John Edwards will need a virtuoso performance at tonight's debate to achieve
the dramatic come-from-behind win he needs to stay alive. He's facing an
opponent in Barack Obama who "http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/obama-wins-iowa-why-ever_b
_79663.html">proved with his amazing Iowa victory that he is an
extraordinary organizer, possibly a strategic genius, and above all an
inspiring presence who captured Iowans' hunger for change. And he's got
momentum. And let's not forget Hillary Clinton, who can count on lots of
money, a ruthless campaign operation, and real affection for her and Bill
Clinton in the state.
But Edwards can definitely win - with a slight retooling of his message.
- Give us a little hope
The first thing Edwards has to do is combine his anti-corporate message with
an inspiring vision of a hopeful future. "http://www.johnedwards.com/media/video/your-time-is-now/">Anti-corporate
attacks, though they strike a chord with many Democratic voters, can
only go so far. You also need to give voters a great hope that you can do
better, especially now that most Democrats and most Americans are feeling
excited about the possibility of real change that the Iowa result
represented. Obama has been very effective at wrapping himself in hope.
Reviving Edwards's successful 2004 speech line, "Hope is on the way," would
be a great start.
- Talk about Bringing People Together, but the Right People
Obama's message about "bringing people together" to achieve real change
clearly resonated with voters. But too often in the past, Obama has brought
together the wrong people: corporate executives and right-wing Republicans,
resulting in his support for items like expanding the North American Free
Trade Agreement to Peru, nuclear power, liquid coal, George Bush's 2005
energy bill (full of billions in subsidies to oil, coal, and nuclear
companies). Edwards needs to talk about bringing people together too, but
say that he's bringing ordinary Americans together to achieve the
transformative change this country needs. After all, Edwards is the guy who
somehow managed to win the endorsement of both the anti-coal Friends of the
Earth and the coal loving United Mine Workers
(in addition to the Steelworkers, Transport Workers, Carpenters and SEIU
locals), a really stunning Blue-Green alliance.
- It's about specifics, not about power
Especially of late, Edwards has resorted to broad oblique criticisms of his
opponents, saying for instance, that, "You can't nice these people to
death," a reference to Obama's repeated willingness to make massive
accommodations to corporate executives. These attacks are just to oblique
and lots of voters won't connect the dots. They really remind me of Howard
Dean's ineffective and overly raw "http://blog.4president.us/2004/howard_dean/index.html">paeans to power
in the last days of the 2004 Iowa caucus fight. Rather than saying that
Hillary Clinton is too close to lobbyists and Barack Obama is too
accommodating of the corporate executives responsible for America's
problems, Edwards has to show it. Obama's record is full of dangerous
capitulations to corporate executives (which I wrote about "http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glenn-hurowitz/the-perils-of-bringing-pe_b_76
673.html">here and "http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glenn-hurowitz/barack-obama-worlds-wor_b_6792
2.html">here). And Hillary Clinton directly lobbied to let International
Paper poison New Hamsphireites by burning tires. Also, when you criticize
on specifics rather than generalities, it usually seems like a sincere
comparison rather than a gratuitous attack. It seems like Edwards's
campaign is "http://www.mydd.com/story/2008/1/5/54023/41489">starting to talk more
specifics, but Edwards himself will have to do it himself to make the
message really resonate.
An Edwards win - or a very strong second place showing - is possible, but
it's going to take something big and new to make it happen.