I’ve been trying to figure out who former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is trying to imitate in his presidential quest. It finally hit me. Bobby Kennedy. But just as former Colorado Senator Gary Hart couldn’t be JFK in 1984, it ain’t going to work.
First, a few words about Bobby. Like a lot of people, I found myself caught up in the excitement of RFK’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. I remember the motorcades with adoring throngs tugging at his clothes, the soaring speeches and the hope of a better tomorrow. But years later I watched a documentary about him and realized there was something big that I had missed in the naivete of my youth.
It wasn’t that Bobby campaigned on a promise of helping the poor, the hopeless and the downtrodden, it was that that was virtually all his campaign was about. Yes, he did promise to end the Vietnam war, too. But there was little in his campaign rhetoric about the great entrepreneurial spirit of America, about the achievers, about the genius of democracy and the free enterprise system. In this regard, he was the anti-Reagan. His speeches were all about the poor, as if poverty was the only issue that mattered. In retrospect, Bobby was the white Jesse Jackson, in that Jackson also never talks about America’s achievements, only the failures.
But at least Bobby was sincere. His passion reflected a genuine concern for America’s dispossessd. It’s Edwards’ phoniness that makes his campaign so stomach-turning. Professing sympathy for the poor while charging $50,000 to deliver a speech to an anti-poverty organization? Participating in a hedge fund that is foreclosing on the homes of Hurricane Katrina victims in Lousiana? A $400 haircut? I could go on, but the point is made.
I’ll take a sincere politician I disagree with over a phony one I disagree with every time. Bobby said he wanted to help the poor because he really wanted to help them. Edwards says he wants to help the poor as a vehicle to help himself. It’s his gimmick.
John Edwards is about as sincere in wanting to help the poor as McDonald’s would be in saying it wants to help cows.
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