Shrum on Edwards
by Chris Bowers, Thu May 31, 2007 at 09:24:00 AM EDT
That fall, as a vote loomed on the resolution giving Bush authority to go to war, Edwards convened a circle of advisers in his family room in Washington to discuss his decision. He was skeptical, even exercised about the idea of voting yes. Elizabeth was a forceful no. She didn't trust anything the Bush administration was saying. But the consensus view from both the foreign policy experts and the political operatives was that even though Edwards was on the Intelligence Committee, he was too junior in the Senate; he didn't have the credibility to vote against the resolution. To my continuing regret, I said he had to be for it. As I listened to this, I watched Edwards's face; he didn't like where he was being pushed to go. The process violated a principle I'd learned long before--candidates have to trust their own deeply felt instincts. It's the best way to live with defeat if it comes, and probably the best way to win.It is hard to know how much of this is accurate, and how much of it is Shrum trying to intuit the thoughts of others. However, leaving aside what these two paragraphs say about John Edwards for a moment, this passage seems to perfectly sum up a certain type of loser beltway mentality that has been infecting Democrats for too long. On the one hand, there was Elizabeth Edwards, who was rightly skeptical of anything the Bush administration was trying to sell. On the other hand there was a cadre of foreign policy "experts" and professional political operatives who conceptualized the decision to go to war in Iraq not in terms of whether or not it was a good foreign policy decision, but rather in whether or not opposing the war would make someone look too left-wing, and whether or not someone was in Congress long enough to have the credibility to combat that charge. This is truly a view through the looking glass, where the Democratic political establishment is playing by its own set of made up rules that bear no resemblance to the way the public actually makes political decisions. A generally disengaged, non-ideological electorate does not vote with a crude, linear, ideological spectrum in mind, nor does it consider how long someone has served in the Senate as in anyway relevant to what that person thinks about war in Iraq. And yet, these are the insane rules we have constructed for ourselves.
The meeting we held in the Edwardses' family room did him a disservice; of course, he was the candidate and if he really was against the war, it was up to him to stand his ground. He didn't. If he had, it almost certainly would have been Edwards and not Dean who emerged early on as the antiwar candidate. But Edwards didn't want to look "liberal" and out of the mainstream; he was, after all, the southern candidate and thought of himself as Clintonesque. He valued the advice and prized the support of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. I had my own concerns: If he took the antiwar route, I knew I would have been characterized as a malign force moving him to the left--which wasn't true, although I wish it had been given that I now regard the Iraq invasion as one of the great mistakes in the history of U.S. foreign policy.
Returning to Edwards for a moment, I don't actually find this passage to be a particularly damning characterization of his political instincts or lack of leadership. Rather, I think is shows how his decision to originally support the war in Iraq probably served as a useful object lesson for a politician still trying to find his comfort zone. In 2002-2003, against his own instincts, against the advice of his wife, and against what he had seen as a member of the Intelligence Committee, Edwards listened instead to the contorted rationalizations of the Democratic establishment. Unsurprisingly, that establishment was also entirely wrong about the Iraq war, which has indeed become one of the biggest mistakes this country has made in decades. It is difficult to imagine a better way to learn to trust yourself then the catastrophic results of not trusting yourself on Iraq. Considering the many ways that Edwards has since bucked that same establishment--not firing McEwan and Marcotte, being the first to refuse a Fox News debate, publicly apologizing for his vote on Iraq, developing a populist, anti-corporate message--my belief is that Edwards learned from his past misplacement of trust in the Democratic establishment and the DLC, and has decided instead to trust his own, far more progressive instincts. For a politician who has been in the game for less than a decade, such a transformation seems entirely believable and genuine.