The Edwards "majic"

Rich Lowry:

"I rushed to Concord, New Hampshire a little while ago to see John Edwards talk to workers at a leather-goods company. I was ready to experience the Edwards magic firsthand, since I hadn’t seen him yet this campaign season. It was terrible. Partly because of the setup. The two-dozen or so company employees were outnumbered by the army of reporters and cameramen surrounding them to get their shots of the candidate. This was basically a glorified photo op. The army of journalists squabbled among itself, as often happens. 'You’re going to ruin our shot,' a cameraman complained to some print journalists who were standing too close to where the Senator would soon stand. 'Come on – this is our photo op. You are just scribblers. Give me a f------ break.' So, everyone knew what was up at the event, but Edwards still told the employees he was only there because he wanted to hear what they had to say. This before he launched into a 20-minute stump speech almost solely for the cameras.

"At this event – and maybe it was somehow an exception – Edwards combined the synthetic sincerity of Bill Clinton and the condescension of Al Gore. Edwards is a populist, but a trial lawyer-style populist. Anything that companies do to make a profit is basically a crime, and Edwards is going to go after them for the people, so drugs, insurance policies, and everything else will be marginally cheaper in a kind of nation-wide class-action settlement. The word he uses most is 'you.' This is certainly better than the chief word being 'I,' as it was for Phil Gramm in 1996. Edwards keeps the focus on his listeners but in a way that is almost insulting since his premise is that they are all helpless and can’t take care of themselves. It is a deeply infantilizing attitude.

"Edwards regularly lets loose with mind-numbing platitudes like 'I believe we shouldn’t look down on anyone.' Then he proceeds to do exactly that implicitly to his listeners as his exquisite empathy slips into a concerned condescension. In discussing the balanced budget, he asks, “All of you have to decide what you can afford, donchya?' On social security, he tells a woman worried about getting all her benefits, 'You’re entitled to that money, aren’t you?' She duly agrees. Edwards says “I agree with you.” He tells someone else worried about social security, 'You probably need that money, don’t you?' This listener agrees as well. 'Yeah, yeah,' Edwards says, 'bless your heart.' In discussing health insurance premiums, he asks someone, 'You have trouble paying that, don’t you? You want to pay less, don’t you?' I believe in cross-examinations, but this is called leading the witnesses. The only leading question Edwards leaves unasked is 'You can’t see through my schtick, can you?' ”


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