Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Failed Arguments of John Edwards

Another presidential campaign, another also-ran badge for John Edwards. Only this time he won’t even get the VP consolation prize.

Edwards got lost this year amidst the Clinton v. Obama rumble. You could say a rich, middle-aged white guy simply had no shot in a year when historic firsts beckoned the party. But, really, I think voters just weren’t convinced that this patrician with the Southern drawl as meticulously maintained as his hair would really change America for the better.

Oh, sure, he had that speech, the one members of the media fawned over four years ago. The one that sounded so stilted and contrived at the convention in 2004. Two Americas. One for those slimy rich jerks, one for us poor oppressed masses. The fact that Edwards himself is filthy rich was apparently a sign that he knew what he was talking about – rather than an indication that he might be clueless.

Those on the right often accused Edwards of waging class warfare. Maybe in some people’s definition. But, really, he’s just a typical 20th century era liberal who believes people have little hope of a good life without the government assuring them one. That’s not to say he believes in an endless welfare state. He truly loves the virtues of hard work and believes a good day’s labor should earn a good day’s pay. In a perfect world, it should, yes. In this world, the rise of the service economy has left us with lots of jobs whose labor is worth little so that the products we buy might cost less.

John Edwards wanted to fix that, which is a positive mission. But he wasn’t advocating the removal of hurdles that make it difficult for individuals to compete in the free market or lowering the barriers that make it hard for small businesses to prosper. He believed in more regulations, more restrictions, more government that would artificially elevate wages, close off trade and try to hold back the inevitable transition to a global economy. He wanted to protect us from the big, scary free market, not help us operate in it.

A lot of us would love more opportunity to lift ourselves up, but, apparently (thankfully), not many think Edwards’ brand of protectionism is the answer. What Edwards got wrong is that there are not two Americas. It’s not so simple. There are hundreds of Americas. Thousands. And each state, each city, each neighborhood and each person doesn’t need governmental coddling. We need freedom. We need the federal government to cut away the layers of unfairness not add more layers for us to navigate. It’s not even about smaller government. Just smarter government, more focused on creating opportunity than trying to create some unreachable ideal of classlessness.

Edwards’ ideas live on within the Democratic party. Hopefully, his failure will help temper the party’s more protectionist instincts. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help the less fortunate – in fact, the impulse is noble. But some solutions are far better than others.

Cross posted at PoliGazette.

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