North Carolina's favorite one-term senator had long since theatrically discarded his suit jacket -- better to see you have no tie, my dear -- and ostentatiously rolled up his sleeves when he pulled out the biggest populist groaner in his revamped arsenal.
"If someone in your community out in rural New Hampshire -- or, in my case, rural North Carolina -- wants to raise a barn, we don't say, 'We'll watch you from the sidelines,'" John Edwards told the few hundred gathered at an elementary school in Portsmouth for his presidential campaign kick-off. "That's not America. That's not who we are."
One can forgive Edwards for mistaking "America" for the "Amish." After all, both begin with "Am" and both probably look confoundingly similar from Edwards' perch atop his 100 acre Chapel Hill plantation, where I'm sure Edwards and his neighbors spent untold days tugging up the walls of his multi-million dollar mansion.
Nevertheless, I'd be shocked if a New Hampshire barn has been raised by anyone other than some chic liberal's favorite contractor as a rustic accoutrement in the last thirty years. The pristine finished rooms of such barns are no doubt at this very moment filled with the wives of doctors, lawyers and professors; wives who have recently decided to dabble in some bourgeoisie artistic endeavor in the hours between Oprah episodes and dinner parties: John Edwards' base, in other words.
The audience applauded this abject barn raising fiction all the same, as if they would ever dirty their hands raising a barn; as if, indeed, they believed Edwards ever would. At any rate, (Still Just A Senator) John Kerry's 2004 sidekick worked diligently to maintain this faux communitarian spirit. "I'm talking about all of us -- all of us, you and me -- taking individual responsibility for America," Edwards said. The gist of this new Not-The-Two-Americas speech is an appeal to people not to expect that "the next person who gets elected will solve our problems." Hence, the slogan Tomorrow Begins Today. "Don't do it for me," Edwards pleaded. "I'm dead serious. Don't do this for me. Do it for yourselves. Do it for your family. And do it for this country you love so much."
It just so happens "it" is all in the context of a campaign to get John Edwards elected President of the United States -- coincidental, I'm sure. Occasionally, though, even Edwards lost his own selfless narrative thread. When an elderly woman encouraged him to support price controls -- "Rent goes up. Medicine goes up. Everything goes up. So why give us a raise?" she asked -- Edwards gave the perfunctory vapid answer and turned it back on her.
"My question for you is: Are you going to help make me president so I can do these things for you?" he said. "If you want my help, I need your help in the process."
This flirtation with rugged individualism was a short affair, indeed.
JOHN EDWARDS' VOICE was booming throughout the room, but he was nowhere to be seen. Perky young Edwards apparatchiks had been gushing earlier about the senator's plan to lessen the separation between him and The People by speaking from a centerpiece podium, so I assumed this was some kind of grand entrance until a senior aide flurried through telling us, "The Senator is speaking outside. A thousand people couldn't get in." Incredulous, I bit anyway, but outside Edwards was speaking to fewer than one hundred.
I cannot state unequivocally these rumored thousand individuals were invented. If they existed, however, it was a Rapture-esque disappearing. The dismissal of anyone was unnecessary, though. As reporters roamed like free-range chickens throughout more than half of the gymnasium cordoned off for them, audience members were needlessly packed into a sardine tin. Union members bused in from Massachusetts and key New Hampshire politicians, of course, were hustled past the peons and given preferential seating.
Catering to politicians, unions and the media while The People â"¢ are left standing in the cold New England air is an interesting launch for such a class conscious pseudo-populist campaign, but it was not without its logic: If Edwards people had adjusted the plastic cordon line back three feet to accommodate all comers, every major newspaper in the country could not have used variations on the same ready-made headline, "Overflow Crowds Greet Edwards!"
THOSE WHO SAY John Edwards doesn't have the foreign policy credentials to lead the nation in a time of global war obviously haven't noticed the bracelet he wears to express solidarity with Sudanese refugees in Darfur. (Don't worry. He isn't shy about pointing it out.) Actually, if Edwards primary foreign policy goal weren't surrender in Iraq, I'd assume Elizabeth augmented this year's stocking full of Wendy's gift certificates -- you know, the fast food joint where John, Elizabeth and a few dozen of their favorite media sycophants spend the Edwards' wedding anniversary -- with a Weekly Standard subscription.
"If we want to be safe and we want the world to be safe, we have to provide that stabilization. We -- America," Edwards, international interventionist, said. He added: "As the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, we don't just have a responsibility to us. We have a responsibility to humanity."
Call Edwards' imperialism Inverted Imperialism: Wherever America is, she should not be. Wherever she is not, send her soon. He will boldly go where no Bush has gone before. We cannot get out of Iraq and into Sudan quickly enough, as if the problem in each country isn't the mass slaughter of innocents. We must confront Hezbollah but leave Iraqis to the sectarian wolves. North Korea and Iran are to be called out on the carpet, while Iraq, in shambles, should be left on its own to discover a "political solution," even as the most necessary ingredient of political compromise -- security -- remains elusive.
Principled military isolationism is fine, admirable, even. Attempting to build both national security and anti-war credentials simultaneously by abandoning one partisan intervention for another is grossly inhumane.
IT'S TIME TO ASK AMERICANS to be "patriotic about something other than war," Edwards said. Predictably, this entails adopting a statist, government-without-borders program.
The New Patriotism means submitting to universal health care, even though when pressed for details on his plan, Edwards demurs, "It's not finished with it yet, so I can't tell you exactly what it is." It's adopting the Al Gore National Panic Program approach to global warming. It's eliminating global poverty. It's accepting McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform was "a half measure" that showed there was "only one solution" to this crisis of Americans being able to voice opinions that hurt politicians feelings: "If you really believe in the grassroots," Edwards said. "If you believe in real democracy, it's time we publicly finance our campaigns." Who knew the First Amendment was what was standing in the way of "real democracy" all along?
Speaking of half measures, Edwards got himself booed after a bit of cowardly waffling on the "single hardest social issue" that has caused "a lot of personal struggle" and made it difficult for him to "cross that bridge" to gay marriage.
Still, Edwards insists, "There is a role for government, but my view is there is a bigger role for local institutions and local community action groups, because that's where the real work is being done."
So the government is going to end global poverty, provide health care to every American, extensively regulate political campaigns, trade in Iraq for big "D" Democratic entangling conflicts elsewhere and yet still play a smaller role than local community action groups? Are we counting California as a local community action group now or will we under the reign of Edwards the Benevolent subsidize such groups to the point where they can hire staffs the size of that state's population?
Banish such cynicism, friends.
"It was wonderful, better than I expected," Elyse Barry told the Portsmouth Herald. "I love his values. I'm not sure our whole country is ready for his very humanistic values, but it really resonates with me."
Ah, the bane of John Edwards supporters' lives: Existing as such highly evolved humanitarian buck-passers in a country full of retrograde disagreeables.
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