2/2/08

I'd Almost Forgotten ... Why Edwards Lost
By: Mark W Adams


... in which I come to my senses, swallow my pride, switch off the idealistic streak ruling my brain from my heart, and come to terms with why John Edwards lost...

Taking a look at what Publius wrote, it reminded me of how I felt just before the Iowa Caucus -- that primary season, especially this one, was the best time of all for a political junkie.

Obsidian Wings:

It’s also quite fitting that, in the week before Super Tuesday, both camps are humming on all cylinders. They truly are at the top of their games right now. The debate, for instance, quite appropriately shifted from schoolyard antics to high-level policy discussions. And though this sounds cheesy, it was an honor to watch it. I haven’t enjoyed the debates this year, but the “runoff” debate last night was a different story. To see candidates of this caliber engaging one-one-one in a high-level substantive debate about the great issues of our day (e.g., Iraq and health care) was political junkie manna.

Aesthetically, it reminded me of boxing at its best. The classic boxing fights (e.g., Ali’s classics) pit two freakishly talented athletes against each other to fight it out in mankind’s oldest sport. Some think it’s barbaric, and they may be right. But from an amoral aesthetic perspective, it’s a thing of beauty. And the better the athletes, and the higher the stakes, the more true this becomes. And that’s how I felt about the debate. I watched two freakishly gifted candidates with professional, efficient, hardened campaign organizations fighting it out one-on-one for the most powerful prize in the world (and maybe in world history).
I indulged in the sports analogy as well, that this was the time of year when dynasties were built, players drafted and plans laid for future contests on a field of dreams. That is was a time to be savored, and remembered.
This is the time when the air is choking with anticipation. After Iowa, we'll know some things, but not everything, just like we know half the teams won't go undefeated after opening day. We'll know that some folks won't be going on with their presidential ambitions before they vote in New Hampshire, and the field will thin again after Florida, Michigan. Nevada and South Carolina. Bam! Bam! Just like that, they'll drop like flies, one after another.
The shock that my team is no longer playing is wearing off, and I had to be reminded that I always knew John Edwards was a long-shot. I just happened a week earlier than I was prepared for.
After SuperDuper Tuesday, we'll all know who will be running against whom in November, or at the very least have narrowed it down to no more than two on each side; one clear frontrunner for the Dems and GOP, and maybe a close second place candidate or two who is looking for a miracle and the endorsement of all the other losers who dropped out, just to keep it interesting.

They'll be plenty of games within games, smears, rumors, fact-checking, outrages, lies, spins, promises and pandering between now and then. People will vote and the scores will be tallied -- and the excitement will ebb and flow.

But right now, savor the moment my political junkie friends. There won't be this many candidates, this many possibilities, this many futures again for a long, long time.
I'm glad John got out when he did, purely for aesthetic reasons. Indeed, the phrase he stumbled over was exactly right. The sheer poetry of the epic battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would have been tainted with his involvement if he hadn't left the race, “so that history can blaze its path.

Edwards was always the underdog in this race, by design. My admiration for his principles is in no way diminished by knowing that his lack of funding, staff and media exposure was a deliberate decision by him to refuse the traditional and quite legally available mechanisms Clinton and Obama took advantage of to build their formidable machines.

Edwards led by example and I supported that 100%. Unfortunately this was the one initiative his rivals did not emulate as they absorbed almost every other policy position he offered. But it was indeed a purposeful decision that handicapped him at every turn. There certainly were legions of corporate bundlers out there who would be willing to toss him campaign some cash just to hedge their bets on the outcome even as John railed against their influence. Interestingly enough, their money is the same color as mine and spends just the same.

But he didn't want to be called a hypocrite, and I can't fault him for that.

Of course he was going to lose. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have created the most formidable political machines the world has ever seen. They are organized and disciplined and can avail themselves of every advantage possible, which should serve either of them well going into the general election and that's a good thing if you're a Democrat.

But John had four years to build an organization, FOUR YEARS, and he did a pretty good job in Iowa, but obviously not enough. Fortunately, his ideas did win, and in the long run that's what is most important.

One of the knock on John you saw in Wingnuttystan, where he was known affectionately as Silky Pony, was how he earned his millions. John took on cases, big cases against insurance companies and corporations that had screwed over the "little guy." Now I admit, when I hear at attorney advertisement that says something like, "serious injury or wrongful death cases only," something inside of me gets a little miffed, and I'm a lawyer. I understand and respect that this is how the game is played.

John knew those rules, played by those rules and got filthy rich from those rules. And now, much to his credit, he's giving back in other ways. As a solo practitioner, I knew I never had the resources to take on serious personal injury cases by myself, or be able to risk the time and money it takes to fund such cases on a contingent basis when I see verdicts as often as not awarding plaintiffs One Dollar after a full blown trial.

Funny thing about trial lawyers, they lose cases too. It's pretty hard to justify a gamble on a case where you spend months if not years developing a case, paying court reporters for depositions out of your own pocket, paying experts to take a look at the evidence, pay for their report and pay them to appear at trial. It's not surprising that when the occasional personal injury client walked through the door of my family law practice I would refer them out to a firm that specialized in their kind of case. Lawyers like John.

Edwards became a highly successful personal injury attorney by playing within the rules as they were set up, and I don't see a damn thing wrong with that. I deplore the misnomer, "trial lawyer," because I was never what one would consider a trial lawyer as it is commonly used -- but I tried a case or two. Who else but personal injury attorneys can we count on for justice against a system rigged to put profits over people -- the government? Don't make me laugh.

But when it came to mounting an effort to win the highest office in the land, the highest in the world -- John Edwards decided he was too good to get his hands dirty and fund the effort the same way everybody else did. Noble as it was to take this approach, no one should be surprised that it failed.

Did he really think that he could rely on his loyal supporters at Daily Kos to put aside their "important work" bickering in the comment section of some obscure "your candidate sucks, mine's great" diary and go out there and really organize and really raise enough money to fund a legitimate threat to the hundred-million-dollar machines Clinton and Obama put on the field?

Of course not, because John Edwards isn't stupid. You might be, I probably am, but I don't think he's that dumb. This thing wasn't over in Iowa. This thing was over when Joe Trippi couldn't replicate the Howard Dean miracle money machine in the first quarter of last year.

And it's a shame too, that he didn't fight to win. He was a better debater than Obama or Hillary, had better ideas, was a riveting a speaker without being preachy or shrill, and in a perfect world, would have won on ideas alone.

6 Comments:

arubyan said...

Good post. A couple of thoughts:

Ideas don't win. Candidates win. Ideas are things that ignite the imagination and stimulate emotions. Emotions move people who then vote for (and contribute to) a candidate...or not.

Speaking of contributions, when a candidate raises $32 million in one month from mostly small donors (i.e.,no visible bundling) is he really operating a "machine" in the traditional sense?

Lastly, Edwards had the misfortune of running in a race where the messengers were the message. He did good, but it wasn't his year.

arubyan said...

I almost forgot: blaming the media for losing? You like pro basketball, right? Blaming the media is like blaming the other team for working the refs better than you. And while you're screaming (and getting called for a technical) they're end up dancing off the floor with the trophy.

At some point, you get to play another game, or campaign another day, and you better adjust your game because the refs are always right.

In that sense, it's their game, not yours. No matter how pretty your dunk shot is (see LeBron in upper right corner -- gosh, where's his RING?) it's all about doing what it takes to win, baby.

Mark W Adams said...

Quit picking on me and LeBron and go recommend my Kos diary of this ya big ref bully you.

:^P

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/2/2/6346/94508/310/448189

Much as I've learned to hate Daily Kos, it's there blogosphere

Mark W Adams said...

And where'd I blame the media for losing. This whole thing is about Edwards being solely responsible for not going after the cash.

If he had been up there with HilObama in the money primary, the media would have taken him more seriously and he could have bought more time on their stinking networks, which means they'd treat him like a high roller.

He raised more than Kerry or Dean or anybody last go round, but this is a new century, and he needed more.

You are right about the messengers being the message though.

(and btw, I have it on good authority that Michelle Obama prints her own money -- Oprah taught her. Shhhh)

BruceMcF said...

I think he fought to win his policy platform ... which is a much harder slog than merely fighting to win an elected position.

And I say so in a lot more tedious detail in Monday's Burning the Midnight Oil, already filled with oil and alight.

However, while I disagree with what you say, sirrah, I will fight until it is time to fall asleep for your right to say it.

Michael said...

Edwards is still going to be here in 2012, and 2016 -- he's a good guy. I think it's smart for him to take the longer view and play the game using new rules; he did change Hillary and Obama's campaigns for the better, and I know we haven't seen the last of him.

And this way, he changed the debate without being beholden to anybody. It's perfect, really.