12.28.2007

Edwards faults the "academic theory of change" and of conciliation

It is rare to have John Edwards go straight after Barack Obama, so the speech he is planning to give today is noteworthy. Here's the key excerpt:

Why on earth would we expect the corporate powers and their lobbyists -- who make billions by selling out the middle-class -- to just give up just because we ask nicely? Nobody who takes their money and defends the broken system is going to bring change. And, unfortunately, nobody who thinks we can just sit down and talk them into compromise is going to bring change either.
Compromise and conciliation is the academic theory of change. It just doesn’t work in the real world. Fighting for conviction is the historic reality of change.

The "defender of the broken system" is no doubt meant to be Hillary Clinton, but Edwards is now taking down Obama as naive in his view of how to bring about change -- calling his approach the "academic theory of change." Edwards is emphasizing the confrontation of FDR's era and of the Civil Rights era: "We fought for change, and we changed history." (Full script here. The message: Every progressive change in American history has been won through struggle -- not through conciliation and compromise.

Edwards's emphasis on the need to take corporate interests head-on has always been an implicit criticism of Obama's approach, but Edwards rarely feels the need to explicitly point out just how wrong-headed Obama is and use sound-bites like "academic theory of change."

This is especially interesting because it echoes Hillary Clinton's own criticism at the DMR debate two weeks ago: "Some believe you get [change] by hoping for it," Clinton said. And she has continued using that angle of attack on the trail in the past few weeks, so we now have two candidates aiming the same attack on Obama, the surest way to get something to stick.

Edwards v. Obama back-and-forth has been a late development in this campaign, but it took on a particularly vicious shape last week-end when the Obama campaign accused Edwards of being tied in with special interests for being unable to get the 527 supporting him to forgo the ads; and the Obama campaign's argument was helped today by the emergence of emails that were written between the Edwards and that camp, in what could cast suspicion on the campaign given that any coordination is illegal.

Edwards needed to switch from Hillary to Obama sooner or later. He needs a win or nothing in the caucuses at this point, and Obama and Edwards both have similar claims to outsider change. With Clinton weakened, Obama and Edwards are dividing up some of the anti-establishment vote and need to discredit each other to be able to go further ahead at this point. I am not saying that every Edwards voter would go for Obama were Edwards not in the race, or vice-versa; but there definitly is a pool of voters who distrusts Clinton and does not see her as fitting the change mantra who is splitting up between the two candidates, especially in Iowa.

This dynamic will be accentuated if Edwards wins Iowa and casts himself as the true alternative to Clinton -- then Obama will need to go full force against him. If Edwards loses the caucuses, he likely will fade by himself, which would make the Edwards versus Obama showdown nothing but a brief episode of primary season.

One last note on Edwards: He said yesterday he had talked to General Musharraf after Benazir Bhutto's assassination. I stayed away from the topic of Pakistan yesterday because it's really unclear if the events will have any impact on the presidential race, yet alone who it would benefit if it did.

But can someone explain to me how Edwards gets to talk to Musharaff? Asked how this happened, Edwards answered: "When I spoke to the ambassador earlier today I said if Musharraf, if the president had time would you have him give me a call because I'd like to speak with him directly and he called." No offense to Edwards, but how does Musharaff have time to call one of many presidential candidates like this just hours after the assassination of his main rival when his country is sinking in chaos?!

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