that if you get them off the stage, either of the other two can make a certain amount of sense on the issue. But all this I-was-against-the-war-first-oh-no-you-weren’t stuff isn’t exactly moving us closer to a political solution in Baghdad. And I have to wonder, do even the antiwar folks they’re trying to appeal to with that like this nyah-nyah stuff?

Anyway, I’ll keep paying the best attention to this I can under the circumstances. My two-week old twin granddaughters are visiting, and they’re more entertaining, and more in touch with basic, everyday economic issues — they keep competing to be the one to nurse first.

Anyway, I invite y’all to weigh in on this slapfest from the Grand Strand.


Photos of candidates at King Day (only SLIGHTLY better than video)

Again, I had a lousy angle, at too great a distance, for my camera, but this still photos are slightly (very slightly) better than the video I just posted, in case you’ve like to get some rough idea of what the candidates looked like on this occasion. You can hardly see them at all on the video (although I hope you can hear them OK).

They are in the order in which they spoke. I was farthest away for Sen. Obama, but managed to work a little closer by the time Mr. Edwards and Sen. Clinton spoke. I left in a little of the bright sky behind Edwards when I cropped him, so you can see the backlighting problem I had with the exposure. In the third photo S.C. NAACP Chairman Lonnie Randolph is introducing Sen. Clinton.



Video: Obama, Edwards, Clinton at the State House


We had a long, cold wait for the candidates to speak at King Day at the Dome today, although it wasn’t as long or cold for me as for some.

Barack Obama had met with our editorial board earlier (I’ll post about that later today, or tomorrow), and I couldn’t get away from the office for another hour after that, so when I arrived at the State House a little after 11, some folks were already leaving. One acquaintance told me he thought the candidates had been there and left. It seemed pretty clear that the candidates weren’t up there on the steps, but I also surmised that they were yet to speak. The security was there — a real pain, because they artificially compressed the crowd and limited movement so that it was difficult to get close to the steps, and impossible (as it turned out) to get into a good position for my camera. Wherever I stood, the speakers were in shadow, and worse, sometimes backlit. (NOTE: Because of the lighting problem, and the position from which I was shooting with my little camera, this is very low-quality video!)

So the security was still there, and the TV cameras were still in place. I ran into Warren Bolton who had arrived about the same time as I, and we were still wondering whether there was indeed anything to stick around for when Warren nudged me and pointed out Tom Brokaw a few yards away in the crowd (see photo above, which is higher quality than the video because he was in sunlight, and close by). We figured if the hopefuls had spoken before us, Brokaw would have left by now, so we stayed.

Speakers we could not identify from where we stood droned on, saying the things they usually say at these events, and I was beginning to resent the NAACP for letting all these folks (myself included) stand around waiting for what so many had come for. Remember, others had been there much, much longer. I was hardly the only one to feel the crowd was being abused. Warren overhead somebody leaving, muttering about it, and saying the NAACP was going to hear about this the next time he heard from them asking for a contribution.

Finally, just after noon, the main attractions came on. My wife, who was at home comfortably watching on TV, later said she assumed they had waited to go on live at the noon hour. Perhaps that is the logical, fully understandable explanation. Anyway, it was explained that the three candidates had drawn lots to determine their speaking order. Here they are, in the order in which they spoke. The videos are rough, incomplete and unedited, as I wanted to hurry and get them out (and the video quality wasn’t that great anyway); I just provide them to give some flavor of the event:

Barack Obama:

John Edwards:


Hillary Clinton:

Consensus forms regarding Edwards

You’ve heard me speak of how we work by consensus on the editorial board. Usually, this is based on face-to-face interaction, but here’s an example of a consensus forming in writing.

This morning, Mike Fitts sent this group e-mail message to his fellow associate editors and me:

    Do we owe John Edwards an op-ed piece? His staff has submitted this.
    To recap: An Obama op-ed ran in August, I think, and Hillary’s around the 1st of the year, and Brad called Edwards a big phony.

What?!?! Can I never live that one thing down? Anyway, before I had even seen Mike’s message, Warren and Cindi had both replied. Warren wrote:

I’ve only skimmed it and it seems like his stump speech. That said, I think he does deserve a shot

Within two minutes, Cindi said:

    I’m inclined to agree with Warren. That said, I’d say the sooner the better in terms of running it.

To which I said (is this starting to sound sort of like the Little Red Hen? in that case, who’s Turkey Lurkey?):

Sure. Does this mean I get to call him a big phony again?

Kidding aside, I haven’t read it yet, but I trust the others. I’ll read it on the proof.

What’s a ‘mainstream Republican?’

Remember this David Brooks piece I called to your attention yesterday? I continue to be fascinated by the way "conservatives" are pulling their party apart, to the point that pundits not of their persuasion have trouble describing the viscera thus exposed.

Mr. Brooks wrote of how a nouveau kind of guy like Mike Huckabee can take on the various aspects of the GOP coalition embodied by "Rush Limbaugh, the Club for Growth and even President Bush" and prevail. In today’s paper we have David Broder and George Will trying to describe the same GOP elephant from different angles.

David Broder, a man whom I greatly respect even though he has an unshaken faith in the importance of the political parties that I believe are the ruination of America, is clinging to the definitions and alliances with which he is familiar. For instance, he uses the term, "mainstream Republicans," as though it is a term that is still easily understood, and therefor meaningful to the reader. He uses it here:

    …But McCain and Huckabee have yet to build broad constituencies among
mainstream Republicans. Huckabee’s following is centered among
evangelical Christians, who dominated the low-turnout Iowa caucuses.
McCain’s greatest appeal is to Republican-leaning independents who
powered his 2000 victory and who remain loyal to him….

And again here:

    …That opens at least something of an opportunity for Rudy Giuliani and
Fred Thompson to demonstrate their ability in Florida, South Carolina
and other states that were part of George W. Bush’s political base. The
mainstream Republicans in those states are still looking for a

What do you suppose he means, in the Year of Our Lord 2008? Is a "mainstream American," in his usage, a mainstream American who happens to be a Republican, or a Republican partisan who happens to be at some ideological midpoint in his own party — which is not the same thing at all? I suppose he means the latter. In any case, he seems to be speaking of some theoretical type who remains loyal to "Rush Limbaugh, the Club for Growth and even President Bush," and is untroubled by any of the associations — if such still exists.

Or maybe he’s thinking of the folks, to be found commenting on this post, who see Fred Thompson as the last Paladin of a "conservatism" which I have asked them to define, because the word by itself means little nowadays.

Or maybe he’s talking about George Will, as being among the Old Guard of pundits. Here’s part of what he wrote for Sunday:

    Like Job after losing his camels and acquiring boils, the conservative
movement is in distress. Mike Huckabee shreds the compact that has held
the movement’s two tendencies in sometimes uneasy equipoise.

conservatives, many of whom share Huckabee’s desire to “take back this
nation for Christ,” have collaborated with limited-government,
market-oriented, capitalism-defending conservatives who want to take
back the nation for James Madison. Under the doctrine that
conservatives call “fusion,” each faction has respected the other’s
agenda. Huckabee aggressively repudiates the Madisonians.

    He and
John Edwards, flaunting their histrionic humility in order to promote
their curdled populism, hawked strikingly similar messages in Iowa,
encouraging self-pity and economic hypochondria. Edwards and Huckabee
lament a shrinking middle class. Well…

Mr. Will (whenever I type "Mr. Will," I hear Sally Field addressing John Malkovich in "Places in the Heart") misunderstands the difference between Huckabee’s and Edwards’ brands of populism, between hope and anger. He just knows he doesn’t like populism. Neither do I, generally speaking, but I can tell that there’s a chasm the happy kind espoused by Mr. Huckabee and angry kind pushed by Mr. Edwards.

In any case, conservatism, like liberalism, ain’t what it used to be. And considering the way those ideologies have been defined for the last three decades or so, that’s a good thing.

Iowa: The Politics of Joy Redux


OK, since everybody ignored my plea and paid attention to Iowa anyway (as I knew they would), here’s an observation that is hardly original, but I thought I’d provide a place for y’all to talk about it.

What happened last night was a remarkable case of caucusers going for new, fresh, upbeat, hopeful change over ticked-off, bitter, resentful, angry same-old. It’s almost HHH’s "Politics of Joy," only more convincing.

Caucusers (as distinguished from voters, which is what you will encounter in New Hampshire and South Carolina), went for the squeaky-new, self-described "conservative that’s not mad at anybody over it" and Barack Obama’s optimistic, youth-and-future-oriented Call to Service. Rather than Humphrey, I’d cast Huckabee as Jimmy Carter (think, "Scandal-weary nation turns to evangelical Southern newcomer") and Obama as JFK in this context. Anyway, to the extent that this phenomenon is borne out in broader venues, it bodes well for America.

And it bodes very badly for Mitt Romney, whose constant attack mode, amplified with all that money, had to be a huge turnoff to folks in a looking-for-joy sort of mood. It bodes even worse for John Edwards, who picked the wrong year to switch from Happy Populist (a role gratefully seized by Obama and Huckabee) to Angry Populist. And (here I’m really reading way more into Iowa than anyone should) it could spell the beginning of the end for Hillary Clinton, whose candidacy depends completely on the voters being willing to endure four more years of the wretched partisan bickering of the Clinton-Bush years.

Last night’s result caused me to amend my opinion of Iowa in one respect — obviously, with these results, the caucuses this year were a measure of more than just "organizational skill" (fourth paragraph of today’s column). These results show that even the unabashed partisans who show up at caucuses are susceptible to a new mood rising and sweeping through the Zeitgeist. And that bodes even worse for the aforementioned campaigns, because if their money and organization don’t serve them well in THIS controlled environment, what fresh humiliations will they suffer out here in the broader electorate?

But enough about that. I’m more eager than ever now to see what happens in New Hampshire on Tuesday.


Edwards gets some respect from Katon — briefly

End of last week, I thought maybe there was a John Edwards surge in S.C. that I hadn’t heard about. That’s because state GOP Chairman Katon Dawson actually deigned to attack him, after months in which you would have thought that the only Democrat out there was Hillary Clinton:

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson today released the following statement on John Edwards’ visit to the Upstate:
    “John Edward’s photo-ops in small-town South Carolina are little more than transparent campaign stunts that won’t fool voters in our state,” said Dawson. “Edwards couldn’t win South Carolina four years ago, and he has again made it crystal clear he is wrong for South Carolina – promising to raise taxes, socialize healthcare and abandon Iraq before it is secure.”

But everything was back to normal today.

Which raises the question — with him rising in the polls, and still no mention, does this mean Katon likes Obama? Or does he just not fear him?

Lay off Dennis the Menace. Hillary, too


At last night’s debate, Tim Russert sought to have fun at Dennis Kucinich’s expense, and succeeded.

"Did you see a UFO?" asked the immoderate moderator. "I did," said Mr. Kucinich, and the place burst into laughter. He struggled on to explain, "ItDennis
was (an) unidentified flying object, OK. It’s like — it’s unidentified. I saw something."

If you see an object in the sky and you don’t know what it is, it’s an unidentified flying object. But you see, Superficial America — the version of America that exists on television, on blogs, at press conferences, and throughout political campaigns — has officially decided that Dennis the Menace, whom we all know as flaky to begin with, has duly outdone himself by admitting that he saw a UFO at (and this is the really rich part) Shirley Maclaine’s house. Everybody laugh now.

Yeah, Dennis is a fringe kind of guy, but this is unfair. It’s part of the dumbing-down and oversimplifying function of mass media, and people who live their lives as extension of said media. Call them the Blathering Classes. This shorthand culture demands that everyone fit into an assigned cubicle, preferably one of two choices in each case: Left or Right, Democrat or Republican, winner or loser, conservative or liberal, black or white, yes or no.

We saw the same foolishness at work in the way the other candidates jumped on Hillary Clinton for having answered a question about Gov. Spitzer’s immigrant driver’s license proposal pretty much the way I would:

"You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays ‘gotcha.’ It makes a lot of sense… what is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed, and George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this — remember, in New York; we want to know who’s in New York, we want people to come out of the shadows. He’s making an honest effort to do it; we should have passed immigration reform.

John Edwards, who would never be accused of holding a nuanced or complex few of any emotional issue, pounced:

"Unless I missed something, Sen. Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes, uh, just a few minutes ago. And, I think this is a real issue… for the country. I mean, America is looking for a president  who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them.

To my view, a person who explains that this is not an issue with a simple answer, and explains why — which Mrs. Clinton did — is the one who is being straight with us. To expand on something I’ve said before, anyone who thinks there’s a simple answer on this one is either not really thinking, or is NOT being straight with us.

Obama was no better:

I was confused on Sen. Clinton’s answer. I, I, I can’t tell whether she was for it or against it, and I do think that is important. One of the things that we have to do in this country is to be honest about the challenges that we face.

Excuse me? She just did that.

Joe Biden said he wasn’t running against Hillary Clinton; he was running to be leader of the free world, a job he’s actually prepared for over lo these many years. Maybe that’s why he’s doing so poorly; Superficial America has no patience for that sort of thing.

So THAT’S why I ♥ Huckabee

Mike Huckabee is close to the bottom of my "would never vote for" list, but it’s been hard for me to say why. The Wall Street Journal seems to have put its stodgy finger on the explanation this morning with an opinion column by John Fund (how’s that for a Wall Street byline?):

Another Man From Hope
October 26, 2007; Page A16
    Republicans have won five of the last seven presidential elections by running candidates who broadly fit the Ronald Reagan model — fiscally conservative, and firmly but not harshly conservative on social issues. The wide-open race for the 2008 GOP nomination has generated two new approaches.
    Rudy Giuliani, for example, isn’t running away from his socially liberal views, although he has modified them. But he is campaigning as a staunch, even acerbic economic conservative. Should he win the nomination, conventional wisdom has it he may balance the ticket by picking former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a running mate.
    Mr. Huckabee, on the other hand, is running hard right on social issues but liberal-populist on some economic issues. This may help explain why the affable, golden-tongued Baptist minister was the clear favorite at the pro-life Family Research Council’s national forum last Saturday. And why Mr. Huckabee’s praises have been sung by liberal columnists such as Gail Collins of the New York Times and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek…

I tend to have a warm place in my hear for anybody who confounds those who want to put everyone into a "left" or "right" box.

As it happens, one of the reasons I hate those labels is that I could never fit into one or the other if I tried. If you really strain, and chip away an inconvenient fact here and there, you might be able to cram me into a "conservative" box on social issues, and sometimes cram me into a "liberal" box on fiscal ones — just as Mr. Fund is doing with Mr. Huckabee.

But you’d have to really, really want to do it, because it would not be easy. One of the problems, of course, is that the popular definitions of "liberal" and "conservative" are so twisted and illogical.

For instance, Mr. Huckabee the fiscal "liberal" opposes free trade. Well, I don’t. And how is that "liberal?" A true liberal favors free trade and open markets.

And how on Earth did we ever get to the point that opposition to gun control is a "conservative" position? That makes zero sense. Obviously, gun ownership is a cherish libertarian — that is, liberal — value, while no true conservative (someone honoring tradition, security, stability, the established order) wants there to be so many guns around that you can’t walk the streets safely. The fact that the whole world, from avowed right-wingers to the most disgusted lefties, agree that it IS "conservative" would be enough to convince me I don’t want anything to do with the popular labels of today.

And "populist?" I can’t go with that, either. You don’t have to be a populist to give a damn about the poor and disadvantaged. I care without going for the dumbing-down that comes with populism. If Mr. Huckabee is indeed a populist, then I’ll leave that to him and John Edwards.

Which candidate do YOU hate the most?

Ahillary             "NEVER? Whaddaya mean, ‘never?’"

Seems like I’ll stoop to anything to get you to click on a blog post, doesn’t it? Sorry about the headline. Tacky. I would never encourage you to hate anyone.

But my point was to share with you the results of this Zogby poll, which found that half the electorate says it would never vote for Hillary Clinton. She has the highest negatives, and Mike Huckabee and Bill Richardson have the lowest, going by that standard. (You may have already read about this, as it came out Saturday, but I’m just now getting around to checking the e-mail account the release came to). An excerpt from the report:

    While she is winning wide support in nationwide samples among Democrats in the race for their party’s presidential nomination, half of likely voters nationwide said they would never vote for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, a new Zogby Interactive poll shows.
    The online survey of 9,718 likely voters nationwide showed that 50% said Clinton would never get their presidential vote. This is up from 46% who said they could never vote for Clinton in a Zogby International telephone survey conducted in early March. Older voters are most resistant to Clinton – 59% of those age 65 and older said they would never vote for the New York senator, but she is much more acceptable to younger voters: 42% of those age 18–29 said they would never vote for Clinton for President.
    At the other end of the scale, Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrats Bill Richardson and Barack Obama faired best, as they were least objectionable to likely voters. Richardson was forever objectionable as President to 34%, while 35% said they could never vote for Huckabee and 37% said they would never cast a presidential ballot for Obama, the survey showed….

Here’s the full list:

Whom would you NEVER vote for for President of the U.S.?


Clinton (D)


Kucinich (D)


Gravel (D)


Paul (R)


Brownback (R)


Tancredo (R)


McCain (R)


Hunter (R)


Giuliani (R)


Romney (R)


Edwards (D)


Thompson (R)


Dodd (D)


Biden (D)


Obama (D)


Huckabee (R)


Richardson (D)


Not sure


I got to thinking about it just now, and wondered for the first time which, of all the candidates, would I be least likely to choose at this point? Here’s how I would rank them personally:

Mind you, that’s just off the top of my head, based on what I know now, without any of my editorial board colleagues setting me straight on any of the calls. And I’ll admit I cheated on one — I can’t even picture "Hunter," much left summon up any relevant impressions, so I just sort of buried him in the pack toward the "less likely" end, hoping no one would notice.

How about you?

‘Prudence’ or ‘timidity’? Chris Dodd thinks he can win, too

Someone brought this Des Moines Register piece to my attention. It seems Joe Biden isn’t the only longshot on the Democratic side who thinks he can win.

Of course, Chris Dodd’s pinning his hopes on voters who look at prudence and see it as "timidity:"

Published October 2, 2007
Yepsen: 1st-tier Dems’ timidity on Iraq may create opening
David Yepsen
    Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd is the longest of long-shot candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he doesn’t seem too agitated about that.
    He’s an experienced politician. He knows how the caucus game often breaks late. Because of his 33 years of experience in Congress, he also knows something about U.S. foreign policy and the war in Iraq.
    He does get agitated about that, particularly when the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination appear to be in no big hurry to get out. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama all declined in last week’s debate to say they’d have U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term – in 2013.
    "I was stunned, literally stunned" to hear them say that, Dodd said in an interview for last weekend’s Iowa Press program on Iowa Public Television. "It was breathtaking to me that the so-called three leading candidates would not make that commitment. That’s six years from today."…

Time to get real in Iraq debate

NOW THAT we’ve put a fortnight and more between us and the Petraeus testimony, can we go ahead and have a realistic, honest, come-to-Jesus kind of discussion about Iraq?
    I think we can. The “surge” has created that opportunity.
    The idea behind Gen. David Petraeus’ strategy was this: Apply enough force in the right places, and you can create a secure space in which a political settlement can be achieved.
    The promised measure of security has been achieved. Just as importantly, there is broader acceptance in this country that significant U.S. forces will be staying in Iraq for some time. The consistently implied threat that we might yank our troops out at any moment contributed greatly to insecurity in that nation — encouraging terrorists, and discouraging would-be allies from working with us against the terrorists.
    For the moment, that threat is gone. If it wasn’t obvious before, it was certainly on display at a Democratic candidates’ debate at Dartmouth last week. The three candidates most likely to win their party’s presidential nomination moved beyond the fantasy that’s been offered too often to their base — that we could have the troops out of Iraq before George W. Bush leaves the White House. They acknowledged that in fact, we can’t even promise to be out by the time the next president’s first term is up in 2013.
    That was a significant step. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards have walked a razor’s edge for some time, trying to say things that please the “pull ’em out now!” constituency, while at the same time leaving themselves room to be pragmatic and sensible later on, should they be so fortunate as to find themselves in a general election campaign.
    This can sometimes lead to dissonance. For instance, in the debate, Barack Obama repeated confusing assertions he made in an op-ed column in The State, in which he first said “all of our combat brigades should be out of Iraq by the end of next year.” But his very next words were “We will then need to retain some forces to strike at al-Qaida in Iraq.” OK, if all of the combat units are out, what will we “strike at” them with? Boy Scouts? Or will the units used to “strike” be smaller than brigade strength? If so, how effective do we think they’ll be? Isn’t this a return to the “less is more,” minimalist force approach that led to the failures of the thoroughly discredited Donald Rumsfeld? If we’re going to free up “combat brigades” from other, nonspecified tasks, why don’t we send them after al-Qaida too?
    But the magic number “2013” provides a measure of clarity. It says, We’re there. We’re going to be there. So what are we going to do now?
    The question works both ways. Once Democrats accept that we can’t bug out, they can start getting real about what maintaining a commitment means. One answer was offered last week. The Senate majority took a break from futile, please-the-base gestures long enough to join in a bipartisan resolution supporting the idea of dividing Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions — a proposal long advocated by Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sam Brownback.
    But “What next?” applies with equal force to Republicans who backed the “surge” all along: Now that our soldiers have done their job, where’s the political settlement in Baghdad?
    Sen. Lindsey Graham surprised some last week when he told TIME magazine that he’s willing to give the Maliki government until Christmas to get its act together, and not much more than that.
    What? Is one of the biggest fans of the surge, as “never say die” as anyone, ready to throw in the towel? No. But with the U.S. military having done, and continuing to do, its job, no one can make excuses for an Iraqi government that doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity thus provided.
    “The challenges and the problem areas in Iraq are not lost on me as a big fan of the surge,” he told me over the phone Friday. “I’m trying to let people know that when you say the political is not moving at the appropriate pace, I agree with you, and I acknowledge” it.
    “I want people to acknowledge the security gains, because they’re real, and quit trying to minimalize them. That’s just not fair.” Nor would it be fair or reasonable, he suggested, for him or anybody else to make excuses for political stalemate.
    “I would be the first to say, 90 days from now, if they haven’t delivered anything… regarding the major political reconciliation benchmarks, that it would be clear to me they’ve gone from just being dysfunctional to a failure,” Sen. Graham said.
    At that point, “We need to look at a new model: Is it wise to give more money to the same people when it’s clear they don’t know what they’re doing, or are incapable of performing?”
    That does not, of course, mean pulling our troops out. It is the continued troop presence that gives us the options we have — and puts the onus on the Iraqi government.
    For his part, Sen. Graham was not among the three-fourths of the Senate that endorsed Sen. Biden’s partition. To him, giving in to the idea that Sunni and Shi’a can never live together is as objectionable as endorsing Apartheid as a way of keeping the peace in South Africa.
    Others disagree. But the wonderful thing is that we are now disagreeing about a way forward, rather than arguing about how quickly we can back out.
    With progress like that, I can actually believe that a political solution can be achieved — in Iraq and, yes, even in Washington.