KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- John Edwards is angry, and he wants people to know it. Republicans complain of Democratic class warfare all the time. It's usually an overwrought charge. But Edwards is the real thing. His message is resentful, confrontational and paranoid, verging on the openly hateful. And Iowa audiences are loving it.
Edwards is like a stand-up comedian who has honed his act down to the most effective material. In the case of the comedian, all that's left is laughs; in the case of Edwards, almost all that is left is unbridled hostility. His campaign pitch is a well-polished mailed fist aimed at the gut of the establishment, defined by Edwards as heartless, money-grubbing corporations.
"This corporate greed is killing the middle class, killing American jobs and it is stealing your children's future," Edwards tells a rapt crowd of a couple hundred people in the lobby of a high school here.
The reason we don't have universal health coverage, according to Edwards, is "very simple" -- the drug companies and insurance companies oppose it. In fact, everything is "very simple" to him. In his down-home Manichaean vision, dark corporate forces are responsible for everything he doesn't like.
This is a worldview that doesn't allow for legitimate differences of opinion. On the one side is "the glorification of corporate greed," and on the other are the people willing to fight it -- everyone in between is either a tool or a coward. Battle lines drawn, Edwards' vision bristles with evocations of power. The people will have to wield the "sovereign power" of the country against corporations that will only "give their power away when we take their power away from them."
The traction he's been getting is a sign that Iowans weary of the lover Obama have been drawn to the hater Edwards. The former North Carolina senator doesn't invoke hate, but he comes close. He tells his audience FDR said that "those people who hate me, I enjoy their hate. Bring it on." Hate me and I'll hate you in return, Edwards seems to be saying.
If Obama talks of cross-partisan understanding, Edwards talks of revenge: "What we have to do with these people is we have to treat them exactly as they have treated you." Which will have to be quite excoriating since corporations are supposedly impoverishing ordinary people and stealing their children's future. Edwards assures the audience that his crusade isn't driven by cool rationality, but by gut-level emotion: "It is very personal to me."