Friday, January 03, 2003

EDWARDS IS IN: My longtime friend John Hood -- who got me into this biz by 1) offering me a gig at the Carolina Critic, a classical-liberal zine he founded at UNC in the '80s, which allowed me to 2) get an internship in Washington, where John was working at the time and where he 3) introduced me to Virginia Postrel, who gave me an entry-level reporter's job at Reason -- has a fascinating, contrarian take on John Edwards' probable run for the presidency. The thrust of John's argument -- Edwards' opponents underestimate him at their own peril -- may indeed make him a formidable contender for the Democratic nomination.

Still, as much as I hate second-guessing my friend, who understands N.C. politics better than anyone I've run across, it's my guess that, whether he'll admit it or not (even to himself), Edwards' best hope is to land the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

John's piece notes that it's folly to merely write off Edwards as a trial lawyer, because, after all, great litigators (and Edwards is one) have formidable powers of persuasion and can assume almost larger-than-life personas. That said, Edwards made his millions suing insurance companies in medical malpractice cases, and the medmal mess is a major story in a lot of places -- what with the potential doctors' strike in West Virginia, the malpractice meltdown in Pennsylvania, and even the exodus of OB/GYNs from my home state of Nevada. Trial lawyers who drive physicians out of business and make it difficult for pregnant women to deliver babies are not exactly high on the popularity food chain these days, so Edwards' biography could be used against him ... particularly if the GOP makes tort reform an issue in this session of Congress.

Edwards is also fighting history, of course. Other than JFK and Ike, the last president to be elected who lacked any executive branch experience, either as a governor or vice president, was Benjamin Harrison in 1888. Edwards had never run for public office before he was elected to the Senate in 1998. As the only Southerner currently seeking the White House, he'd be an attractive veep, and offer "red state" balance and fund-raising potential few other candidates could bring to the table. But as precendent demonstrates, it's nearly impossible to move directly from Capitol Hill into the White House.

Indeed, of the likely candidates, it seems that as far as credentials go, the Dems' best hope might well be Joe Lieberman, who at least served for six years as Connecticut's attorney general. (I don't take Howard Dean seriously.)

Doesn't mean Lieberman/Edwards could defeat Bush/whoever -- or that Edwards would surrender his Senate seat for a chance to be the No. 2 guy on a long-shot ticket -- but if precedent has any value, that combination may offer the party its best shot.

No comments: