David Brooks has written a column in today's NYT (NYT Select) about the contrast that he clearly sees between John Edwards and John Kerry in light of the Democratic voters and what they are looking for in leadership. In my opinion, Mr. Brooks gives the first honest mainstream view of the two speeches, rather than lumping them together and calling them "withering attacks" on Bush, as so many newspapers unfairly did this week. He begins his piece this way:
John Kerry and John Edwards ran for office together and they lost together, and they both gave major speeches about Katrina this week, but there the similarity ends. The two men might as well live in different worlds.
He goes on to explain how he believes the Kerry-Edwards contrast is characteristic of the argument that now causes division within the Democratic Party.
On one side are those who believe that the party's essential problem is with its political style. On the other side are those who believe that the Democratic defeats flow from policy problems, not from campaign style or message framing. They don't believe that Democrats can win wrapped in their own rage, or kowtowing endlessly to their psychologically aggrieved donor base. For them, the crucial challenge is to come up with policies more in tune with voters...Kerry speaks for the first group, which believes in more partisanship, and Edwards for the second, which believes in less.
Mr. Brooks does not believe the Democratic party will snap back to the centrism of Bill Clinton, and neither do I. If Democrats are going to come back and succeed, they need to do it with a leader who is not a Bill Clinton-clone. Clinton did an excellent job as President in his time, but that time will have been "eight years gone" by the next Presidential election. I think most people would agree with me when I say that the world has drastically changed since President Clinton presided over this nation.
John Edwards's speech had a different feel. Edwards took some hard shots at Bush, some of them deserved, but having left Washington after the election, Edwards is not so obsessed with power struggles. In his talk he roamed outward and spoke about the complexities of actual life.
Democrats need a liberal populist with solid and innovative ideas; who is not afraid to be himself (or herself); an eloquent-yet-straight-shooting communicator; someone who will stick by his (or her) own convictions without hesitation or equivocation. If you ask me, that leader is John Edwards. When he says he believes in one America for all of us, I believe him because I can hear it in his tone and in his ideas. I think he's a natural. I'll bet that he'll convince many others as days go on.
Update: At Daily Kos, davidkc says that he believes that David Brooks incorrectly concluded that Dems must choose one side or the other as it decides where it wants to go in the future, and this is a false choice...Dems need to do both. I don't think it's so much of a "false choice" as it is good, plainspoken advice. We do need to move ahead with creativity and innovative ideas about how we can govern better, while not being intimidated by criticizing the obvious shortcomings of the Bush administration.
See this related Daily Kos entry, too. A commenter named "briannowhere" says we need a candidate who has a clear and inventive message:
The Democrats are suffering from a lack of imagination. Nothing more. They way to win the hearts and minds of Americans is to buck the status quo and start thinking outside the box. I think Edwards has the best potential to be the candidate who comes closest to that (while also being realistcally electable). I truly get the sense from him that he actually cares about the issue of poverty and it's effects and does not seem to be simply playing lip service to the notion of helping communities change.
What will Edwards bring? Edwards will bring the progressive ideology to heal the nations wounds. He has liberalism diplomatic skills that would enhance our standing in the world. He would appoint competent Secretary of Defense that would end the War in Iraq. We would finally see a domestic approach aimed at reducing the levels of poverty, protecting minority rights, expanding healthcare, more funding for education, reform Social Security, ending tax and corporate loopholes benefitting the rich, more jobs, and a national security aimed at protecting it’s citizens. He would work to unite the country and end the constant bickering between our nations top parties.
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* A tip o'the hat to the Gawker, whose big story today is a National Enquirer story about George W. Bush - believe it or not. Justin Frank is quoted in the NE article - see my August 2004 review of Dr. Frank's book here or at DKosopedia.