Edward's superficial optimism

Posted: Jan 23, 2004 12:00 AM

No sooner than the media were heaping praise on Senator John Edwards for the positive tone of his campaign, an Edwards campaign document surfaced revealing specific plans to attack other candidates. So is Edwards committed to positive campaigning, or not?

I think not, but not because of the silly campaign document the media are buzzing about. It's his negative message that ought to grab our attention, but so far he's been able to camouflage it with a sunny smile and his outwardly gracious tone toward his opponents.

No doubt, on the surface Edwards exudes a positive, optimistic image, even defying logic at times. I remember watching a reporter interview him not long ago and actually ask him whether he was serious about continuing with his campaign, given his poor showing to that point. Edwards appeared to be completely unfazed by the challenge and answered cheerily, if somewhat defiantly, that he was going all the way, no matter what.

But when Edwards rocketed to an unexpected second-place performance in Iowa, his irrational optimism all of a sudden began to seem more rational. Such is the volatile nature of politics, especially primary politics.

You could feel the genuine exuberance in Edwards' tone in his post-election speech. He said his "positive optimistic vision of hope" resonated with Iowans, who finally heard it during the last week of the campaign. He was given a further lift by the media, who were greatly impressed by his eloquence and sanguinity. It was as if the media were slapping themselves for being slow on the uptake concerning Howard Dean's negativity and unlikeability and trying to make up for it by anointing Edwards as the Democrats' new anti-Dean.

Then, out of the blue, ABC reported that an official "John Edwards for President" precinct campaign packet contained instructions to Edwards caucus-goers to attack his opponents. Dean was to be described as a "Park Avenue elitist from New York City" who balanced his Vermont budgets "on the backs of the poor and sick." They were to paint Kerry as one having "the stale record of a Washington insider" who "has been part of the failed Washington politics for too long." Wesley Clark was to be derided for having praised the president's "neo-conservative foreign policy team."

Upon hearing about this potential destroyer of his positive aura, Edwards denied his awareness of the document -- notwithstanding his signature on it -- and instructed his "staff not to do anything like that again." Of course, after denying he signed it and essentially blaming it on his staff, he said, curiously, that he takes full responsibility for it. Translation: "I didn't do it, so don't hold me accountable. In fact, give me extra points for paying lip service to taking responsibility for it."

Jay Carson, from the Dean campaign, said, "It's unfortunate that they say that they're running a positive campaign and yet it appears that they're working from the same dirty tricks playbook as the other Washington candidates."

Well, I certainly believe that Edwards is conducting a negative campaign, but not in the way his opponents mean it. His message is not one of hope and optimism but abject class warfare, characterizing America as two different countries, one for the haves and the other for the have-nots. He doesn't appeal to people's hope and optimism but their despair and envy. He talks not of an American dream, of America as a land of opportunity, but as a place where the less fortunate can only improve their lot through the coercive power of a socialistic, wealth-redistributing government.

But dirty tricks? Give me a break. Dirty politics is when you lie about your opponents, such as when Democrats said that Republicans wanted to starve school children.

There is nothing wrong with candidates pointing out the hypocrisy, unflattering attributes and flawed policies of their opponents. In our shallow, non-thinking culture, however, it is considered dirty politics for a candidate to tell the truth about the negative qualities of his opponents (information that, if true, might be useful to voters). And a candidate is hailed as positive and optimistic when he smiles a lot -- even though he's trying to divide America in half in the process. Whatever happened, by the way, to the Democrats' stated aversion to divisiveness?

Senator Edwards, from what I can tell, has not been exposed as a dirty campaigner, but as a phony pretender to optimism. There is nothing positive about his message. Lurking behind that smile is a destructive message that, if implemented, would devastate America.