The 1930s paradigm has been refuted by four decades of experience. The new paradigm is of behavior-driven poverty that results from individuals' nonmaterial deficits. It results from a scarcity of certain habits and mores -- punctuality, hygiene, industriousness, deferral of gratification, etc. -- that are not developed in disorganized homes.
Edwards, who does not recognize the name James Q. Wilson, may have missed this paradigm shift. Many people in public life, and almost all those with presidential ambitions, are too busy for the study and reflection necessary for mastering any subject.
In 2000, just his second year in the Senate -- his second year in public life -- Edwards was on the short list of finalists to be Al Gore's running mate. Edwards' appetite was whetted and he began the peripatetic scurrying around that preceded his run for the 2004 presidential nomination. He lost but was the last man standing against John Kerry, and he can torment himself with plausible thoughts about how, with this or that tactical move, he could have won the Iowa caucuses -- he finished second, with 31.9 percent of delegate strength to Kerry's 37.6 percent -- and the nomination.
When Democrats wonder what red states Hillary Clinton could turn blue in 2008, the wondering does not help Edwards, whose presence on the 2004 ticket did not sway his own state: In 2000, Bush beat Gore-Lieberman in North Carolina 56-43. In 2004, Bush beat Kerry-Edwards here 56-44. And Democrats know that Gore might now be in his second term if he had carried his home state.
Edwards says one lesson of 2004 is that presidential elections "are not issue-driven"; rather, they are character-driven and voters see issues as reflections of character. The issues "show people who you are." Perhaps.
But the idea that the candidate's persona is primary and that issues are secondary is a mistake made by some Democrats who yearn for another John Kennedy. He was a talented but quite traditional politician, whom many Democrats wrongly remember as proving that charisma trumps substantive politics. Edwards, who has been called Kennedy-esque, has a stake in that yearning.