Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why John Edwards Changes Everything

In the backyard of a Hurricane Katrina victim in New Orleans' 9th Ward, former Senator and Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards announced today that he is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. And, in what can be better characterized as a talk than a formal political speech, Edwards changed the dynamic of the fledgling Democratic race for 2008 with both the tone and substance of his message.

Asking Americans to "be patriotic about something beyond war," Edwards stood in the middle of a New Orleans yard and talked about getting Americans mobilized to create domestic change now and not just in conjunction with a political campaign. He talked earnestly about the need to restore America's battered global image, the critical mass being hit in the country's health-care crisis and the fact that he believes his vote to allow George W. Bush's war in Iraq was just flat-out wrong.

Edwards says he strongly regrets his 2002 vote on the Iraq war resolution, that it was "a mistake" and rebuked the entire notion of a troop surge and escalating U.S. presence in Iraq.

"We need to reject this McCain doctrine of surging troops and escalating the war in Iraq," said Edwards. "We need to make clear we're going to leave and we need to start leaving Iraq."

But more than anything, Edwards announcing so early and, more importantly, the way he's entered the race has changed the entire landscape for aspiring Democratic nominees.

For Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich -- the only other declared candidates at the moment -- Edwards is setting a standard for energy and relevance that they will either equal or drop quickly from the radar screen, as Edwards attracts all of the early support and media attention.

For Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joe Biden (D-DE), John Kerry (D-MA) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT), along with General Wesley Clark and Governor Bill Richardson, the sheer magnetism and established support that Edwards brings so early, forces them to either declare their intentions as well or risk losing support to the former North Carolina Senator with every passing week.

And why exactly would I say something like that when we're not even out of 2006?

To begin with, Americans are bone-tired of disliking and disrespecting their president and, I believe, are unusually anxious to begin the presidential season to, if nothing else, give them the feeling that a change is coming sooner than later. People hungered for a change in the Congress and made it happen -- now that strong desire to take out the trash moves to the executive branch of government.

Second, Edwards is starting his campaign in an interesting way by making it not about him personally, but about the problems of the world, the loss of global American prestige, our domestic strife and the extent to which his campaign is about getting people to make change now and not wait for the actions of a newly-elected president.

"We want people in this campaign to actually take action now, not later, not after the next election," said Edwards this morning. "Instead of staying home and complaining, we're asking Americans to help."

Finally, many people, including yours truly, believed in hindsight that Edwards would have defeated Bush in 2004 had he been at the top of the Democratic ticket. Edwards was undeniably a more engaging personality than John Kerry and with so much of the vote driven by sheer disgust with Bush, Edwards would have picked up Kerry's 49 percent of the vote and then some based purely on the likeability factor -- that's not the way a president should be chosen but, in our country, it just is.

And, after six years of Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, death in Iraq and the growing sense among Americans that life was much better -- and safer -- when we were liked and respected in the world, Edwards has a central theme that may resonate with millions of voters.

"The biggest responsibility of the next President of the United States is to reestablish America's leadership role in the world," said Edwards in his announcement this morning.

America is starving for genuine leadership and Edwards delivered an honest, inspiring message this morning -- let's see how his future opponents for the Democratic nomination respond.