William Saletan claims that Sen. John Edwards is copying Bill Clinton’s winning message. Perhaps. What he certainly is doing is making a potent talking point work, i.e. effectively delivering a sound bite into sound bite culture.
Let’s consider one of the questions Edwards was asked on the Today show yesterday: “Why are you running for president?” Now, this is a perfectly reasonable question. A perfectly reasonable answer would, however, require more than a few seconds to deliver. The problem is that today’s candidates don’t have more than a few seconds. So, the question, asked as part of a TV interview, is absurd.
So how do you handle it? Here’s Edwards’ response: “Because I will be a champion for regular people in the White House every day.” That’s not bad considering the absurdity of the question.
The future tense of the verb “to be” suggests inevitability. I find it interesting he did not use “want to.” The noun “champion” is loaded with positive cultural capital. The idea of “regular people” plays on populist and progressive tendencies among Democrats. Stressing the site of his championing–the White House–reinforces the idea that power has a legitimate location that requires consent of the governed to attain. And the term “every day” punctuates the Trumanesque notion that the president is a servant of the people.
Saletan then uses the rhetorical question to argue that Edwards’ message control is clearly superior to his likely Democratic opponents: “Quick, what’s John Kerry all about? Tom Daschle? Joe Lieberman? Call me back when you’ve got it down to a sentence.”
UPDATE (11:10 a.m.): John Hood thinks the other Democrats in the race should take Edwards more seriously. But what about the Republicans?