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December 28, 2006

The Announcement

By Ezra

Yesterday, John Edwards spent the day shoveling, flattening, and recreating Orelia Tyler's yard.  Today, outside that same yard, at 8:03 in the morning, he announced for president.  The speech was more casual than most in the announcement genre, at least in my experience.  Edwards was dressed in blue jeans, and a plain white undershirt peeked out behind his unbuttoned collar.  The address didn't soar or sing; standing atop the wreckage of the second America, he appeared uninterested talking about it.  Instead he focused on what you -- not he, not the president -- could do about it. 

That was the theme of the entire speech, in fact: How much could be done without public office, without winning primaries, without legislation.  "This campaign," Edwards promised," will be a grassroots, ground-up campaign where we ask the people to take action."  As part of that, there'll be monthly Days of Action, the first on January 27th, which will exhort volunteers and supporters to enter their communities and work on a particular issue.  "Americans," Edwards kept saying," have to be patriotic about something besides war," and that means taking individual initiative to ease poverty, conserve energy, and create the Good Society even without holding office. 

The announcement was striking for sounding less like a campaign for the presidency and more like a telethon. His campaign would certainly like to lead in the polls, but Edwards seemed more interested in leading a movement. The virtue of the message is obvious, but its magnetism, urgency, and electoral efficacy are less so.  It'll be interesting to see if he's any more explicitly political in Iowa later today.  A few other disconnected thoughts:

• The announcement used race in a rather explicit way.  The site was found by the NAACP, the homeowner is a middle-aged black woman, and the smiling children behind Edwards were all African-American.  The city (New Orleans) and the subject (poverty) are both racially charged as well.  It occurred to me that Barack Obama, a black man, couldn't run such a campaign, while Edwards, a white man, can. 

• Edwards explicitly condemned the "surge" plan for Iraq.  But he didn't call it the surge.  "It is a mistake," he said, "for America to escalate the war in Iraq."  That's the term the blogs have adopted as well, and its prominent placement, used before he mentioned the word "surge," struck me as a possible dog whistle to the left. 

• I can't shake the impression that very little was said about poverty or the Two Americas in this announcement, and that was, in some essential way, odd.  The theme was civic action, a verb, not a noun.  It's an interesting organizing strategy, but it didn't sound, even here, like a message.  And that's fine, it may not be.  This announcement, so far removed from primary voters, appeared more intent on creating a national base of engaged, involved, supporters than articulating a sharp-edged political theme. It'll be interesting to see if his focus at the Iowa townhall is significantly different.  For now, though, Edwards is doing a better job explaining why you should volunteer with him than vote for him. 

December 28, 2006 in Election 2008 | Permalink


"Americans have to be patriotic about something besides war"

That's probably the best thing I've ever heard Edwards say, honestly. I'm still not a fan, but anyone who will actually challenge voters to get past the ridiculous jingoism that passes for citizenship these days gets some serious points from me.

Posted by: latts | Dec 28, 2006 10:26:43 AM

He's going to be very interesting to watch.

Posted by: nolo | Dec 28, 2006 10:40:09 AM

i thought miles o'brien did a very inhospitable interview with edwards with edwards this morning...but i was impressed with the way that edwards remained on course with his message, and with real candor. he showed a lot of sincerity and conviction in the interview.
....miles o'brien,unreasonably went for the jugular, and in my eyes, it diminshed him, and strengthened edwards.
...as for you, ezra...keep up the great work!!!!!

Posted by: jacqueline | Dec 28, 2006 11:02:16 AM

Indeed latts, that sentence just seized me. Very impressive appearance by Edwards.

Why couldn't Obama run such a campaign? A feeling that he was alienate white voters? I sure hope not, as it would say some pretty bad things about the state of racial unity in this country.

Posted by: Adrock | Dec 28, 2006 11:03:16 AM

Here's the brilliant innovation of the Edwards Campaign: he's conducting an empirical test of his own leadership abilities. It's straight out of high tech marketing. He's giving us a demo. That's a high wire act.

The operational definition of a leader is someone with followers. So here's Edwards saying, hey let's get busy and start getting things done now instead of waiting until the election. If people get busy, Edwards is a leader. If we don't, he's not. Has anyone ever done that before? Kennedy famously challenged the country to, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." But that was in the inaugural address, not the campaign.

Edwards isn't asking for the order on election day. He's asking for it today. If people respond, he's delivered an irrefutable demonstration of his leadership.

Posted by: Mickeleh | Dec 28, 2006 11:20:18 AM

The theme was civic action, a verb, not a noun.

Nitpick for an otherwise excellent article:

"Action" is a noun. "Civic" is an adjective. No verbs here.

Not trying to be a jerk. But he is talking about a solid concept, even if it isn't a solid object.

Posted by: Chumley | Dec 28, 2006 11:23:40 AM

I've spent the last year or so bashing Edwards in these comments, but I have to say - I think he's really been shaping up to be the best candidate in the field. I don't know if that says more about him or about the field at this point, but he's the only one running for president who's trying to be about something more than himself.

Posted by: Christmas | Dec 28, 2006 11:26:10 AM

But how does this differ from, say, "a thousand points of light"?

Posted by: Joyful Alternative | Dec 28, 2006 11:54:58 AM

If you sign up to join a local support group on his web site, he advocates those groups do something like "Organize a food drive."

Posted by: Elizabeth | Dec 28, 2006 11:56:07 AM

for me, al gore eclipses everyone in the playing field, but with no pronouncements yet from him, i think i agree with christmas at this time.

Posted by: jacqueline | Dec 28, 2006 12:03:10 PM

I'm afraid Edward's Two Americas will be perceived (and attacked) as the poor versus everyone else, instead of the very rich versus everyone else. I think is clearly is the later, but that doesn't seem to come across as the message.

Given this fear of his message being warped, a lower-middle class mixed-race neighborhood in industrial Ohio would have been a better setting (IMO) than the 9th Ward of New Orleans.

Another way of saying this: Is Edwards appealing to the lowest economic class or all of those who don't live upper class economic lives - as reflected in the perception of the public, the media and those who will attack any Democrat but particularly anyone who sounds populist. [I am not opposed to populism, per se, I need to add].

The 'action now' theme has some real dangers as well. People live busy lives, and while much good can be done in the private sector, the real issues of contest involve public governmental action. It almost seems Edwards doesn't want to discuss in detail these common-good governmental policy/legislative ideas.

So is this a community barn-raising, or a plan for a truly helpful role for government in making most Americans lives better?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Dec 28, 2006 12:23:05 PM

Not to denigrate the good samaritans who work in food pantries, but I don't want to spend my free time doing a food drive. If I'm gonna be involved in a political campaign, I'm much more interested in taking political action in regards to more overtly political issues. Like habeas corpus. Torture. Warrantless Wiretaps and the 4th Amendment, maybe. Shutting down Gitmo. Now, that isn't to say that "poverty" and economics, generally, isn't an issue. It is. But, it isn't one that generates much political passion on my part. Mainly because I see it as the government's job to make sure everyone in our society has food on the table. Now, if John Edwards were castigating the government for "placing this burden on communities" rather than government "living up to its obligations to the people", well, then that might be different. As its framed now, though, I can join the Edwards campaign and support the local food pantry. Great. But how does that help us get away from needing the local food pantry in the first place? And, why do I need to join the Edwards campaign in order to help out said local pantry? Fact is, I don't. So, why join the Edwards campaign?

Hes all about "let's help these poor people" and we should. But he is addressing how we can address these issues individually. When you run for president, you are able to gather a posse together to address issues systemically and COLLECTIVELY. That's what's missing here. There is no larger context within which our individual efforts would be a part. Thus, taking those individual efforts, while personally uplifting, will be meaningless and futile in the larger context, except as a symbolic gesture.

Posted by: Jeremius | Dec 28, 2006 12:28:05 PM

Edwards definitely the best bet if Gore doesn't enter the ring. Matt Lauer was unsuccessful playing "Gotcha" with him this morning... Edwards is truly becoming adept at this. There's hope for that populist!

Posted by: Doubting Thomas | Dec 28, 2006 12:28:43 PM

The Truth About John Edwards ...djm4america on DKos via MY

The more I see and hear about JE, the less I like and trust him. I no longer consider him a pretty face and empty suit, but something darker and more dangerous, like Bush. A stealth candidate.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 28, 2006 12:30:13 PM

Stay away from the brown acid, Bob.

Posted by: jonnybutter | Dec 28, 2006 12:50:44 PM

I think that he might be sidestepping the Two Americas thing, because he wants to place a greater emphasis on a certain kind of patriotism: the kind that says that we are all in this together. That's One America, not Two.

The thing about food drives and the like is that they can be fun and you get to meet like-minded individuals. It's very similar to working on a political campaign; you get to do some good, but you also get to meet people. It's also possible for a lot of people to understand why government reform is necessary after coming into contact with real people. For a lot of people abstract data don't have the same emotional resonance.

And it's also the case that one of the major criticisms of big government is that it allows people to get out of caring for and feeling responsible for others. These kinds of projects demonstrate that it is not incompatible to recognize a role for government and caring enough to help out individuals. Being a liberal doesn't mean you have to leave everything to the State.

Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Dec 28, 2006 12:53:29 PM

What Bostoniangirl said.

Posted by: MC | Dec 28, 2006 12:57:27 PM

Nothing wrong with civic action by individuals and small groups, but it really is only good for the small stuff. To reduce global warming, to bring our troops home from Iraq, to make sure everybody can get decent health insurance, to rebuild New Orleans - all of these things are going to take governmental action.

I've helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity, I drive energy-efficient cars, and all that good stuff. But unless you can get huge numbers of people to get moving the same way at the same time, it doesn't make a dent in the problem.

Habitat, for all they've done over the past few decades, has barely touched the problem of affordable housing for the poor. Something's better than nothing, of course, but you have to wonder what things would look like today if half those hours spent hammering houses together had been spent buttonholing Congresspersons about the issue instead.

Posted by: RT | Dec 28, 2006 1:13:30 PM

I'm not betting on the magical VW bus trip back to the 60's War on Poverty being a winner - but I could be wrong.

Posted by: Bandit | Dec 28, 2006 1:20:34 PM

djm4america on DailyKos is a lying hack who spends most of every day raiding threads on John Edwards and speing lies. Believe his dreck at your peril.

Posted by: DrFrankLives | Dec 28, 2006 1:40:30 PM

I like Edwards a lot, but I think I prefer him as Secretary of HUD or something.

Posted by: donna | Dec 28, 2006 1:59:10 PM

"Believe his dreck at your peril."

"John Edwards was a co-sponsor of the 2002 GOP Iraq War Resolution. [1]
John Edwards did vote for the 2002 GOP Iraq War Resolution. [1]
John Edwards did hire Gen. Hugh Shelton to swift-boat Clark in '04. [1][2][3][4]
John Edwards did vote for the Patriot Act. [1]
John Edwards was listed as a member of the DLC Leadership. [1][2][3][4]"

Help me out then. What in this is untrue?

Not that any of these directly bother me about Edwards.

I read the Stoller piece over at MyDD that caused a ruckus when Ezra responded, and liked it a lot. Link on request. Edwards is just way too pretty, and I do not mean his looks.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 28, 2006 2:41:11 PM

some of you are funny because you are sad. let me know when JC is running.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 28, 2006 2:50:08 PM

"let me know when JC is running."

I thought he announced today.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 28, 2006 3:02:20 PM

I intend to volunteer and I'll spend my mandatory time at the food drive desperately trying to explain to the other volunteers that things like the Democratic Party opposing rather than supporting illegal immigration would do far, far more good than all Edwards' food drives combined could ever do.

Posted by: IllegalImmigrationIntroduction | Dec 28, 2006 3:20:31 PM

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