The news generated by Edwards has been consistently good of late. Not earth-shattering, not race-changing, just good. His sharp populist message is breaking into the dominant media narrative, and he's challenging Clinton, making Obama seem suddenly less relevant.
Last week Obama was supposed to recapture his antiwar cred, but his "major policy address" fell flat. He couldn't even bring himself to support a timeline for withdrawal (a position he'd already taken!) Meanwhile Edwards bought time on MSNBC to rebut Bush's address on Iraq, stealing the week from Obama in terms of antiwar cred. The expensive, risky move brought Edwards good coverage. For example, he was included in a discussion on Larry King from which he otherwise would have been excluded. And what a discussion it was. For months we Edwards supporters have argued that the strength and clarity of his positions would produce political benefits. The Atlantic's James Fallows--who usually focuses on policy instead of politics--was taken aback as he saw the candidates anew.
Of the three Democratic responses to the president in this hour on CNN -- Jack Reed, Barack Obama, plus Edwards -- Edwards was by a mile the most impressive. To apply the Man from Mars perspective: if you'd heard of none of these politicians before, based on this sequence you'd immediately assume that Edwards was the dominant one from either party (including the actual president).
Reed was fine, and it's always good to have a West Point grad and former Army officer in this role. But he was long on "we Democrats will offer a plan" as opposed to very crisp arguments about what was wrong with the Bush plan.
Those crisp arguments were all, and only, what Edwards presented. I don't have a transcript, but the gist was: we're patrolling a civil war, nothing matters without political progress, and that's not happening; it's shameful to keep making the link to 9/11 that does not exist, etc. Compared with the last time I'd seen Edwards handling foreign policy questions on live TV, he has come a very long way in knowledgeability and confidence..
From Obama, the opposite surprise: when did he start sounding like a Senator? So many vagued-up sentences and so little pith?
Then this weekend the candidates went to Iowa for the Harkin Steakfry, which is a test of organization first and intensity of support second. By all accounts, no candidate had more supporters there than Edwards, and anyone who watched it on TV knows his supporters were the most vocal. Newsweek's Howard Fineman said he won the day. Don't get me wrong: I don't trust Fineman (although as mainstream jounalists go, he's pretty sharp.) But it's significant that the mainstream press, which has long treated this is as a two-person race, is waking up to discover a "convincing man of the people populist" with surprising "polish."
Like Fallows, Fineman was surprised to discover how unimpressive Obama was. Indeed, sitting at home in my living room, I saw few sparks. Iowa has always presented a challenge for Obama, and he seems not to be taking the necessary steps to mitigate his weaknesses there. For example, this week he's skipping the AARP forum in Davenport--a strange decision for someone lagging behind among seniors. And he's yet to present a comprehensive plan to fight rural poverty. At this relatively late date his support remains concentrated in cities and college towns--a recipe for a poor finish in a contest that rewards well-distributed support. Let me be the first to say what's on the tip of conventional opinion's tongue: Obama's in trouble in Iowa.
That's perhaps why Edwards seems more concerned with Clinton. Yesterday she planned to dominate the day with the release of her health care plan (a good plan for which the country should thank Edwards.) But Edwards crashed the picnic by announcing that on his first day in office he would present a bill that would take away the health insurance of Congresspeople unless they passed universal coverage. This confounded elitists and other non-populists. David Brooks said Edwards was shrill, and Obama supporters over at Kos were besides themselves, citing an amendment to the constitution (one that most of them had never heard of till that morning) in a desperate attempt to blunt the political force of Edwards's move. What Edwards was doing was good old-fashioned brassknucke politics--something Obama and his supporters neither understand nor like.
In the afternoon came the candidates' speeches to the SEIU, a powerful, politically active union, the only one that might endorse Obama. And after Obama thrilled the crowd with his speech (let's face it, the guy can bring it, occasionally), it seemed as if he might have stolen the endorsement away from Edwards. Then reality set in. Edwards rocked the house himself, and some actual reporting found that the passion for Edwards among the service workers is deep. Either Edwards gets SEIU or no one does.
Finally, today the Edwards campaign went after Hillary Clinton for--well, for being Hillary Clinton, a corporate Dem to the core. I'll let Joe Trippi tell you the bad news:
If you want to know why we need change in Washington - and I mean real change, not just trading corporate Republican insiders with corporate Democratic insiders - then just look at Senator Clinton's schedule for today. Today at noon, Hillary Clinton will be hosting a fundraiser in Washington, DC for a select group of lobbyists with an interest in homeland security.
Tickets for the Clinton fundraiser are $1,000 a ticket and $25,000 per bundler. And for that money you get more than a meal - you get to attend one-hour breakout sessions in four different areas of homeland security that will include House Committee Chairs and members of Congress who sit on the very committees that will be voting on homeland security legislation.
Today's Clinton fundraising event is a "poster child" for what is wrong with Washington and what should never happen again with a candidate running for the highest office in the land.
That no one in the Clinton campaign - including the candidate - found anything wrong with holding this fundraiser is an indication of just how bad things have gotten in Washington - because there isn't an American outside of Washington who would not be sickened by it.
Just last month, John Edwards asked Senator Clinton to join him in taking the Democratic Party on the first step towards real reform - to become the first party to refuse and reject the money of Washington lobbyists.
But one of the nice things about being an establishment pol like Clinton is that when populists criticize you, an establishment journalist like Ben Smith comes to your aid. Here Smith, who's clearly in awe of Clinton's political skills, "tsk-tsks" Edwards for going negative, calls him "angry," and claims without evidence that this is a gift to Hillary. Never mind assessing the substance of the charge. And feel free to ignore the polls suggesting that this is a huge vulnerability for Hillary. Just keep on doing her bidding, BS. Maybe she'll give you an interview if and when you help her get elected. You're so far up the establishment's ass you can't see daylight, much less the truth.