It’s time to take a serious look at John Edwards - - again.
Capitalizing on the “anybody-but-Hillary” wave that swept over Hawkeye State Democrats last Thursday, former Senator and Vice Presidential Candidate Edwards emerged as a second-place winner in the Iowa caucuses. He achieved this despite his comparatively low levels of campaign funds, and a campaign organization that perils in comparison to that of both his first place rival Barack Obama, and the opponent who now in some sense “trails” him, former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
And given this, and given the highly unpredictable nature of this entire campaign cycle, it’s worthwhile to consider anew what an Edwards presidency might look like.
First, on military matters and foreign affairs, Mr. Edwards would enter the White House having pledged to end within his first eleven months in office, the very war that he voted to support in 2003 when he was a Senator. Similar to his former presidential running mate John Kerry, Edwards has the dubious distinction of having “voted for the war,” before he choked-up, quivered his lip, apologized, and vowed to help “end it.” The “repent and change your ways” approach has been a viable campaign strategy for Edwards, but it could make for some rough going after inauguration day.
Among his rivals Obama and Clinton, Edwards seems to have successfully positioned himself as the “most anti-war” candidate. And while this seems to have given Edwards significant appeal with the extreme, pacifist left-wing of his party, it doesn’t make for a successful presidential administration.
The problem for a “President Edwards” would be found in the reality that, rightly or wrongly, the United States will need and want to have some level of military presence in Iraq for years, if not decades to come. Given the stabilizing effect of last year’s “troop surge,” and given that by the middle of 2008 the Bush Administration will likely have significantly scaled-back the number of troops in Iraq anyway, the notion of an on-going military presence in that region is becoming less of a problem to all but the most radical and far-left leaning in the Democratic Party. President Edwards, needing to behave like an actual President and not just a left-wing candidate, would thus inevitably renege on his pledge made in Iowa, and therefore chip away at his own credibility just a bit.
On domestic and economic issues, a President Edwards would likely face even steeper challenges. Thus far, Edwards has preached about “economic justice” for the poor and the middle class, identifying legitimate problems with health insurance costs, college tuition increases, and rising fuel and oil prices. Unfortunately, while identifying people’s real problems Edwards has not so much led them to any real solutions, as much as he has fanned the flames of class warfare.
Are you struggling financially? Can’t seem to move up the socioeconomic ladder? It’s all because certain wealthy people and powerful corporations are doing bad things to you - - according to candidate Edwards. And when Edwards becomes President, he’s going to “get even” with those bad people, and take things away from them and give them back to the rightful owner - - you.
But the politics of envy only goes so far. It’s one thing to preach to the fearful and the risk-adverse on the campaign trail, and to demonize corporations and private business owners on the way to the White House. It is yet another thing to actually be President, and to oversee the world’s largest economy that is wholesale reliant upon the willingness of entrepreneurs to take risks, and upon corporations that employee people.
President Edwards would thus likely find it difficult to deploy his redistributionist economic plans to the extent that he intends to, and would instead be faced with the need to implement economic policies that actually help sustain the private sector economy. Such policies would again likely disappoint many of the voters he is garnering during this present campaign cycle, and would again likely raise doubts about his credibility.
The sad irony of Mr. Edwards’ class warfare politics is that he himself is a part of the very sector of society he rages against - - the wealthy. He rightly argues that it is no sin to be wealthy, but at times there seems to be a disconnect between his personal reality, and that of the people he purports to serve.
He’ll lecture on a college campus about the immorality of tuition hikes, then bill the university $30,000 or more for his speech. And as much as he preaches about the evils of the healthcare industry today, before he was a politician he unearthed millions of dollars from that same industry as a lawyer, and amassed a multi-million dollar fortune for somebody special - - himself.
Should there actually be a President John Edwards in our future, it will make for an interesting intersection between enflamed campaign rhetoric, and presidential reality.