As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Yearly Kos: The Edwards Breakout

John Edwards, like the other candidates, held a small-group session with interested activists at Yearly Kos. I was in the second row but I don't think you can see me in this video of the entire session:

I have pics that I'll throw on the back end but I wanted to summarize the key points:

* Edwards actually employed snark in his answer to the Democrats' cave on FISA. He signaled a big thumbs-down and then said "I've got an idea, let's give George Bush more power to spy on Americans without a warrant, and let's put all the oversight capability in the hands of Alberto Gonzales!" That could be a Sadly No post.

* He has determined that, in talking to people across the country, too many still believe that global warming is a subject for their great-grandparents and not for them. It takes Presidential leadership to ask Americans to sacrifice for the greater good, and it also takes a broad-based movement. "The power to change the country is right here in this room." He did come out against new nuclear power plants and liquid coal on the policy front, but really he pushed the bully pulpit and the power of activism working in tandem. This can be seen as Edwards' overarching theme.

* Edwards' progressivism is apparent in these sessions. He wants a $9.50 minimum wage indexed to COLA so we never have to worry about it again. He would increase the tax responsibility on hedge fund managers (so much for Dennis Kucinich's Gotcha moment) by treating their income as earned and not invested. He talked about a meaningful path for citizenship and how he wouldn't want to live in a country with second-class workers. He would hold lawyers financially responsible for frivolous lawsuits. He supports a Constitutional amendment for public financing of federal elections. These are big pieces of a change agenda. While it's true that the peculiarities of our political system make the political center far to the right of social democracies in Europe, even those controlled by "right-wing" leaders, Edwards is comfortable at the edge of what is possible because he believes it's what the American people truly desire.

* The campaign was clearly prepared to make an issue of the "no contributions from Washington lobbyists" issue. In fact, right after the breakout, staffers were passing around a press release titled "Edwards Calls On Democrats To Stop Taking Lobbyist Money" or something. It was a pre-planned assault.

* Edwards also intertwined his plight with the plight of the blogging community, making direct links between the haircut/Politico stories and the O'Reilly/Yearly Kos flap and saying "They don't want to hear OUR voice." That's rhetorically brilliant, casting himself and the community as part of the same struggle.

* Edwards was also presented with tough questions and he didn't mind being on the opposite side of the room on issues. "You don't have to always agree with me," he said. On impeachment, he said that the process was debilitating in the Clinton years, and Congress needs to keep working. An atheist asked him how he and other Democrats could reach him if he continued to couch his principles in religious terms, and he asked "Do you mind the word moral?" The atheist replied that no, atheists can be moral, and he said that's how he'll try to talk about it in the future. It seemed sincere.

But it was the question right after that which was the most eye-opening to me. Spinning off the atheism/morals question, a commenter brilliantly asked how he could square this moralism with his support for the death penalty, especially given how it impacts minorities disproportionately and has led to the almost-certain murder of innocents. Edwards appreciated the question. And he took the opportunity to decry the current death penalty system while affirming his belief that some acts are so unspeakable that the death penalty is warranted. But this surprised me. He said that "we shouldn't execute anyone until we fix all the flaws in the system. Did he just come out for a George Ryan-style moratorium? That would be major news. There were several other bloggers in the room, and I know at least a couple looked to the campaign to clarify the comment. But I haven't seen anything yet. So I'll put it out there. It was an unequivocal call to end the practice of state-sanctioned execution until the many flaws in administering justice are fixed, including DNA TESTING FOR EVERYONE ON DEATH ROW.

* At the end of the session, Edwards said that anyone who had a question for him that they didn't get answered should email the campaign. So I did:

Hello, Senator Edwards. I attended your breakout session at Yearly Kos and found it very enjoyable. However, I did not get an opportunity to ask my question. Here it is.

I have appreciated your insistence that the "war on terror" bumper sticker has become a fig leaf excuse for President Bush to do whatever he wants in the world and at home. Yours is a fresh and bold vision. However, as recently as late 2006 you were quoted as having your vision of foreign policy shaped by the likes of Michael O'Hanlon, the Brookings Institution fellow who recently penned a stunningly dishonest editorial about success in Iraq.

My question is this: does Michael O'Hanlon still advise you on foreign policy, was he ever a paid advisor to your Senate staff or your Presidential campaigns, and will he hold a staff position in an Edwards Presidency? Thank you.





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