My John Edwards Problem, And At Least Some of Ours


I actually have several distinct John Edwards problems, but only two of them are worth taking seriously, and this one the more serious of them. The estimable E.J. Dionne writes that "Edwards has decisively thrown in his lot with the party's antiwar wing." This is true on the question of the preferred legislative strategy during the 2007-8 period. On the broader question of national security policy, however, Edwards has, to a remarkable extent, stayed right in the same wing he was in back in the day even though his political persona has transformed from "fresh-faced moderate" to "awesome liberal."

It's important to recall where Edwards was back in 2003-2004, namely left of Joe Lieberman on Iraq but right of John Kerry or Hillary Clinton and running a campaign full of wonky centrist policy proposals including the creation of a domestic intelligence service. No non-Lieberman Democrat still supports the war these days, but Edwards has cast his regret of his support narrowly in terms of bad intelligence rather than broadly in terms of changing his doctrinal view about unilateral preventive war. What's more:

His chief foreign policy guru continues to be his longtime advisor Derek Chollet, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. Edwards also said that his views have also been shaped more recently by a reading list that includes Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security by Kurt Campbell of CSIS and Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings, and and The Good Fight: Why Liberals---and Only Liberals---Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again by Peter Beinart.

That article's from a while back and I'm open to the possibility that things have changed. I do know, however, that between then and now Edwards hired Michael Signer to be his national security policy guy for campaign purposes and that Signer falls in the same ideological neighborhood as the aforementioned crew. Except for Beinart, these names aren't well known in the progressive blogosphere, but the others aren't folks with netroots-friendly views, either. O'Hanlon, in particualr, is well to the right of the New Model Beinart and I wouldn't at all be enthusiastic about the prospect of an administration in which he was given a high-level position.

UPDATE: Why only some of ours? Well, to a lot of people I know, including some people I used to work for, the labor versus Wall Street divide within the party is much more significant than the hawks versus internationalists divide so they're not going to care about this unless the Obama/Edwards contrast on security becomes substantially bigger than the Obama/Edwards contrast on populism. My Obama problem, meanwhile, is boringly similar to questions other people have about his willingness and ability to win a series of knifefights as a presidential nominee (or, more significantly in this context, as a president) once he's risen too high for the Mr. Nice Guy approach to shield him from attacks.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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