06 January 2007

A ship in need of a captain: is it Edwards?

Yesterday, an opinion piece by David McLennan about John Edwards' chances appeared in The News & Observer. While it didn't cement any particular point for me in one direction or another, the conclusions made in it did make me think long and hard about what Edwards and his fellow candidates must do to get elected...and what none of them so far have been brave enough to try yet: namely that whoever wins the next Presidential election may have to be a 'band-aid' leader, not terribly removed from the late President Ford. Ford had Watergate, the Vietnam and Cold Wars, and the 1970s economy as major hot-button items.

Dubya's successor, unfortunately, will have something far more challenging and long-term to contend with: a massive deficit, a weakened stance in the global community, a overwrought military, and every other Constitutional, judicial, fiscal and civil mishap that is Bush's 'Idiotgate' legacy. As I asked back on this same blog in March of last year, I'm not sure why anyone really wants the job right now after Bush, Jr., is wrapping up his term. However, the more I ask this question, the more I realize it not only just applies to the next POTUS, but also most likely the next 2-3 down the line, too. God help us, Dubya's been an overachiever in the screw-up department. And we're all gonna be on clean-up detail for a mighty long time.

McLennan's article:
Despite the skeptics, Edwards can win the Democratic nomination -- if:

• He raises enough money.

To be considered a top-tier Democratic challenger heading into the primary season, Edwards must raise significant campaign funds. Last time, in the first quarter of 2003 he raised more than $7 million. However, by the end of 2003 he had raised just $16 million. To compete successfully with Clinton or Obama, Edwards must demonstrate the ability to raise three to four times what he raised in 2003.

• Obama announces his candidacy.

Some observers suggest that having both Obama and Clinton in the race hurts Edwards and others by "sucking all the air out of the room" because of their current popularity. Obama's entry, however, would help Edwards by creating a likelihood that Clinton and Obama would spend most of their time attacking one another, allowing Edwards to create the perception that he's everyone's "next best" choice. His hope would be that Democratic voters tire of a Clinton-Obama slugfest and make him their choice. (Blogger Ed: I personally wonder if a Obama/Edwards or Edwards/Obama team may come to fruition and both sides are gearing up for that hopeful union. So far, the only candidate we know will do a slash-and-burn campaign to the sea aka General Sherman is Clinton. Teaming together may be the only way for them to extinguish her fire and get into The White House.)

• Edwards becomes more aggressive with his message.

In 2004 Edwards promoted himself as the "positive" candidate who did not attack other Democrats, even in debates and joint appearances. As a result he failed to differentiate himself from the other candidates after the South Carolina primary.

He needs to develop a much more aggressive campaign style. In doing so, Edwards can no longer simply attack President Bush and his policies, but instead must quickly and regularly compare himself to Clinton and Obama. A repeated message will solidify his image in voters' minds and also help inoculate Edwards from being defined by other candidates, especially one as adept as Clinton.

• He gets and maintains momentum from early caucuses and primaries.

In 2004, Edwards was able to make the race with eventual nominee John Kerry interesting because of his strong showing in Iowa and a victory in the South Carolina primary. In 2008, Edwards not only needs to duplicate or better his performances in these states, he needs to be even with or ahead of other major contenders until the primaries move into the Midwest.

In the "rust belt" states such as Michigan and Ohio Edwards' strong ties to organized labor and his populist message could garner many more delegates, enough to make him a contender for the nomination or at least a player in delegate-rich states such as California.

• There is gridlock in Congress on domestic issues.

Because Edwards has so clearly staked out a populist position, he needs some of the "pocketbook" issues so important to middle-class and lower-middle-class voters to remain divisive. If, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised, Congress is able to pass legislation increasing the minimum wage, correcting problems with the prescription drug program for seniors and lowering the interest rate charged on federally backed student loans, Edwards' populist appeal is reduced. Paradoxically, congressional gridlock could hurt Democrats' chances for retaking the White House, but might help Edwards win the nomination.

The 2008 nominating processes for both the Democrats and Republicans promises to be one of the most wide open in over a century. There is no presumptive nominee for either party. John Edwards, although not enjoying "favored son" status in North Carolina, could surpass the expectations of many experts and become the Democratic nominee.

(David McLennan is a professor of communication and political science at Peace College in Raleigh.)

Everyone who has declared...or is considered to be 'seriously considering'...must have a set group of philosophical phrases and 30-second sound bites, and about all the topics that the nightly news churns out to us ad nauseum. All candidates presume we can still be it all, do it all, and lead it all. As bad as we Americans want to buy that, I'm not sure we all can anymore. While it may be hard to be humble 'when you're perfect in every way' (to quote a famous Mac Davis country tune of the same words), it's equally difficult to have unrestrained pride in efforts we now are questioning. The doubts are clearly there, and they certainly should be thoroughly examined.

We have truly stagnant pools of leadership, and that in and of itself will cause the populace to no longer pay attention, no longer care, and no longer work toward the larger, national goals we so desperately need addressed. At this point in this stage of The American Adventure, we need anyone of some strong leadership qualities to step up and steady this ever-rollicking and fractious ship. Where we go from here lies largely on where we think we've come from, and even where we're at...if any of us can take a good 'measurement' of that. I'm actually looking for someone that has all of the elements that McLennan thinks Edwards has/can possess, but is willing to be a one-termer for the sake of the country. We don't necessarily need a sacrificial lamb per se, but we do need an undaunted, overworking, and thoroughly relentless disciplinarian to get us back up to an even keel. Anything less than competent and diplomatic just won't do it; Lord knows we know what the reverse can bring us. And while I love the enthusiasm that both Obama and Edwards possess, I'm not sure either man is willing to give up himself that much. And I feel deep down, in the very fibers of my being, that the others running (so far) sure as hell won't.

I don't know if it will be Edwards, Clinton, McCain, Obama, Giuliani or some candidate to be named later, but it's time for us to start examining the horses in the race and developing a betting strategy. Sadly, we have no 'vote of confidence' option in our leader like those countries spearheaded with a Prime Minister, and until this President, I've never readily endorsed such an option. As bad as this sounds, I think if we did it just this instance we may be a happier constituency. At least we could know somebody with a different strategy was having a go of it, and that's gotta be better than the status quo of Dubya et al. Until then, though, we're just left praying things don't deteriorate..everywhere...more, that the 'right' candidate for most of us will emerge (I'm also starting to doubt if this country can handle yet another nail-biting ender for the Presidential campaign), and that we only continue to gain strength and wisdom as we count down the remaining days.

And cheer up people: as of today, we've got only another 745 days to go.

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