Consider this quote from John Edwards: “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the rhetoric. It’s not enough to talk about ‘hope’ and ‘we’re all going to feel good.’ We’re past that. This is a very serious time in American history. It’s time for anybody running for president to treat this seriously. I have talked about hope and inspiration in the past, and they’re wonderful things, but you have to translate them into action.”
Okay, he’s obviously targeting Obama. I’m sure the Obama campaign’s response, if there is one at all, will be something about how this attack is another sign of the “smallness of our politics” and how we need to “elevate the tone” in Washington.
(In a recent panel discussion between reps from all three major Dem campaigns, Obama advisor/oracle David Axelrod repeatedly used the phrase “lift this country up” while simultaneously getting in a pissing match with the Clinton rep on hand. See the period from 1:13 to 1:22 in the video “Campaign 2008: Looking Ahead.” The Edwards guy tries to stop the bickering by saying something to the effect of “Guys, guys, this is what people don’t like.”)
I think it’s great that Obama inspires and excites people, and that he brings people who don’t normally follow politics into the Democratic fold. I think it’s great that he gave progressives a speech they can point to and say, “That’s our message. That’s who we are. That’s what we believe.” I think it’s great that he’s so smart, so charismatic, and such a truly phenomenal orator that he can likely overcome the handicaps any minority candidate faces when running nationwide in America.
But can we please get some specifics? You want to lift this country up? What does that mean exactly? You want to reclaim America’s promise? Great, how? I assume that underneath the platitudes is a progressive agenda that mirrors the one John Edwards articulates in detail in nearly all of his speeches and appearances. But maybe I’m projecting my desires onto Obama: maybe “the audacity of hope” means something else entirely. I really have no idea.
Perhaps Obama’s high-flying rhetoric and ambiguity on the issues is acceptable to folks that make voting decisions based on how they feel and who they’re inspired by, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of policy. That’s fine. But I’d like more.
This contrast between Obama and Edwards plays out in their campaign appearances. Obama fills his speeches with “anecdotes and set-piece jokes” while Edwards, who has folksy charm by the bushel, instead produces a “stream of policy talk on global warming, Iraq, education, poverty, and health care.” Can we meet in the middle, gentlemen? Isn’t that in the spirit of lifting this country up?