Thursday, February 08, 2007

Edwards is DOA

John Edward's presidential campaign has shown in the last week that they simply are not ready for prime time, especially with such a strong field this year.

I like Edwards. His "Two Americas" stump speech last go 'round was, without a doubt, the most moving, well-argued oratory of the entire campaign. I have no doubt he earnestly believes it and I'm thrilled that a major American statesman is finally confronting the structural issues we face head on.

But seeing two things last week made me sure that his people simply can't do the job.

First was his mealy-mouth response to he question of gay marriage on Meet the Press.

RUSSERT: ...On gay marriage. You said this: " It is [a hard issue] ... because I'm 53 years old. I grew up in a small town in the rural south. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church and so I have a belief system that arises from that. It's part of who I am. I can't make it disappear. ... I personally feel great conflict about that. I don't know the answer. I wish I did. I think from my perspective it's very easy for me to say, gay civil unions, yes, partnership benefits, yes, but it is something that I struggle with. Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I'm just not there yet." Why not?

SEN. EDWARDS: I think it's from my own personal culture and faith belief. And I think, if you had gone on in that same quote, that I, I have-I, I struggle myself with imposing my faiths-my faith belief. I grew up in the Southern Baptist church, I was baptized in the Southern Baptist church, my dad was a deacon. In fact, I was there just a couple weeks ago to see my father get an award. It's, it's just part of who I am. And the question is whether I, as president of the United States, should impose on the United States of America my views on gay marriage because I know where it comes from. I'm aware of why I believe what I believe. And I think there is consensus around this idea of no discrimination, partnership benefits, civil unions. I think that, that certainly a president who's willing to lead could lead the country in the right direction on that.

Any Democratic presidential hopefully who cannot immediately give a clear, unequivocal, full-throated defense of equality under the law for ALL Americans is not acceptable. But more importantly, what is important is it shows a lack of sophistication with respect to framing. Instead of pointing out the trap and showing how immoral those who set it are, he is willing to walk right into the trap and hope that by not moving much in any direction, he won't spring the trigger and get caught. We have seen in the last two presidential elections that if you let the GOP set the frame of the debate, you lose. Period.

The second is the "blogger flap." The Edwards campaign selected Amanda Marcotte from Pandagon and Melissa McEwan from Shakespeare's Sister to be their blog outreach folks. They are two of my regular reads. They both have everything you want in a good blogger -- big hearts, big brains, big mouths. When it comes to full contact blogging, they are old hands. Now, William Donohue, a conservative activist whose job is to go on media outlets and feign outrage at liberal's anti-Catholic-bigotry that he manufactures, did his job. He picked through posts until he found one's arguing that the Pope's policies are harmful to women. He found the angriest language in those posts and cried wolf. "Oh, look at the liberal hate speech. How could John Edwards allow such a thing?"

The Edwards campaign's response? [crickets]

Yes, it is two-faced for conservatives to complain about vulgar-language. No, Amanda and Melissa are not spewing hate speech. Yes, they are fully within the bounds of decorum in their linguistic community. But none of this is the point.

This was a simple Swift Boat attack. You take an advantage the other side has, manufacture a false accusation against them. If they fight you on your terms, you muddy the waters and neutralize their advantage. Worse yet, if they don't immediately come out fighting, you tag them with the label and they lose their advantage altogether. This, of course, is how Kerry lost the election.

When I was playing division I lacrosse, preparing for a game worked this way:

Step 1 -- watch films of your coming opponent's last game and see what they did that worked for them

Step 2 -- figure out not only how you were going to stop it, but turn it to your advantage

The fact that the Edwards campaign -- the EDWARDS FRICKIN' CAMPAIGN -- was not ready for a Swift Boat attack and showed such incompetence in handling it is stunning. Not only are these guys not ready to hit a big league curve ball, they couldn't touch a fastball over the heart of the plate. They should have come out and gone meta on Donohue's backside, turn the issue to Republican dirty tricks and spin-doctoring. It could have immunized the entire Democratic field by beginning a Democratic talking point about how slimy Republicans are. Don't fight the fight they set up, point out the move, point out the trick and turn THAT into the moral discussion. Don't walk into the trap, point out the trap and criticize those who would set such traps. But what did Edwards do? The same thing Kerry did. And if the Edwards people aren't ready for the most obvious trick, they aren't ready, period. Edwards is DOA.


Edwards is keeping Amanda and Melissa and issued the following statement:
The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwan's posts personally offended me. It's not how I talk to people, and it's not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I've talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word. We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in.
To call this "underwhelming support" is an understatement. You don't take it to the rightwing noise machine with "You know, you're right, but..." I don't think Edwards has the teeth for this fight.