Thursday, August 16

:: The Edwards Gamble

Oh, the desperation. According to the AP, “The Edwards campaign on Thursday called on Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama to co-sign a letter to party leaders decrying the connection between political donations and Washington's lobbying industry.” The idea is to preclude the Democratic party’s fundraising committees from accepting contributions from registered lobbyists.

Apparently Edwards’ letter includes the inspiring line “The system is clearly rigged against the people who make our country great.”

This kind of talk really gets me steamed. First, you [Edwards, Bradley, Nader] try to convince people that the system is broken, owned by "special interests," and/or won't listen to ordinary folk, so you can set yourself up as the agent of change, the messiah of reform. Then, when voters don't want to get involved in politics, be sure to complain about their apathy. Above all, don't connect the dots between your campaign telling them that they can't make a difference (except, of course, by voting for you) and their belief that their votes won't make a difference.

David Brooks in the NY Times (yes, I said it) alludes to this tension in his column today, which contains much praise (both regular and backhanded) for Edwards. [Personally, I think Brooks has had some kind of breakdown; a recent column indicated he's been spending a lot of time drift-surfing baby name websites. Don't remember it? Its the one that began "Names matter. People named Dennis and Denise are disproportionately likely to become dentists. People named Lawrence or Laurie are disproportionately likely to become lawyers..." If that's not a cry for help, I don't know what is.] Brooks points out that the message that Washington, lousy with insiders, doesn't work for ordinary people is somewhat at odds with the message that ordinary people should support a candidate who favors a variety of Washington programs.

Of course, the formula only works if you add Edwards / Bradley / Nader, super-agent of change, to the equation. The downside is that if people are convinced Washington is a hopeless basket case, they won't believe Edwards (or any other candidate) can make a difference, and they will tune out all together. This is fine when it comes to Nader voters, they can keep to their burrows for all I care. But Edwards has the ear of people who should be told about the good things government does, and can do, for people - people who will hopefully stay engaged with the system for a long time.

I presume Edwards saw the lobbyist gambit as a win-win; if Obama went along with it, they'd gang up on Hillary and Edwards would reinforce him status as Obama's equal. Instead Obama turned him down. I imagine Edwards can now paint himself as the only ethical candidate in the race, but I think getting brushed off that way doesn't help his stature.

[Of course, the party would never along with Edwards' proposal – for one thing, it is ridiculous, and for another thing, validating the belief that lobbyist contributions are unethical means tacitly supporting one candidate over another. I wonder if Edwards will say that if he is the nominee, he won’t accept funding from the party because it accepts money from lobbyists?]

There is another downside to this maneuver. No one in their right mind thinks influential lobbyists are our number one problem. The more Edwards focuses on small-potato issues, the more he will seem like a small-potato candidate. We are in the midst of so many crises right now that I think the only thing left to happen is a resurgence of polio. We should be so lucky to have lobbyists at the top of our list of concerns.


Buffy said...

I have a hard time swallowing this holier than though attitude from a TRIAL LAWYER. Kettle, pot, black . . .

Ciccina said...

I was thinking the exact same thing. Brooks quotes Edwards talking about how he went up against the big insurance companies in court and won - the trial lawyer as folk hero. I have no objection to that, except for the whiplash I get from the 180 degree spin. But hey, maybe a lawyer can help me with that too.

zippy said...

Oh, wait, and here's the Washington Post reminding us of his links to subprime lenders today! The very ones he denounced when he launched his campaign!

Let's face it, lobbyists and "special interests" have always been good boogeymen for the campaign trail. As much as she generally rubs me the wrong way, Hillary has been the most honest about her ties to lobbyists.

I wish someone would look out for MY special interests...that is, another cup of coffee...