Steve Chapman

But his seemingly brave positions are ones that will do nothing to hurt him in the primaries. He's in favor of programs to encourage education in poor countries. He's against negotiating with the Hamas government in Gaza. He rejects "amnesty" for illegal immigrants but favors "an earned path to citizenship."

He excels, meanwhile, at the old-fashioned Democratic strategy of promising to shower voters with benefits at someone else's expense. Edwards is a fountain of ideas for what the government can do to solve every conceivable problem -- paying for the first year of college for any student willing to take a part-time job, raising pay for teachers in rural schools and eradicating poverty.

But when it comes to paying for all this, he is short on suggestions. Universal health care, a position paper says, "will be funded principally by repealing the Bush tax cuts," though apparently he means only those benefiting the wealthy. He also talks about raising the tax rate on capital gains, but he hasn't decided by how much.

His campaign says he won't increase the deficit, but Edwards says reducing it is not his top priority. That's a contrast from the candidate of 2004, who promised to "get us back on the path to a balanced budget." Then, he said, "We have a moral responsibility not to leave trillions of debt to our children and our grandchildren."

But he concludes his remarks this evening without explaining his change of heart on the deficit, and proceeds to shake hands, accept good wishes and sign an autograph. With a car waiting for him, he strides away from the gazebo, at which point you might notice what sits atop it: A weather vane.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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