DETROIT –

Mira Levitan

If Sunday night’s Democratic presidential candidate debate is any indication, George W. Bush is going to be a two-term president. Instead of offering anything of substance to voters, the candidates typically responded to the questions by attacking the president. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe tried to spin the debate as well as he could to reporters after it ended, but under his watch, the party’s future looks bleaker and bleaker the more its candidates speak. It’s still possible that one of the candidates will hit his stride, but next Nov. 3 could be an ugly day for Democrats.

The candidacy that best exemplifies these faults is that of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. He is an attractive, charismatic, moderate Southern Democrat in his first term. In many ways, he represents the future of the party. The problem is that his candidacy is tanking. When he first announced he was going to run for president, polls showed Edwards at the front of the pack. Now he is in the single digits, running behind former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun in a recent Newsweek poll. What happened?

A number of factors have contributed to Edwards’s downward slide. The conventional wisdom is that during such a serious time in the country’s history, voters will not look favorably upon an inexperienced candidate such as Edwards. It’s just not the right time for him to be running. This may have some truth to it, but more likely, the Edwards campaign is not clicking with voters for other reasons.

For one, he is trying to run his campaign right out of the Bill Clinton playbook. He talks about feeling people’s pain and making a personal connection with voters. The problem is that John Edwards acts like Bill Clinton without any substance. Bill Clinton had style, but he also presented voters with a unified set of ideas and proposals. Edwards has policy booklets that you can download on his website, such as the 64-page “Real Solutions for America” and his “Cities Rising” initiative. I looked at the section of “Real Solutions for America” that deals with job creation. It looked to me like something a college-age political volunteer wrote between classes. Then, during the debate in Detroit, volunteers passed around a sheet of paper explaining that “Edwards has always opposed (the North American Free Trade Agreement).” That doesn’t sound like Bill Clinton to me. It takes only a quick glance at Edwards’s website to realize that his economic program is a nonsensical mess.

Edwards also begins every statement he makes by saying that his father was a mill worker and his mother worked for the U.S. Postal Service. He talks about working his way through college and how that makes him a better candidate than old money types like Howard Dean and John Kerry. There may be some truth to this, but Edwards is a multimillionaire being funded by large campaign donations, not the $75 contributions going to Dean. According to Edwards’ logic, his own children would not make good presidential candidates because they grew up wealthy. Besides, the president who helped out the average man more than any other was Franklin Roosevelt, no man of the people.

There’s an inconsistency on the Act as well. When asked by questioner Huel Perkins during the debate if it is inconsistent for him to be such a vocal opponent of the Patriot Act when he not only voted for it but helped to write it, Edwards responded, “The attorney general of the United States (John Ashcroft) came before us and told us that he would not abuse his discretion. He has abused his discretion.” I hope if he were elected president he would be a little more skeptical.

His Iraq policy makes even less sense. Edwards voted in favor of the Iraqi war resolution, but then voted against the $87 billion to fund it. After railing against the president for trying to enrich his cronies during the reconstruction process, Edwards supported loans, not grants for Iraq. He demanded to be paid back by the Iraqis after criticizing the president for trying to make money off the war.

Some may say voters don’t focus on these types of inconsistencies, but Edwards’s declining poll numbers show that, at the very least, pandering is not working, neither for him nor his party.

Pesick can be reached at jzpesick@umich.edu.

 

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