Edwards and His Audience

NASHUA—John Edwards and entourage of Bonny Raitt and Jackson Browne arrived in New Hampshire yesterday and immediately set out on a barnstorming tour of the state. At Webster College here last night a packed auditorium of 350-plus waited an hour for crews to hook up the audio equipment, and then applauded politely when Edwards took the stage after a couple of songs.

Edwards launched into his boyish Huey Long routine—critical of insurance and drug companies, opposing nuclear power, down on coal liquefaction, although pointedly not opposed to developing technology to make coal clean. The audience broke into a cheer when Edwards said torture was un-American and he was against it. He embraced the campaign to stop global warming and spoke knowledgeably of his plans for universal health care, including what amounts to a partial single-payer scheme. He wants combat troops out of Iraq, no permanent bases, but also desires a stable government.

All of this was a little too good to be true, especially if one had witnessed the same man four years ago, timidly promising reform legislation to nudge corporate America into putting more information on product labels. That was not exactly what you’d call populism. It was all Democratic Leadership Counsel stuff—middle class tax relief, soccer moms, and technology innovation. Government regulation is a dirty word to the neoliberals at the DLC associated with the long dead vestiges of the New Deal—something the small clique of decrepit liberals drag out of the closet every four years. Get over it. The DLC doesn’t discuss the poor, which it eagerly and successfully had sought to kick off welfare—part of the Clinton legacy. John Edwards’ turning against the DLC line (he was never an official member, but was widely viewed as a de facto member) represents a radical change—so abrupt it makes some voters a bit nervous, and others outright suspicious. Last night people clearly liked Edwards but wondered if he was not too good to be true. The overall result is an odd disconnect between the man and his audience.