But if you’re strong and good

Presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards appeared alongside Rep. Heath Shuler at an event in an Asheville, NC home this afternoon. Maybe fifty people. Informal, though nearly all the men wore ties. Edwards did not. And I did not remember to take notes.

This was the third time I’ve met him. Edwards just keeps getting better. A mutual friend who has known him “longer than Elizabeth” said he’s obviously more comfortable these days. We’re seeing more of what he’s really like, she thinks.

One national campaign under his belt already, John Edwards in 2007 is not as flavor of the week as Barack Obama is (or as Edwards -- another one-term senator -- once was himself), but seems more grounded in what he believes and more certain of what he wants to do if given the chance to be president.

Edwards has been doing his presidential homework these last couple of years. He was relaxed. He spoke about the underlying political divisions behind the Sunni/Shiite strife in Iraq. The Maliki government must make the tough political decision to work towards reconciliation or there will be no stability in Iraq. No matter how many troops we put at risk on the streets of Baghdad propping him up and paying for Iraqi discord with American blood. The Iranians and the Syrians have an interest in a stable Iraq, and we should engage them in the process.

As the sole superpower, Edwards explained, people look to us to ensure stability in a violent world. The U.S. must reclaim its leadership role. What we’ve seen in the last six years is that power alone doesn’t make a country a leader. If anything, power alone breeds distrust. But if you’re strong and good, people will respect you, listen to you, and follow you. That’s leadership.

He was on his message, of course, and there was nothing new: universal health care coverage, energy transformation, conservation, and leading the world in addressing global warming. Edwards said calmly that it’s time for Americans to be patriotic about something other than war.

Maybe it was just the living room setting, but it didn’t feel like a speech. It felt like something he believes. And it was refreshing to hear a politician speak who doesn’t sound as if he’s trying to sell you something.

Afterwards, I mentioned to my friend the “slick lawyer” image Edwards will have to overcome to persuade many voters. I’ve met more than a few with a visceral distrust for him: a doctor who hates him for litigating malpractice cases, and blames him for her malpractice insurance rates; a mother who believes (has been told) that his rags-to-riches personal history is a sham. Neither has met him, or wants to. He’s a lawyer. Always a lawyer when seen at a distance.

A friend once said about Bruce Springsteen, “Don’t buy his records. You have to see him in concert. If you see him live you’ll get it.” He was right.

And that is John Edwards’ challenge, getting those who don’t buy his record to come to see him live or watch him on TV. Activists and policy wonks look at a candidate’s positions. Normal Americans want to know about the man. Communicating the man, convincing a national jury, a national audience, that’s the trick.

[crosss-posted at Undercover Blue]

Comments

That's what hooked Mr. D.Q.

several years ago, when Edwards was just starting to campaign in SC. It must have been early 2003. He came home from a very personal event in a private home in Greenville and said to me, "I've just met our next president." He talked about how Edwards met everyone's eyes, had time to chat with anyone who wanted to, and how he'd worked the room like I've heard Bill Clinton can do.

It amazed me how stiff the Senator appeared on television throughout the '04 vice presidential campaign. But I think he's finally figured out how to translate that personal style to the small screen. When I filmed him in Asheville last fall, he seemed to radiate confidence and a compelling kind of intimacy.

What we don't know is how his style will translate to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. It doesn't matter much what we think!
 
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
So enjoy the drama.

How's Heath?

He seems to like his new job. He looked good (Edwards looked a bit thin)and said he didn't know how the staff was managing to keep up with all the case files. 350 right now, I heard, many more than they believe Taylor's ataff had had. Told him that may mean people actually expect to get a response from him (as opposed to Charlie), and that's a good thing.

This is a great report

Thanks! I'm also glad Heath and staff are getting the work done. It should be an obvious change for the folks who'd relied on their previous congresscritter to get something done.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.



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