Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Two Americas vs 300 Million Kings = One Candidacy DOA

John Edwards has been giving a variaton on his "Two Americas" speech for several years. On the left, it's praised as brave truth-telling. On the right, it's ignored or derided as a call to class war while Edwards is mocked because he looks like a game-show host. It's a crappy speech. Too bad for Edwards that even if he bags it right now, the sentiment it embodies will shadow him for the rest of his political life

At the moment Edwards is a front-runner to become the Democratic nominee for President. He may yet earn the nomination. I don't think he will. I am sure that if he becomes the nominee he will lose the race for the White House.

Whether or not you agree with Edward's stated belief that there are two Americas, one that does the work and another that reaps the rewards of that work is immaterial. Whether or not it's the objective truth or a lie is immaterial. Edwards will lose because American's don't, despite everything you've ever heard, vote against anything. They vote for themselves.

I call it the Aspirational Voting tendency of Americans. It boils down to this. All Americans believe that they're middle class, no matter how rich or how poor they might be. They also believe that they will one day become rich, no matter how poor or already rich they are. Unless they are standing in line for food stamps when they hear the Two Americas speech, they hear a message that Edwards will either soak them for taxes, or toss up a road block to their otherwise inevitable wealth.

If Edwards wants to fight a war on poverty--and really, who does't?--he should look to the Huey Long play book. Sure, Long famously became the Governor of Louisiana on a "soak the rich" platform. But when he gave a speech analagous to "Two Americas" he titled it, "Every Man a King." His campaign song shared the title and repeated the line in the chorus. What American can argue with that sentiment? Isn't that the principle of Jeffersonian democracy? All men, kings and drunken bums, are created equal? Every man a king. I suppose the values equation also suggests that every king is a drunken bum, but that's fine with me.

While the underlying message Long conveyed is essentially the same as Edward's speech, the overarching theme that he hammered home is one of unity, not duality. This rhetoric wins elections. Remember, George Bush gained the White House by claiming to be a "uniter not a divider." Despite this fact, electorial politics 101 really, Edwards ignores the tactic. Right there in the title of his most famous speech he says implicitly that if you are not poor, then you subjugate the poor. You are a despot. Low-wage laborers who pay an elevated tax rate because they don't have the means to hire a clever accountant, because they have no way to shelter their earnings, or because you, high-wage earner, eviscerated the school system with your demands for low property taxes, carry you on their bowed backs. The hell of it is that Edwards is telling a species of truth here. But it is a truth that makes many people feel shitty about themselves. Only sick, self-loathing, people pull the voting lever for a guy who makes them feel like a greedy monster. The self-loathing block may represent a core constituency of the Democratic Party, but it won't provide enough votes to win the office

One the other end of it, he is saying that the poor have no pride or dignity of their own. Only John Edwards can bestow it on them. That's why he's making poorly considered speeches.

He's doomed.

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