Whose Change?
Impressions from Iowa.


Rich Lowry

Romney recites his record. In another non-Huckabee touch, he says, “I started off consulting.” He talks about bringing change to business, the Olympics, and government. He strikes a unifying note, explaining that he finds Edwards’s two America rhetoric offensive because we’re one united country. The former Massachusetts governor tells an uplifting story from the Olympics and, in keeping with his emphasis on optimism, says he believes our “future will be bright.”

He’s not an electrifying campaigner. He ends by promising to fight like “the dickens” for change. Like the dickens! That’s not going to send many people to the ramparts. Romney doesn’t make much of an emotional connection, but he has a certain solid-citizen, Ward Cleaver appeal. What he lacks in inspiration, he makes up with discipline and tirelessness as a campaigner. He hasn’t caught up to Huckabee because he’s better on the stump, but because he has more resources, more organization, and a better campaign team. He is a merely adequate campaigner who has run a very good campaign.

For Romney, change is competence.

The John Edwards event in Knoxville is in the lobby of a high school. There are two or three times (maybe more) as many people as were at the Huckabee and Romney events, which is almost always the case: the Democrats just draw more people. Going from a Republican to a Democratic event is a little like moving from AAA to the major leagues. Everything feels like it’s on a larger scale.

The Edwards message is breathtaking in its anger. This is 100-proof populism. He’s like a stand-up comedian who has steadily honed his material down to the most effective stuff. In the case of the comedian, all that’s left is laughs; in the case of Edwards almost all that is left is anger. His campaign pitch is like a well-polished mailed fist, aimed at the gut of the establishment, defined by Edwards as corporations and the Washington politicians who do their bidding.

“Corporate greed is killing the middle class,” Edwards says, “and stealing your children’s future.” He promises to confront the corporate interests, and explicitly promises not to sit down with them. (In his mind apparently, Pfizer is less worth talking to than the mullahs of Iran.) He pours scorn on those who want to work with “stakeholders” on legislation. Corporate interests aren’t going to “voluntarily give their power away — they’ll give it away when we take it away from them.” “We’re going to fight,” Edwards says, invoking Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Truman.

The former North Carolina senator frames this message very effectively around his parents and the sacrifices they made for him, like all good parents do. The fight he is asking people to make is in that tradition, parents working for a better future for their kids. “We’re going to stand on the shoulders of our parents and grandparents,” he says.

Taking a shot at Obama, Edwards says we need a president who feels this need to fight in his gut, for whom this fight is personal, “someone for whom it’s too important and won’t back down.” He talks of growing up in tough neighborhoods, where you “gotta fight to survive.” He says as a trial lawyer he fought with corporate lawyers, and learned that you “can’t nice these people to death.”

There is a strong element of paranoia to his message. The rich are getting richer according to Edwards, and “it’s not an accident, it’s not happening on its own.” He then cites alarming statistics about the suffering in America and urges, “enough is enough — I mean really.” He urges the crowd (which went on to give him two standing ovations) to “treat these people the way they treat you.”

On caucus night, he tells them, “you are going to rise up,” and “stand up to this corporate greed.” Then, he says, they will be able “to look [their] children in the eye,” and say they “left this country better than they found it.”