Entering to the strains of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” John Edwards started an Iowa State University campus event pretty much on time, an exception for the almost always late Edwards. About 250 folks were on hand to hear his “Marathon for the Middle Class” closing argument. And, as promised, the former trial lawyer gave a full-voiced populist attack on the “corporate greed [that] is destroying the middle class…and is stealing your children’s future.”
In the speech, Edwards—introduced by his wife, Elizabeth, and the first lady of Iowa—described the“epic fight” with insurance companies, drug companies, oil and gas companies, and other “entrenched monied interests” that only he could lead. Most tellingly, Edwards said that negotiation with those interests “will never happen when I am president.” In the 25 minute speech, Edwards used the word “fight” dozens of times. His rhetoric made obvious just how soft the populist language being used by Obama and Clinton in their closing arguments.
Most recent Democratic presidential candidates for president who have employed populist themes, e.g. Dick Gephardt, have tended to focus on labor organizations as the instruments through which change would come. Edwards, the trial lawyer, presents a post-union populism recognizing that unions will never be a force in American life. It makes sense that this son of the South—where unions have never taken hold—would see other means of creating this change, a la Huey Long. And, in the South, trial lawyers have often been that force, although the justice has been a bit more ad hoc than is the case with organized labor.
At the close of the speech, the themes of Edwards’s 2004 “two Americas” speech came back in. In 2004, Edwards was unclear how those two Americas would become “one.” Now, he’s clear: only a hard-nosed fight against those in keeping Americans divided by wealth will produce that change.
After the speech, Edwards did a press availability where questions focused on process, particularly the degree to which Edwards delegate numbers can grow through gaining second choice votes. The Edwards campaign thinks that most of the second choice votes will come from nonviability candidates (like Richardson, Biden, and Dodd), but they also have hopes in rural areas of picking up votes from the less organized Clinton.
The countdown to Thursday night begins.