In 2004, John Edwards ran an unsuccessful campaign for the presidency that tried to convince Americans that wealth and work were antonyms. Yesterday, the former North Carolina senator launched another bid for the nation's highest office, paying homage to the past while presenting a refurbished set of incoherent ideas.
Wearing jeans and an open-collared blue shirt, Edwards made the announcement in the backyard of a vacant house in a Katrina-ravaged section of New Orleans, a setting he chose because it "shows the two Americas that I have talked about in the past." But this isn't the past, and Edwards has learned a lot since his failed presidential and vice-presidential bids of 2004. "It's great to see a problem, and to understand it. It's more important to take action to do something about it." He describes his candidacy as a kind of call to arms for people to volunteer to help their communities and "to be patriotic about something beyond war."
What's ironic is that in his speech Edwards unintentionally made a strong case for small-government conservatism even though his prescription for the nation is big government liberalism.
Conservatives have long argued that private charities are more effective at dealing with poverty than government bureaucrats. Edwards said yesterday that federal money allocated to Hurricane Katrina relief hasn't reached those in need, and explained that "you walk around in these neighborhoods, and what you'll hear is that most of the good that has been done in New Orleans has been done by faith-based groups, charitable groups, and volunteers."
In an unorthodox statement for someone announcing a run for the White House, he said that "if we wait for the next election and we stand by and hope that the next person that's elected president is going to solve all our problems for us, we are living in a fantasy world."
It may be "fantasy world" to expect the president to solve people's problems, but somehow that didn't stop Edwards from rolling out a list of campaign promises that includes "providing universal healthcare to all Americans," "solving global warming," and "eliminating poverty."
When asked by a reporter about his lack of foreign policy experience, Edwards responded that experience was overrated. "We've had one of the most experienced foreign policy teams in American history. Rumsfeld. Cheney. They've been an absolute disaster by any measure."
Edwards mentioned the genocide in Sudan, the North Korean and Iranian nuclear threats, and the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict among the crises that the United States needs to lead on, but doesn't have the moral standing in the world to do so.
While he tried to establish himself as knowledgeable about foreign affairs, the more he spoke the more he revealed his own ignorance. He said that "China's economic and military power is growing every single day, with very little being done about it by the United States of America," with the obvious implication that something should be done. But in answer to the same question, he added that "America needs to be able to engage and bring the rest of the world with us to deal with those crises. Instead, we encounter resistance when we go to the Security Council on all of these issues."
Anybody with even a limited understanding of foreign affairs knows that the primary source of "resistance" on the Security Council is China. Only in Edwardsville can America expect to impede the economic and military progress of China while winning China's support at the United Nations for policies it opposes.
While, on its merits, an Edwards candidacy should be considered dead on arrival, some have argued that his name recognition, strong showing in Iowa in 2004, and likely union support give him a chance to win the Democratic nomination. However, should Barack Obama enter the race, as is now widely expected, it's difficult to see how Edwards can compete.
While Edwards attracted attention in 2004 for his sunny optimism and personal charm, Obama will be the fresh face this time around. Obama will eat into Edwards' support among black voters, the predominant group in the very neighborhood of New Orleans that Edwards chose as the site to announce his candidacy. While Edwards has disavowed his vote for the Iraq War, Obama opposed the war all along. And with just one term in the Senate, it will be hard for Edwards to make the case that he's any more qualified than Obama.
If Edwards wants to be president, he better try running in the other America.
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