Watching John Edwards' closing argument.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Dec. 20 2007 5:50 PM

Fight, Fight, Fight

Watching John Edwards' closing argument.

John Edwards. Click image to expand.
John Edwards 

Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne sang a set of four songs on their two-day New Hampshire tour with John Edwards this week. My favorite was John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery," the lonesome tale of a woman trapped in an empty marriage. As a teenager, when I first heard the song and learned to play it (it's just four chords), I didn't stop to think about what the words meant, but the song worked anyway because the music and the melody are so lovely.

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

I've had the reverse experience listening to John Edwards make his final pitch to voters before Election Day. I get the lyrics loud and clear, but I have trouble hearing the music. What seemed missing were the persuasive passages that draw in people who don't already agree with you.


Edwards has offered a constant pitch this campaign, unlike Hillary Clinton, who seems to change her message every few days—she's inevitable, she's human, she's a woman, she's experienced, she's a workhorse. Edwards is going to fight like hell to punish, diminish, and shred the corporations who are responsible for, well, everything that's wrong with the country. "Corporate power and corporate greed have overtaken this democracy," he says. "It's that simple. And we have to take it back. This is not abstract. It goes through everything we need to do in America."

The pitch works in the town halls. His audiences applaud a lot. Other candidates are making a similar pitch, too, so it's clear there's a sizeable constituency in the Democratic Party that loves this populist message. In Manchester on Wednesday, Barack Obama did his best John Edwards imitation: "I am running to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda are over. They will not run the White House and they will not drown out the American people's voices in the United States of America."

Obama argues that he has a longer record of going after the special interests than John Edwards, but after listening to the two of them, Obama's sounded like a watered-down version. If you want the candidate who is going to pound the loudest on the CEO's frosted glass door, John Edwards makes a compelling case that he is that man.

The case Edwards doesn't make is that such measures are necessary. He simply asserts that they are. Edwards doesn't address those in the audience who might say to his corporate bashing: "But isn't it more complex than that?" As Jonathan Alter points out in one example, the drug companies Edwards portrays as the root of so much evil are helping his wife with her cancer. You can believe that corporations do bad things but that they should be regulated, not eviscerated.

Edwards' view is that people don't need convincing. First, he's in the home stretch, and tactically that means pounding home one clear message to rally your base. Second, and more important, say his aides, voters already agree with Edwards' diagnosis about corporate America and they get new evidence every day, like the recent energy bill. It is the defining issue of this race, the way the war was in 2004, so Edwards doesn't have to belabor the point. As proof that voters are already in a populist mood, Edwards aides point to the extraordinary number of people who think the country is on the wrong track. That may prove that a lot of people are unhappy, but it doesn't prove that they've settled on Edwards' sweeping approach. Nor does it prove that people who are already uneasy are anxious to embrace dramatic changes that will, even if successful, create more uncertainty.

Edwards' pitch is that he'll fight the hardest against the oil companies, drug companies, and agribusinesses. At the top of his speech, he tells a story about coming home at age 4 or 5 after having lost a fight. "Don't you ever start a fight," his father tells his bruised and bloodied son, "but don't you ever walk away from a fight, either." But was that really such good advice? There are plenty of fights worth walking away from.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows


The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?