Friday, June 24, 2005

The Edwards Gamble*

I believe I shared a view common to lots of others about John Edwards' campaign for president in 2004. That is, that while he was a good guy with a good message, he was running before his time, and that moreover, it was foolish of him (and not good for the Democratic party either) to give up his Senate seat. On the latter point, if his 2004 gamble didn't payoff, he'd be without a political office from which to launch a later bid, say in 2008.

But now I'm thinking I was wrong. Maybe Edwards did the right thing at the right time by running last year.

I need to add that I've been rethinking my underlying premises about presidential campaigns and about what Democrats need to do the next time around. I'm increasingly coming to think that the Democrats need an outsider to run in 2008, someone capable of changing the terms of the debate (and I think the Rove speech this week helps show why this is necessary), and the ability for a candidate to that is inversely related to the degree he or she is embedded in the culture of Washington.

Yeah, this isn't entirely a brilliant new deduction that no one's thought of before. The Outsider is perenually everyone's favorite candidate, like the second string quarterback. Until that Outsider shows his or her inexperience in the public arena and the calls for someone "electable" regain their novelty.

But I think it will be even more important in 2008, if my and many others' suspicions about the likely evolving of events from Baghdad to Capital Hill prove to be correct.

In short, I think Edwards' being out of office will make him a better candidate in 2008.

While political experience is a well sought after attribute for presidential contenders, members of Congress are notoriously bad campaigners, partly because they have spent their lives casting votes on thousands of measures that can't help but prove to be fertile mining fields for op-research teams. These thousands of votes prove difficult to explain sometimes. The result is a statement like "I voted for it before I voted against it". Surely, we can't go through that again.

By the time Edwards runs again in 2008, his voting record, relatively meager as it is, thankfully, won't give opponents as much to go on as it has for other candidates. And the three years out in the public and traveling around will help Edwards hone his message and increase his already substantial ability to connect with voters. He'll be someone who can point to some political experience, he has good name recognition, but he can campaign as a non-Washingtonian, non-establishment figure.

Obviously much more can be said about Edwards' chances, but for now, I'll leave it here. I would like to see, however, other progressive bloggers start sketching out there ideas as to what sort of candidate should run in 2008.

*The first of an intermittent series dealing with the 2008 election

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