If Edwards Were Obama...Or Vice Versa

David Corn: Even though they both do have overlapping messages of reform, their respective cases are self-hindered.
This post, written by David Corn, originally appeared on David

The other day, I noted that John Edwards' recent swings at Hillary Clinton had a whiff of silliness and/or desperation to them. He has equated her position on the Iraq war (create a plan for troops withdrawal once elected) with support for continuing the war, and Edwards blasted her for laughing at the economic dislocation caused by Nafta when she had merely chuckled at a reference to a quasi-infamous debate on Nafta between billionaire Ross Perot and then-Vice President Al Gore. But this is not to say that there is no argument for Edwards to make. Yesterday, he summed up his case against HRC:
I saw that Senator Clinton gave a speech that talked about change versus status quo, and I agree that that's what this election will be about. But I believe if you defend the system in Washington as Senator Clinton does, you're for the status quo. If you want to continue the occupation in Iraq, you're for the status quo. If you're not willing to stand up to Bush and Cheney on Iran, then you're for the status quo.
We need change very badly. When I'm president, I will shake things up and end the corruption in Washington and say no to donations from federal lobbyists. I will end the U.S. occupation of Iraq. We need a leader with the strength to stand up and refuse to go along with the Bush Administration's aggressions against Iran. And as much as Senator Clinton attempts to blur the lines with this talk of change, I believe at the end of the day the American people understand the fundamental differences between the system she has chosen to defend and the change I will bring to America.
Aside from the reference to Clinton's alleged support for occupation in Iraq, this ain't a bad argument. And I take Edwards at his word when he says he's for overhauling Washington--and, as he has declared elsewhere, for addressing poverty in America.

But Edwards does have a problem. During his relatively short stint in public life--the six years he spent as a senator--he did not legislate or agitate as a full-throated, populist-minded agent of change. He was no Paul Wellstone. And when he was on the ticket in 2004 as John Kerry's veep choice, he did not rage against the Washington machine in such a manner. As a trial attorney, he indeed confronted powerful corporations in courtrooms. Yet his Washington career was not that of a rabble-rouser.

So he's caught on the wrong side of a fundamental political rule: it's better to show than tell. He now has to tell potential voters what sort of leader he will be if elected, when he did not as a senator show voters this.

The fellow who would have a better shot at presenting this sort of case would be Senator Barack Obama. Though he's been in the Senate only a short while, he has pushed for reform that would diminish the influence of lobbyists. And his past experience as a community organizer, civil rights attorney, and reformist state legislator is more in sync with a throw-the-rascals-out cry.
David Corn David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine.
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