Jewish World Review August 6, 2004 / 19 Menachem-Av, 5764
Edwards vs. Hillary: Eloquent opposed to tinny
The contrast between Sen. John Edwards's empathetic, warm, evocative speech at the Democratic convention and Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) rote, tinny partisanship was all too obvious. If the former first lady thinks she can roll over Edwards, even if his ticket loses in November, she has another think coming.
The impact of Edwards's speech will not soon dissipate. A national convention has not heard the likes of his speech in some time. His content was Clintonesque. His delivery had the compelling, uplifting quality of Martin Luther King Jr. His emotionality was worthy of Reagan. He is a star.
Hillary only has a partisan cadence to her remarks, a very conventional convention speaking style best used at highly partisan gatherings where her pauses can be animated by canned applause. But Edwards spoke not with his larynx but with his heart.
The former trial lawyer made clear that he understands what it is like to be downtrodden and to be trodden upon. He has felt personal pain in a way few of us ever have, and the furrows in his personality reflect the lessons he has learned.
His human approach to the Iraq war and his evocation of the pain and suffering it causes soldiers and families is a welcome contrast to the feel-no-pain patriotism that exalts the mission but does little to honor the troops themselves.
But the larger purpose of Edwards's speech, like Clinton's before it, was to put the war on terror into a little box and not let it overshadow the domestic issues on which the Democratic Party is a clear winner. By talking about the economy and healthcare and the pain that many Americans feel, Edwards and Clinton both are seeking to conduct the election on a wider front than just national security and terror. In this sense, Edwards's speech was not only eloquent but politically right on target.
For an era of political sound bites in which nothing longer than seven seconds makes it onto our TV screens, our political system is curiously structured around long, great oratory. Clinton's State of the Union speeches were like the towers of a suspension bridge, holding his ratings aloft and raising them up whenever they sank.
Convention speeches do more to define a candidate than any other event. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo lived off his two cities speech for more than a decade. Who can forget Clinton's line in 1992 that there are no more "us and them. There is only us?"
Even Al Gore rose to the occasion in his anti-tobacco speech of 1996 and his State of the Union-like catalog of programs in 2000. Bush-41, no great orator, captured our hearts when he called himself a "quiet man who hears the quiet voices."
There is a dearth of real life experiences among our politicians. With both Bushes born to the purple, Clinton a lifelong career politician and officeholder and Reagan an actor, we don't have political figures who know what it is like to be an ordinary person. With 11 senators holding their seats because their ancestors or husbands had them, we lack people who have suffered and come up the hard way.
Edwards's real-life experience echoes in each line of his speech. He has lived in pain, and he has spent his life representing those who are suffering. His experience with life more than compensates for his scant political résumé.
The North Carolina senator has now talked his way into this pantheon of the eloquent. His speech will echo for the rest of his life and will vault him over others as he pursues higher office. Whatever else happens in his life, John Edwards will always have Boston.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, most recently, "Rewriting History", a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History. (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Dick Morris