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Monday, June 23, 2003

“Equal opportunity for all, special privileges for none.”

I just read something that blew the top of my head off and has me reeling with appreciation and awe. Maybe everybody in Blogovia has already discussed John Edwards speech of last week, but I just got to it.

This is the single most creative re- framing of issues I've seen in many a year. In fact, it is so audacious, it might just work.

Do you want to see a wing nut's head spin around like Linda Blair's in the Exorcist? Try comparing Bush's economic policies to socialism:

This is the most radical and dangerous economic theory to hit our shores since socialism a century ago. Like socialism, it corrupts the very nature of our democracy and our free enterprise tradition. It is not a plan to grow the American economy. It is a plan to corrupt the American economy."

Damn. That is just beautiful.

Edwards gets it. It's about changing the Left/Right paradigm and putting the Republicans off balance, without moving further to the right. This is new and it has the potential to seriously shake up the dynamic, particularly if the economy continues to sputter. This is just great -- a truly new way of coming at the Republicans, using all of their patented propaganda tags against them. It's awfully smart and I would hope that every Dem candidate keeps this in the back of his mind.

I'm not signing on to any particular campaign this early in the race. But, I think the Democratic candidates are all good people and I wouldn't be unhappy with any of them (although Lieberman, with his moralizing and religiosity, would be very hard to take.) I am partial to Clark because I think he neutralizes a potent issue for the GOP, has a great Q rating and it would be nice to catch a fucking break like that for once. Earlier, I mentioned that Dean has a fiesty attitude that I find refreshing and inspirational and John Kerry is a good man with a fine mind and a lifetime of experience to prepare him for the job.

But, Edwards is the natural of the bunch. He's the one who has the talent to really communicate with average Americans and get them to recognize that the Republican Party does not have their best interest at heart. Like Clinton, he is very, very good at explaining complicated issues in understandable terms without being condescending. 20 years as a litigator will do that, and from all reports he was an extremely effective advocate before a jury.

Our economy, our people, and our nation have been undermined by the crony capitalists who believe that success is all about working the angles, working the phones, and rigging the game, instead of hard work, innovation and frugality.

And these manipulators find comfort in an Administration which, through its own example, seems to embrace that ethic.

We will never turn this country around until we put our economy and our government back in line with our values."


It’s time for a new approach that trusts people to make the most of their own lives and gives them the chance to do so. It’s time to stop emboldening entrenched interests and start empowering regular people. Above all, it’s time to end the failed conservative experiment and return to the idea that made this country great: Instead of helping wealthy people protect their wealth, we should help working people build their wealth."

The President and I agree on one thing: this campaign should be a debate about values. We need to have that debate, because the values of this president and this administration are not the values of mainstream America, the values all of us grew up with – opportunity, responsibility, hard work.

There’s a fundamental difference between his vision and mine. I believe America should value work. He only values wealth. He wants the people who own the most to get more. I want to make sure everybody has the chance to be an owner.

That is progressivism turned inside out. PoMo populism. As with the flag and God, the smart Democrat (and the one who will beat Bush) will take those "bedrock American" advertising symbols and use the patented GOP rhetorical stylebook to his own purposes, because whether we like it or not, that stylebook defines political speech in this era so we'd better start finding ways to use it to our own ends.

(And, through this whole speech he very subtly digs at Bush's pedigreed sense of privilege. Junior is a spoiled little fucker and although nobody wants to admit it, it's something everybody knows. Maybe in 2000 when everybody asumed that they too were going to be rich and privileged, it didn't matter so much. It could have a little more relevence this time around.)

Look at the choices they make: They have driven up the share of the tax burden for most working people, and driven down the burden on the richest few. They got rid of even the smallest tax on even the largest inheritances on earth. This past month, in a $350 billion bonanza of tax cuts on wealth, they couldn’t find $3.5 billion to give the child tax credit to poor people who work. Listen to this: They refused to cut taxes for the children of 250,000 American soldiers who are risking their lives for us in Iraq, so they could cut dividend and capital gains taxes for millionaires who were selling stocks short until the war was over.


It is wrong to reward those who don’t have to work at the expense of those who do. If we want America to be a growing, thriving democracy, with the greatest work ethic and the strongest middle class on earth, we must choose a different path.

If Junior ever had to debate a trial lawyer like John Edwards, he wouldn't stand a chance trying to defend himself against a charge like that. What in the hell can any Republican say to that argument? They'll scream class warfare, but in light of the charges it starts to sound like sniveling defensiveness. They really have gone to far and all it will take is for somebody to find the right way to educate the American people about what has been done to them.

Third, I will cut taxes to encourage savings and wealth creation for the middle class and working poor, not take away their tax cuts. I believe ordinary Americans are taxed too much, not too little. As a direct result of this President’s policies, all across this country people are seeing their property taxes, their sales taxes, their state and local income taxes, and their college tuition bills go up. Now some in my party want to take away their federal income tax cuts, too. That’s wrong. The answer to Republicans who have made middle-class incomes and nest eggs go down should not be Democrats who make middle-class taxes go up.

I know this President wants to make the next election about taxes. That’s why I’m going to tell America the whole story: “This president is the reason your taxes are going up. I’m going to cut them.”

Woah Nelly. Walter Mondale, take a look in the funhouse mirror. He's saying that Bush is making taxes go UP for ordinary Americans. That is brilliant. Paula Zahn will pop a vein trying to wrap her mind around that concept. It's also true, of course, but rather than get into some long winded discussion of tax rates and the state budget crisis' Edwards just says bluntly, "Bush is making your taxes go up. I'm going to cut them."

Eat shit Grover.

I care deeply about this, because it’s the reason I’m standing here. My dad worked his whole life in the mill. When I was young, my mom folded sheets on the second shift. Both my parents started out with nothing, except a blessing that was worth more than diamonds and gold – the chance to live in a country whose dream belongs to anyone willing to work for it.

A country where the sweat and toil of mill workers can give a boy the chance to one day run for President is a far different place than a country that says how you’re born, not how hard your work, is all that matters. I owe everything I am to the America I grew up in. I hope you’ll join with me and fight with all we’ve got to save it.

The fucking American dream, baby. The immigrant, the working stiff, the self-made man putting in the hours and sweating the blood so that his kids can have a better life. Being the first in your family to go to college and going on to become one of the most successful lawyers in the country, a US Senator and a presidential candidate. It's not quite as inspiring as a rich, alcoholic playboy sobering up at 40 and allowing his daddy's rich friends to buy him a codpiece so he can eliminate the inheritance tax for himself, but it might have a chance.

This is a very interesting direction that Edwards is going. There is some salience to the shame factor among the rich, as well. I happened to listen to a group of Republican ladies discussing politics the other day (don't ask), and they were quite uncomfortable with the idea that their leaders were saying that poor people shouldn't get tax cuts and particularly the fact that some were left out of the recent tax cut bill. One of the gals said, "That's really not right. It makes me feel embarrassed."

I wish that we didn't have to use rhetoric of religion, values and tax cuts. It's tiring to hear it. But, we do. It's what people's ears are trained to hear in this era. And, there is no use pretending that reversing Bush's tax cuts is going to be a simple matter even if we win the presidency. It makes sense to begin laying the groundwork, however, for reversing the outrageous tax cuts on the rich, which will have to be done. This is a very effective way of beginning to make that case.

And, Edwards is using some language that I think has been too long neglected by Democrats and speaks to something that is an undercurrent of discomfort amongst average Americans who don't follow politics in great detail --- the oddly unamerican nature of our current leaders relationship to wealth and power.

"Here in Washington, we like to think we’re important. But what’s great about America is that whether you’re a senator or a bus driver doesn’t make you a better person. You just have different jobs. America is not a nation of kings and commoners, masters and servants. We’re a nation where every person has equal value, every dream deserves an equal chance, and every soul should be as equal in the law of the land as it is in the eyes of God."

That's a Democrat talking, there, and everybody knows it.

Bush can spout bullshit like "soft bigotry of low expectations" and "I care about the working people", but every poll shows that most most Americans do not believe he cares about or understands people like them. There's power in this message. It's worth keeping an eye on.