Saturday, January 06, 2007

Revisiting John Edwards 2008 Announcement

There were two articles by Dan Balz of The Washington Post last week on the announcement by John Edwards that he's running for president. Both articles got me thinking. For one thing, Balz did a sort of whoa, wait a moment here, Edwards is not following the usual script for announcing. But before I get to that, let's look at the more conventional article that Balz wrote:
Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina launched his second campaign for the White House from this flood-ravaged city Thursday with a call for the United States to reduce its troop presence in Iraq and a plea for citizen action to combat poverty, global warming and America's reliance on foreign oil.

Edwards was sharply critical of the administration for its conduct of the war in Iraq... ...

"The biggest responsibility of the next president of the United States is to reestablish America's leadership role in the world, starting with Iraq," Edwards told reporters during his morning announcement. "We need to make it clear that we intend to leave Iraq and turn over the responsibility of Iraq to the Iraqi people."


From his choice of setting to his message, Edwards used the opening day of his 2008 bid to signal that he intends to run a populist, insurgent campaign designed to show that he is not a candidate of Washington, in contrast to his likely Democratic rivals -- including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

The article does a fine job of laying out Edwards' announcement. Dan Balz also wrote an article analyzing some of the 'nontraditional' things that Edwards did the day of his announcement and in general terms of his candidacy:
John Edwards violated all the old rules when he announced his candidacy for the White House on Thursday. No theme music, no balloons, no adoring family at his side, no stage filled with enthusiastic supporters. No stage at all.

He looked anything but "presidential," wearing blue jeans and an open-collar shirt, rather than suit and tie. He had no prepared text, speaking instead from a practiced set of talking points but with no guaranteed applause lines and few perfect sound-bites.


Edwards spoke to reporters, one after another after another, from the devastated 9th Ward in New Orleans. He started in the pre-dawn darkness with interviews on five morning television shows, declaring his intentions to seek the presidency even before what once would have been called his formal announcement. Later, he conducted a series of interviews with newspaper reporters, wire service reporters, local television reporters, cable television reporters, seemingly to every reporter or blogger who had traveled to New Orleans to witness the event first-hand.


Nor did Edwards hope to spread his message by putting himself at the mercy of others. Like all candidates now, Edwards has his own Web site and his own videographer. As he did some volunteer work in the 9th Ward on Wednesday afternoon, he taped a message that his campaign posted later that night on his campaign Web site and on What he said in that video was nearly identical to what he said to a bank of network and local television station cameras on Thursday.

Smart candidates know the old command-and-control structures of politics don't work anymore. Instead, campaigns are all about building communities and speaking directly to supporters, whether through email or podcasts or what the Edwards team calls "webisodes." As part of his announcement day, he spent a few minutes answering questions on the Daily Kos site, an influential liberal blog.

Candidates are looking for ways to get people more directly involved, by challenging them to give money not just to their campaign but to worthy causes; or by asking them to volunteer their time in New Orleans (as Edwards has done) or in their own communities, or by challenging them to take direct action politically to stop a war or a dam or to enact a piece of legislation.

One thing is clear: whether Edwards wins the nomination or not, he is changing the political landscape and it sounds like it's for the good.

Balz did an excellent job with both his stories, but the climate of the last number of years makes it clear that the media sometimes does Americans a disservice by doing stories on what ought to be expected by politicians when things change from time to time anyway. Think of it for a moment. Major newspapers changed things a long time ago. Then telegraph made it possible not only for most people in the country to know within a few hours that a candidate was running but, at convention time, it was used sometimes by smart candidates to swing delegations. There was a time when candidates were expected to stay home but trains made it possible to swing through the whole country over a period of weeks. Radio made it possible for millions of Americans to hear someone like Franklin Roosevelt, one of the better political speakers of his era. John Kennedy in the televised debate with Nixon in 1960 introduced the modern media age for presidents.

If we go back to Reagan, we have allowed our campaigns over the last twenty-seven years to become driven by media presentation rather than substance or a real discussion of the issues. One could argue that every candidate is a media candidate these days no matter how they make their case but one could also argue that the fiasco in Iraq is a direct result of not honestly discussing important issues in Washington and around the country before bad decisions are made.

I'm looking forward to the day when candidates can regularly bypass the talking heads on CNN and Fox News and can ignore the fake shock of the general media when candidates don't do exactly what's expected of them and instead talk like real human beings and not only talk directly to the voters but engage the voters in dialogue. Democrats, and not Republicans, have been the leaders in this change and I look forward to more of it. The great changes in our country over the last 230 years came when people were engaged in real debate about where our country should be going. Today, protecting wealthy interests with deep pockets and tired ideas is not much of a future for most Americans. I'm glad to see the change and I hope to see more from all the candidates, and particularly John Edwards.

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