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December 19, 2006

What John Edwards Does Over Break

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

It would be out of keeping with the role of this blog as Unofficial Edwards Central if I didn't point you to Shakes' post on John Edwards' decision to announce his campaign from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, probably at the end of this month.  It's the same place that he went over Spring Break (see the John Edwards Gone Wild photos, one of which I've posted below) with hundreds of college students to repair Hurricane Katrina damage. 

We've been talking recently on this blog about how the media covers presidential candidates.  I'm convinced that effectively working the media is mostly a matter of constructing an appealing narrative about your candidate and feeding that narrative relentlessly.  People talk about "Teflon candidates" to whom no smears stick, and a big part of that is defining your candidate so strongly that attacks which seek to define your candidate otherwise can't get traction.  While it would've been entirely justified to attack Bush for his complete refusal to do anything about North Korea in 2004, he had already defined himself as the candidate of bold foreign policy action with the Iraq War, which made it challenging to tag him with a contrary label. 

With Edwards, everything -- the substance of his proposals, the circumstances of his upbringing, his oratorical style -- fit together into the same cohesive economic populist picture.  It's a very appealing picture to many Americans, and one that the Republican Party is going to have a hell of a time trying to displace:


It's hard to think of another politician in America today who has such a cohesive and positive public image.  No doubt Fox News and the GOP will try to redefine him if he wins the primary.  Had they done it successfully in the 2004 elections, I'd probably be casting about for a more viable candidate now.  But they failed, and now they're so far behind that I don't see how they can succeed. 

December 19, 2006 | Permalink


I don't see how they can succeed

They'll reach deep down into their scummy little souls and pull something out. It's what they do and they're damned good at it.

Posted by: soullite | Dec 19, 2006 6:06:44 PM

Most of that is, I think, attributable to a candidate showing that they are a leader early on, and by that I mean staking out a position that makes them someone people like in the minds of voters. McCain did that when he got the title of maverick and independent. It's taken time to overcome that image even while his actual record showed he wasn't a maverick.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 19, 2006 6:06:56 PM

Dang, that's a great picture.

Posted by: nolo | Dec 19, 2006 6:07:46 PM

I should add that what seems to work is not just symbolism or rhectoric, but those tools towards a certain brands that denote leadership. "I don't care what the other guys think on this issue, I am a leader so follow me" type of rhectoric. I don't think it matters what it is on so long as it reflects the traits of leadership. People, i think, are voting for certain traits rather than certain positions.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 19, 2006 6:09:41 PM

This is a very neat application. It is really interesting. Instantly useful for me.

Posted by: Swetlana Maßat | Dec 19, 2006 6:28:27 PM

It would be out of keeping with the role of this blog as Unofficial Edwards Central

Awwww, yeah!.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 19, 2006 6:42:50 PM

The right wingnut 'o sphere seems to think "the Breck Girl" might stick.

Posted by: The Right Reverend Rabbi Judah | Dec 19, 2006 7:30:15 PM

akaison is right. Americans want a leader - someone who can make decisions and stick by them, or who can rely on journalists' unwillingness to call a liar a liar in order to pretend that they make and stick by decisions.

Edwards was hamstrung by Kerry (Shrum) and his (Shrum's) constant equivocating and "compromising." But if post-mortem articles are to be believed, Edwards was ready to attack, ready to make solid stands on issues that resonate with voters, only to be sidelined by morons like Shrum (Shrum).

His populism probably will be an enormous benefit in the next election. But Americans will still care about foreign policy. Our relationships with our allies and other countries will matter as well. And with even some conservatives admitting the reality of Global Warming (among other issues), the energy policy of the USA can be a winning campaign issue.

If only there were someone who had solid foreign policy experience, and experience on a president's cabinet - preferably as Energy Secretary - and who not only has current executive experience but also is a Westerner, who could reduce some of McCain's strength in that region.

If only we could combine John Edwards with such a person on the same ticket in some way.

Posted by: Stephen | Dec 19, 2006 7:42:24 PM

My memory of 2004 was that kerry tried to relentlessly push a single narrative, the war hero image. and the biggest criticism was defining against that, the swiftboats.

Posted by: dan | Dec 19, 2006 7:59:25 PM

My biggest fear is that Edwards is going to turn into a true protectionist when it comes to trade, something which I can't stand for. Some of the criticisms of trade are valid, but it doesn't mean that trade is bad.

Other than that, Edwards is perfectly acceptable. Of course, so are many of the other Democrats to me. Maybe--and this is a big, big maybe--his biggest appeal lies in putting a few Southern states into play. I agree that the focus should be on the Midwest (but outside of the normal confines to perhaps include the Dakotas and Indiana, for instance), the Southwest, Florida, and perhaps one or two other states, like Montana, just for the hell of it, but I feel as if it might be a good idea to try to compete in North Carolina, Georgia, and especially Virginia, as they hold a lot of electoral votes. And if we are being really daring, let's campaign in Texas, too. Perhaps we could craft a narrative that we really are shaking up the map if Sen. Clinton is giving stump speeches in Laredo, El Paso, and Houston, for instance.

Posted by: Brian | Dec 19, 2006 8:03:26 PM

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that discussions like these seem to indicate a point I've made in the past: that we have a fairly deep bench, while the Republicans seem to be coming up short.

Posted by: Brian | Dec 19, 2006 8:05:46 PM

Nope- the biggest narrative against Kerry was that he wasn't a) trustworthy (ie, flip flopper) and b) tough enough for the job. He tried to use his war record as a reaction long after the narrative had started (it started back in the spring- he waited until late fall) to that narrative, and then the swiftboating happened, and everything he did until the debates (by which point it was too late) reinforced the narrative (ie, "I voted for the war, before voting against it," etc) that he was someone who could not be trusted or tough enough for the job (wind surfing or whatever he was doing).

It's a common narrative against Democrats reinforced over multiple elections. Insert candidate X Democrat into election Y. That we stand for nothing. That we are so afraid of ourselves that we are always the types to say "why can't we just find a bipartisan way or conciliation" because we are afraid of a fight. That we aren't tough enough for the job so we flip at the first chance. it doesn't matter if its true. What matters is if we act in ways to reinforce the branded perception. With Gore, it was that he was a fibber. For the longest time, he did nothing to fight the meme.

Even Kerry's response to the swiftboating reinforced the brand. His response was along the lines "Bush should ask the swiftboaters to stop,a nd he should ask them to apologize for what they said." Translation (and I asked a lot of people their translation): "I am too weak to do it myself."

Where we get killed, in part, is what we think we are saying to voters versus what they are actually hearing. On another thread, on Obama, people went on and about this plan or that for healthcare, when in fact, what matters is to show some clear symbolic leadership, ANY leadership, not whether you come up with the magic cure all. But that you stood up for something. If you don't you are slick, you are a flip flopper, you are a fibber. They show you on a tank with a snoppy hat on, and you are soft. That's the rhectoric, and it works because we provide the rhectoric, imagery, and strategies that allow them work. In part, probably because too many on the left believe them.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 19, 2006 8:16:23 PM

Incidentally, this is one of the worse reason for a candidate on the left to not say anything- to say nothing is to fit into the narrative that we have nothing that we will stand up for. I am not sure what the exact solutions are, but perceptionally, for our team, such an approach is death.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 19, 2006 8:20:14 PM

I agree, akaison. Candidates who don't take clear and bold positions on issues will be defined by their opponents. Those who have clear and bold positions sometimes get defined by their opponents as well (Howard Dean, for example) but they've at least got a shot at controlling public perceptions of themselves.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 19, 2006 8:40:29 PM

Until now, I haven't been able to figure out succintly why Obama's symbolism bothers me while, at the same time, I've become more attracted to Edwards symbolism. I figured it out after Neil's post. Edwards feels proactive in take risks where leadership has failed (NOLA), and I am hoping he says to America- I will risk to find an answer), and Obama feels reactive (the language of followers is to worry incessantly about making a mistep to the point that you never say or do anything risky). It's not a risk to disparage liberalism in the midst of Christians who lean conservative just because you are liberal or progressive. It is risky to go into the lion's mouth, and say at a Christian right meeting that all Americans,including Christians must share in sacrifice. If Obama truly believed in reconcillation between the various Americas, why wouldn't he say this as the leader of such a reconcilliation? If Obama was the brilliant politican that people say, it should be able to sell shared sacrfice. JFK did it. So have others. I think many of the candidates maybe capable of this somewhere deep down, but it will require more of them than their followers and supporters will allow.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 19, 2006 9:11:19 PM

What has Edwards actually *done* that would make him a good president?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Dec 19, 2006 9:29:40 PM

Edwards didn't even risk running for senate again because he was afraid he'd lose. I'm not sure he can be classified as brave.

Posted by: dan | Dec 19, 2006 9:57:23 PM

Uhm- yeah, because he had a lot of free time having choosen instead to accept the VP nomination. Better he should have held onto both so he wouldn't 'risk' being out of office versus given his all to one over the other. In other words, he made a choice which isn't something most politicians do a lot of over with all these something, for nothing arguments.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 19, 2006 10:46:51 PM

The whole goddamn world uses those gloves, I swear. Have em in Washington, had em in Armenia, Edwards is using them in NO.

Posted by: Sandals | Dec 19, 2006 11:21:47 PM

Had they done it successfully in the 2004 elections, I'd probably be casting about for a more viable candidate now. But they failed

They had no reason to do it then; they didn't fail as much as not bother.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 20, 2006 5:03:45 AM

NOLA is all about Two Americas. Sure it is great pr, bu the guy actually means it. Edwards will be a great Sec. of Labor for Gore.

Posted by: Two Americas | Dec 20, 2006 5:59:03 AM

They had no reason to do it then; they didn't fail as much as not bother.

Yeah, I don't buy that for a second. Karl Rove was sitting around saying, "well, we've got all this great stuff to throw at Edwards, but, let's just rip Kerry instead." And the Washington Post was saying, "well, we've got this article about how Edwards is a phony, but let's spike it, boring!"

It does not fit, at all, with the history of the Republican attack machine or the centrist media, to choose to lay off a guy who is close to a major position of power.

Edwards ran for the nomination, then for vice president. His image was, for the most part, not determined by the Republican attack machine or the centrist media. I think it is approaching paranoia to suggest that, really, the super attack machine had all this great stuff, but held back. They're not all-powerful. They had a chance to go at Edwards, and they failed. That's the simplest, most reasonable narrative here.

Posted by: DivGuy | Dec 20, 2006 9:12:38 AM

I think that no one is positioned as well as John Edwards. So what if CNN wants to not include him in their polling, that just make him "the outsider" as ridiculous as that seems. I wonder how the people who support him in Iowa feel seeing his name not on those sample polls?

If it was me, it would make me fight all the harder for him, which when it comes right down to it, is all that is required. Fighting in the primary states. Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Three wins in those four will seal the deal given the following week sports a host of home-town primaries such as North Carolina, New Mexico, and Arkansas which means the week will come down to places like Utah and Alabama.

Posted by: Robert P. | Dec 20, 2006 11:29:42 AM

They had a chance to go at Edwards, and they failed. That's the simplest, most reasonable narrative here.

The focus for everyone, including the voters, was on Kerry. No one cared much to push or to pay attention to charges that Edwards was a liberal, ambulance chasing trial lawyer getting rich by driving up everyone's insurance rates, because no one cared much about Edwards. A smile and a good performance in the debate was enough. That he looked good in 2004 is of course a good thing, a good sign, a plus for him now, but he hasn't been through anything like running for President himself yet. Again, it's just too early to be forming firm views about what will happen, or even what's likely. Let's try to keep things in perspective.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 20, 2006 1:51:59 PM

every democratic candidate should realize they are going to be put through the ringer. that's why its crucial they start shaping the narrative now, rather than later.

Posted by: akaison | Dec 20, 2006 2:00:28 PM

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