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February 20, 2007

John Edwards Profile

March Prospect Cover

The March issue of The American Prospect is out, and with it, my feature profile of John Edwards. We've talked about him a lot on this blog, but I've actually held back most of my opinions, saving them for this piece. The catch, though, is that it's behind the subscription wall. So if you've got either a print or online subscription, you can get the article immediately. If not, you need to buy one of those.

This isn't an appeal I've often made, but it seems particularly relevant to this piece. This article cost the magazine money. Thousands, in fact, so I could travel with the candidate, and watch him in action, and get the necessary face time to probe his beliefs. It meant hundreds of phone calls and countless e-mails and endless edit meetings. In other words, it took resources. Some articles are like long, particularly well thought out blog posts. Others can only be done with the financial backing, institutional credibility, and support of a magazine (or other funder). This is one of the latter, and if it's a type of journalism you think worthwhile and want to read, it's really worth spending the $15 for an online pass, and even more worth spending the $20 for a print/online subscription. You can do either here.

I should say, too ,that this is a particularly good issue. The cover story attacking the glimmering neoliberal hopes of China's democratization is an important one, Noy's article on the Vietnamese art scene is fantastic, Kuttner is characteristically trenchant and serious on trade, there's a takedown of Clint Eastwood, etc. And in the end, supporting the magazine supports this blog, as it's their paychecks and indulgence that allow me to spend hours working on it every day.

February 20, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

congratulations on a wonderfully written article, ezra.
i hope that your readers will support the excellent quality of journalism at the American Prospect, through subscribing... and also, as a way of showing support for the efforts you put forth in creating intellectually provocative journalism, here and at the American Prospect.
it is strengthening for all of us to have these forums of thought and expression.thank you.

Posted by: jacqueline | Feb 20, 2007 11:00:35 PM

"Some articles are like long, particularly well thought out blog posts." Heh. I've always thought of your blog posts as short, particularly well thought out articles.

Posted by: Sam L. | Feb 21, 2007 12:40:51 AM

Zach Braff would provide the faithful readers of his blog with a free link...

Posted by: Petey | Feb 21, 2007 3:02:40 AM

there is a time for taking,
and also a time for giving back.

Posted by: jacqueline | Feb 21, 2007 7:16:20 AM

Ezra,

I'm distressed by your article! It certainly made me question my tentative support for Edwards. The biggest thing in his favor is that I thought he was going to articulate an outright anti-poverty platform that returns to the approach of the Great Society. By (presumably) getting elected on that specific platform, he would have a mandate for his changes and they would yield definitive action in an Edwards presidency.

But you say outright that his campaign will not be about anti-poverty policy or even articulating a policy platform at all. Rather, it's aimed to deliver the message "John Edwards has conviction, even if you don't." I am so sick and tired of these "message campaigns" that are designed to get x candidate across the finish line on election day, without any thought whatsoever to what comes afterwards. After all, what comes afterwards is the point of voting for a candidate with convictions, right?

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 21, 2007 9:01:54 AM

Okay I'm gonna get a subscrition because I'm eager to read the article, so that I can nitpick. Speaking of Edwards, here's a tasty tidbit from Variety, for which he's gonna catch hell, I imagine.

"The aggressively photogenic John Edwards was cruising along, detailing his litany of liberal causes last week until, during question time, he invoked the "I" word -- Israel. Perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace, Edwards remarked, was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. As a chill descended on the gathering, the Edwards event was brought to a polite close."

Now, you could argue about his claim--I think the country led by Bush might be a greater shorterm threat to world peace than Israel--but it certainly shows that he's willing to tell an audience what it doesn't want to hear. Also that he's not in AIPAC's pocket.

I hope, when challenged, that he doesn't back off.

Posted by: david mizner | Feb 21, 2007 9:07:38 AM

But you say outright that his campaign will not be about anti-poverty policy or even articulating a policy platform at all. Rather, it's aimed to deliver the message "John Edwards has conviction, even if you don't."

Huh? That's not how I took it, at least. The statements to which you refer were in the context of the 2004 campaign, which Bush won by being the candidate "who stood for something." I don't have them at hand, but I've seen Edwards statements that make clear his frustration at the people running the Kerry campaign and their unwillingness to forcefully engage the attacks coming from Bush.

Anyway, very good article. Not sure if you meant it to be something that recruits people for Edwards, but it has almost done it for me. I wonder if even jacqueline is wavering in her support for Al Gore after reading it!

Ezra, I hope you're just showing false modesty when you denigrate your writing skills. I'd hate to think that you are that poor a judge of your own abilities.

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 21, 2007 9:19:50 AM

Stephen,

I was referring to this passage: "This campaign, Edwards' focus on poverty and populism can be read as an attempt to demonstrate his own convictions: You may not care about what John Edwards cares about, but at least you know that John Edwards cares."

and this one:

"To win in 2008, though, convincing the majority of voters that he cares for sympathetic underdogs will not be enough; they need to believe he will stand for them. But if Edwards -- in that unthreatening southern drawl, drawing on those years spent fighting against malign corporate actors -- can convince the electorate that he will "[stand] up for regular people so they don't get stomped on by powerful multinational corporations" … well, a lot of people believe themselves "regular people," and this is a moment in which they hunger for a champion.

"The one thing I am certain of," Edwards told me, "is that when Iowa caucus goers walk into caucus on a Monday night a little under a year from now, they will know what I stand for. They won't have any questions. They may not agree with it, but they'll know it."

What I am saying is that I wanted Edwards to articulate a clear anti-poverty message backed by specific policies. I don't mean "speak to the middle class' fears of healthcare and China." I mean "transfer wealth from the top to the bottom." So Edwards isn't doing what I want; so what? Well, I'm distinctly less inclined to support him if his populism is not more meaningful than Obama's "audacity of hope." I don't care if he has convictions because those convictions will matter not one bit if he's elected without a mandate for policy changes.

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 21, 2007 9:39:57 AM

Well, he will have a very detailed anti-poverty agenda, it just won't be the only message of the campaign.

And David: The Edwards campaign is claiming Vanity Fair misquoted them. From a press release I got yesterday:

"
JOHN EDWARDS FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN STATEMENT ON ERRONEOUS VARIETY ARTICLE

Chapel Hill, North Carolina – John Edwards for President spokesperson Jonathan Prince released the following statement today in response to a Variety story, which is referenced in a National Review Online post and inaccurately quotes Senator John Edwards.

“The January 19th Variety article is erroneous. Senator Edwards did not say nor does he believe that the greatest short-term threat to world peace is the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. Senator Edwards said, as he has in the past, that Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon is one of the greatest short-term threats to world peace.”


The Bush Administration has failed to deal effectively with Iran. Instead of negotiating directly with Iran, the U.S. has left other world players to deal with an increasingly serious situation. Although Edwards believes no President should ever take any option off the table, he believes we should exhaust every diplomatic tool available to us. For example:

· The United States should be negotiating directly with Iran.

· Along with our European allies, we should offer incentives to Iran to stop development of nuclear weapons, and instead, offer an economic package to assist Iran in meeting its energy needs peacefully.

· Along with our European allies, we should be prepared to impose further economic sanctions if Iran does not give up its nuclear ambition."

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 21, 2007 9:45:46 AM

Marshall,

I think you're reading that through the lens of your - entirely appropriate - disgust for 'message campaigns.'

My take is that Edwards is committed to a fight against poverty, to governing as the advocate of us regular folk against the elites who dominate our economy and politics. And he is going to make sure, this time around, that no one can claim that he is vague, or a flip-flopper, or any of those things. He's going to make sure everyone knows exactly what he is for and exactly what he will do as president, even if they don't agree with him - which means he's going to cut through the oppositions' bullshit about him.

I take it as a very good thing.

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 21, 2007 9:51:17 AM

I am very cheap and if not poor not exactly swimming in it; is it okay if I wait until the issue is available through my college's online databases?

Posted by: Mac | Feb 21, 2007 9:53:07 AM

But Ezra, putting forward a detailed anti-poverty platform is one (good) thing, but the article already reveals that implementing such a platform is not the reason that Edwards is running for President. REAL conviction is about what happens after you get elected, not about reading the political winds to ascertain that "conviction" might win votes this year.

It is true that in a Presidential system we have to vote for the man, not the platform, and choosing the man amounts to figuring out which one has the best judgment and would react with sound decision-making to the problems of governing. However, I don't think that a message-based campaign aimed at crossing the finish line sends a good signal about judgment. To me, it says "same old, same old," even if the content of the message isn't the old DLC drivel.

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 21, 2007 9:57:32 AM

"The Edwards campaign is claiming Vanity Fair misquoted them."

Oh. I guess it did smell fishy given that Variety (not Vanity Fair) didn't quote him at all--just paraphrased. And Edwards seems too savvy when raising cash to say something like that. Call me gullible. Variety must have relied on a second hand account. On the other hand, how did such an account end up in Variety? "As a chill descended on the gathering, the Edwards event was brought to a polite close." Hmm. Somebody, it seems, is up to no good.

Posted by: david mizner | Feb 21, 2007 10:11:07 AM

Stephen,

What you say in both your previous comments is right: it is of paramount importance to utterly eviscerate the inevitable Republican attack of flip-flop and distraction from the problems of governing. HOWEVER, I think Edwards (and by extension, you) get the chain of reasoning backward. (I) represents what Edwards and you are talking about, whereas (II) indicates my ideal.

I. Edwards notes the Republican threat of the flip-flop, so he counters it by making conviction the theme of his campaign. In order to do that, he talks about corporate greed and puts forward a decent program of healthcare reforms. This makes sense as the content of his conviction because he grew up lower middle class and sued corporations for a living.

II. Edwards is running for President in order to address poverty and rectify the gross elitization of the economy. In order to counteract the inevitable Republican attack strategy that will prevent him from becoming President, he adopts a political strategy that is identical with his pre-existing rationale; he will run loudly on the merits of his platform and aggressively showcase the putrid policies of a Republican administration and Congress.

In (II), the content of the message is "this is what I will do when I am President." The subtext is "I am a man of conviction, as you can see from my platform." Whereas in Edwards' model, "conviction" is the content.

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 21, 2007 10:12:32 AM

I don't know whether #1 or #2 is right, but I really don't see how you're figuring out which is right from the article. It's certainly my impression in following Edwards around that he cares deeply for this stuff, and I'd guess the poverty platform would be a top priority in office. On that I think he's very genuine. I did a lot of reporting that didn't make it into the article on all the folks Edwards has been using as tutors and guides and voices on poverty, and that network is too broad and Edwards' involvement with them too serious for me to chalk it up to cynicism. I think the case you're making may hold on foreign policy, but I don't think it's true on the domestic end.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 21, 2007 10:23:19 AM

Ezra,

Where I get that in the article is from the end, where Edwards essentially says, "whatever happens, let it be the case that caucusing Iowans know what I stand for." That is fundamentally a thought about process (symptomatic of the "message campaign" I disparaged above). He absolutely should not have that result as the goal of his campaign. The goal of his campaign should be to make poor people better off, and by observing a campaign that is aimed at that goal, caucusing Iowans will come to their own conclusion about what Edwards stands for.

I'm very happy that Edwards is surrounding himself with the right people; it's a strong signal to people like me about what he will do as President. But he should not be concerned with sending signals. He should be concerned about his agenda; the signal that sends is the strongest of all.

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 21, 2007 10:37:40 AM

But where do you get that that's the goal of the campaign, rather than a comment about how he's running the Iowa caucus? And isn't having a clear agenda what he's talking about there?

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 21, 2007 10:50:51 AM

"The catch, though, is that it's behind the subscription wall. So if you've got either a print or online subscription, you can get the article immediately. If not, you need to buy one of those."

You obviously haven't read Dean Baker's piece on Copyright over at TAPPED.

Dean's satirical piece is quite a nice style experiment - it's written almost perfectly straight, taking the position an insane person would take. And if we were to take his piece seriously, you'd need to immediately publish your Edwards piece free, or else be on the side of the evil-doers of the universe.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 21, 2007 10:54:44 AM

"But he should not be concerned with sending signals."

So to sum up, Marshall:

You spend a bunch of time complaining about which signals Edwards is sending, and cap it off by saying that he "he should not be concerned with sending signals".

OK...

Posted by: Petey | Feb 21, 2007 11:02:51 AM

"But he should not be concerned with sending signals."

So to sum up, Marshall:

You spend a bunch of time complaining about which signals Edwards is sending, and cap it off by saying that he "he should not be concerned with sending signals".

OK...

Posted by: Petey | Feb 21, 2007 11:04:13 AM

No Petey, I spent a bunch of time analyzing Ezra's article, the subject of which is the signals that Edwards is sending. And I don't think he should be concerned with sending signals.

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 21, 2007 11:05:34 AM

"And I don't think he should be concerned with sending signals."

But again, why do you spend so much time talking about which signals he's sending turn you on and which turn you off, if that's the case? If you care so very much about the signals you're receiving, shouldn't Johhny Edwards care at least as much about which signals he's sending?

While telepepathy is certainly a potential means of communicating with a candidate's supporters and potential supporters, I'm of the opinion that actually sending signals has its advantages.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 21, 2007 11:11:35 AM

Here's why I don't purchase a subscription to Prospect (which, by the way, is the same reason I won't purchase a subscription to the Nation - both publications I love, and would love to receive on my doorstep): I don't see any declaration that they will hold my personal information inviolate, and will not sell it off to the highest bidder. Magazines are horrible about this. I understand that it is a major source of revenue for them, and would be willing to pay a premium for the assurance.

In this day and age, I really do not want to take the chance on having Choicepoint listing my name under "dangerous liberal commie pinkos." If my name ends up on some bullshit "no-fly" list I am Out. Of. Business. I can't afford to take that chance. I doubt I'm alone in this concern.

/rant

Posted by: Anonymous | Feb 21, 2007 11:20:30 AM

Petey,

Although I think Edwards should not care about signals, obviously John Edwards does not agree with me. As part of his campaign strategy, he sat down to an interview with Ezra Klein and sent Ezra a bunch of signals, which Ezra reported. Those signals and the means by which they reached me together communicated an unfortunate approach to a Presidential campaign, and I have thus criticized Edwards. What I feel about signals is a second-order issue; my posts above are criticisms of the signals that Edwards sent. And yet you imply that I am somehow hypocritical for analyzing them because in order to be loyal to my anti-signal position, I have to systematically ignore the signals that, we all agree, have been sent.

That makes no sense at all.

Posted by: Marshall | Feb 21, 2007 11:21:51 AM

From Dean Baker over at TAPPED:

Think of the enormous gains to the economy and society if all books and articles, music and video were available to everyone in the world at zero cost over the web.

In addition, think of how much we would gain by eliminating all the rent-seeking behavior associated with copyright protection.

Stop standing in opposition to the views of your brothers and sisters at TAPPED. Free links for the people!

Posted by: Petey | Feb 21, 2007 11:26:56 AM

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