old women like john edwards too August 30, 2007Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, news, politics.
When he is finished, the people clap and whoo-hoo and head up to shake his hand and hug Elizabeth. A gray-haired woman in front of me, who wears a blouse covered with Harley-Davidson logos, is cheering as hard as anyone, so I tap her on the shoulder. When she turns, I can suddenly see the tears welling up in her eyes. I apologize for intruding and say, “He touched you, didn’t he?” She nods. “And she did too,” she says. Her name is Donna Ward, and she works in a mousetrap factory. “I’ve made up my mind,” she says. “He’s my man. He knows exactly what we want.” When I ask her what impressed her most, she can’t point to anything in particular. She’s quiet for a moment, then says, “It’s more the whole feeling.”
Another challenge is that much of the attention he’s gotten recently has been the unflattering kind, stories that question his sincerity and assail his image as a fighter for the little guy by focusing on his pricey haircuts, huge house and hedge-fund job. These viral attacks, spreading from the Drudge Report and other blogs to newspapers everywhere, make a dumb argument. They assume that someone who’s wealthy can’t be a sincere advocate for poor and working people. By that logic, the healthy can’t speak on behalf of the sick, or whites on behalf of people of color. But in politics, of course, dumb arguments can hurt you, which is why some Edwards aides urged him not to build such a big house. Their effort failed because the Edwardses—having battled cancer and lost a son, Wade, in an automobile accident 11 years ago, when he was 16—wanted to enjoy the luxuries they could afford. “We live our lives,” says Elizabeth. “We’re not pretending to be anything we’re not. People have said, Don’t do this or that. How would it look? But I honestly don’t know how much time I’ve got. So we’re going to live our lives.”
Here’s what would truly be hypocritical: if Edwards spoke out on behalf of the disadvantaged while pushing policies that benefit the rich. This he does not do. He favors boosting the capital-gains tax rate for families earning over $250,000 and closing the loophole that allows fund managers—like those at Fortress Investment Group, where he earned almost $500,000 in 2006—to get taxed at just 15%. “He wants to take money away from the people who paid him,” says deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince. “That’s not hypocrisy. That’s sincerity.”
By the time midsummer rolled around, the negative stories had crowded out substantive ones about Edwards’ proposals, so most primary voters didn’t know he had been leading the debate on domestic policy. He was the first to present a credible plan for universal health care. (Obama later offered a similar but less expensive plan that leaves some 15 million uninsured; Clinton still hasn’t revealed hers.) He came up with a Gore-approved policy to combat global warming and a well-conceived antipoverty package, including a $1 billion fund to help people facing mortgage foreclosure. (Clinton later proposed a similar fund.)
Edwards joins us on the bus, and soon he’s musing on electability too. “I think most journalists would agree that I’m the most progressive, Senator Obama next, and Senator Clinton closest to the center. But I’d be willing to bet that if you ask most Americans the same question, they’d reverse it.” That’s not only, he says, because “she’s a woman and he’s an African American and Ah talk lahk thee-is. It’s simple geography. Ask Middle Americans: You’ve got three Democratic candidates. One’s from New York, one’s from Chicago and one’s from rural North Carolina. Who do you think is most like you?”