Friday, January 28, 2005


From Dionne's WashPost column today--

It needs to be clear to the country what our core beliefs are, and the last thing we need is strategic maneuvering," Edwards says. "What people want to see is leadership and strength and conviction. This is about what's inside us. It's not about how we get to the right place."


It's true, of course, that rejecting political calculation can itself be a form of political calculation. Conviction politics was a big winner for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Even President Bush's critics concede -- well, they don't concede anything these days, but they might grudgingly admit -- that Bush's core political edge is just that, the appearance of strength and of standing for something.

But conviction politics has not been in vogue in progressive circles. This era's two great center-left politicians, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, have been resolute Third Wayers, tacking carefully between left and right. The Third Way was a tacit admission of conservatism's momentum.
Edwards is well positioned to offer Third Way 3.0. He's a young southerner, a working-class kid made good whose dad was a deacon in his church. He speaks admiringly of Clinton's skills, particularly the former president's ability to make others feel that he identifies with their struggles.

But Edwards's instincts tell him that tepid politics are exactly what the Democrats don't need now. "I don't think this is about moderate, conservative, liberal," he says. "Americans are looking for strength, an idealistic strength. They want to know what we'd do on Day One if we ran the country."

Moral issues matter, Edwards says, but Democrats won't look moral by getting into a bidding war over how often they can invoke the name of God. Instead, Democrats should speak with conviction about an issue that has always animated them: the alleviation of poverty. "I think it is a moral issue; it's something we should be willing to fight about and stand up for," he says.
Those who counsel caution, he says, would let calculation push Democrats away from their historical commitments. "They think it's associated with some political label," he says, carefully avoiding the L-word himself. "They think that a lot of people who live in poverty don't vote and don't participate and so they don't think there's a lot of political capital there."

Edwards, who is planning to set up a center to study ways to alleviate poverty, is enough of a politician to insist that he wants to advocate not only on behalf of the destitute but also for those just finding their footing on mobility's ladder. But he offers the unexpected claim that the very voters who have strayed from the Democrats would respond forcefully to the moral imperative of aiding the poor.

"The people who love their guns and love their faith, they care about this," Edwards says. "There is a deep abiding feeling of moral responsibility people have about those who are doing everything right and are still having a hard time."

Okay, okay, it's bound to be said that Edwards is making a shrewd political wager that Democrats have tired of capitulation. The test will be whether he sticks with it. It's a fair bet that someone who talks about a real moral issue for the next four years will at least be easier to listen to than politicians who place all their money on yesterday's focus groups.

Here's my problems with what appears to be Edwards' take on the situation:

1) he's afraid of the term--and by extension the concept and past achievements of--liberal politics and policy;

2) The "two Americas" and "we need to help those who are playing by the rules and still can't get ahead" rhetoric is Clinton-est which among other things may cause some people to wonder, hey, haven't we heard this before? Your party had eight years in the WH from '93-2000. Why are the rule-players still struggling?

3) He either doesn't understand, or cares not to address, the nature of the tragedy that is this administration's policies and supporters' agenda, namely, the "Right's" substantive war against the courts, civil liberties, the "wall" separating church and state, "liberals", and other deemed undesirables, by any means necessary, but particularly by consolidating media control and smothering dissent, academic and otherwise.

Yes, we need conviction in our candidates, but we also need an awareness and willingness to confront the country's greatest dangers.

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