OKLAHOMA CITY—Does John Edwards talk about stuff besides the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads? As he says to the people who ask him a question at his town-hall meetings, "The answer is yes." But once you've been following a candidate for a few days, his stump speech starts to get a little tedious. OK, more than a little tedious. The press corps (and the campaign staff and the Secret Service) entertains itself by playing "Wheel-o," a betting game where we guess which of the 16 numbers scrawled in chalk on the back wheel of the plane will rest on the ground after landing. Or we roll Jack Edwards' toy ball up the aisle of the plane during takeoff and cheer if it gets into the front cabin. Or we take pictures of ourselves in front of the "world's largest six-pack," six brewing tanks painted like beer cans in front of the brewery in La Crosse, Wis. Or we dream of driving to Juarez, Mexico, during tonight's stay in Las Cruces, N.M.
Reporters listen when the candidate speaks, but we don't hear him. My ears perk up only when Edwards says something new or different, and after a while, I start to hear nuances that aren't there. On Monday in La Crosse, Edwards dropped his exaggerated claim that Kerry volunteered for dangerous combat duty in Vietnam. Aha! I thought. The campaign is finally abandoning its mild, needless puffery about Kerry's war record to head off nitpicking from the Swift Boat Veterans and others. Well, nope, actually. The next day Edwards made the claim again.
So, instead of reporting on whatever contrived bit of newness I heard in Edwards' speech today, here's a list of the things he's said over and over again during the past two and a half days. I've stripped out the bromides—"hope over despair, possibilities over problems, optimism over cynicism"—and focused solely on policy proposals. These aren't all the promises or proposals Edwards has made this week, just the ones he makes most often. For best results, crank up Tina Turner's "Simply the Best," Van Hagar's "Right Now," or anything by Bruce Springsteen or John Cougar Mellencamp while reading:
- raise the minimum wage;
- spend more money on: early education, public schools, child care, afterschool programs, and salaries for teachers in the communities where they're needed;
- raise taxes on: companies that take jobs overseas; individuals who make more than $200,000 a year;
- reduce taxes for: small businesses that create jobs in communities with high unemployment; individuals through a $1,000 tax credit for health care and a $4,000 tax credit for college tuition (in addition to promising four years of tuition to individuals who perform two years of public service);
- improve health care by: making the congressional health-care plan available for purchase by all Americans; covering all children; allowing prescription drugs to be imported from Canada; and allowing the government to use its bulk-purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices from pharmaceutical companies;
- reform labor laws by: swiftly and severely punishing employers that violate labor laws; banning the hiring of permanent replacements for strikers; "make card-check neutrality the law of the land";
- fight the war on terror by: strengthening alliances to help "get terrorists before they get us";
- improve the situation in Iraq by: improving our relations with allies so that NATO will agree to get involved; keeping Iran and Syria from interfering; and getting "others involved in reconstruction besides Halliburton."
Though the real message is the one-point plan of getting a new president.
Refer to this list often. Read it three or four times each day while grooving to Van Halen. Pretty soon, when John Edwards asks, "Are we going to have a president and a vice president who actually understands what's going on in your lives? Who presents an optimistic, positive, hopeful, uplifting vision of America? Or are we going to have a campaign based on fear and lies?" you'll be praying for more fear and lies, too.