October 30, 2007

Said The Personal-Injury Lawyer

John Edwards has decided to take a different direction in his campaign against Hillary Clinton -- and it's one Republicans might watch with more than an academic interest. Apparently frustrated by an inability to gain traction on policy, Edwards will explicitly attack Hillary's character in an attempt to stop her momentum:

Democrat John Edwards is trying to turn the Democratic presidential race into a referendum on honesty and integrity, areas where polling has shown that voters are divided about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The argument marks a shift in a race where Edwards and Clinton's other Democratic opponents have criticized her stance on policy but usually have avoided taking on her character directly. In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Edwards said Clinton is part of a corrupt Washington system.

"Good people are caught up in this system, and I've given some examples of the places that I think she's caught up in it," Edwards said. "And I also, secondly, think that she continues to defend it. And I don't think you can bring up the change this country needs if you defend a corrupt system that doesn't work.

It's an interesting and risky move for Edwards and the Democrats. With Barack Obama pledging to get tougher on Hillary, the primaries may well wind up as a warm-up for the Republicans. They will certainly have their opposition research in full throttle, and now they will get a chance to see where those attacks will be most effective.

In this case, though, it's the right message with the wrong messenger. While Congress certainly has a problem with approval ratings, they have not (yet) sunk as low as personal-injury attorneys. Having John Edwards challenge Hillary Clinton on ethics and integrity is somewhat akin to ... let's see .... demanding more public resources for the poor while building a 28,000-square-foot mansion, or spending $1200 on a haircut.

Even if Edwards had the standing to make such an attack, he isn't competent enough to make it stick. One reason Hillary needs to be defeated, Edwards says, is that her campaign is all about her "personal ambition". He pointed to her January statement when launching her campaign that she was "in it to win". When challenged by the AP to explain why Edwards is in the race, Edwards claimed that he had more personal ambition in 2004 than he does now -- which may explain a lot about why his campaign is mired in also-ran status.

Personal integrity and ethics could play a large role in Hillary's bid, but her saying she wants to win is hardly evidence of gross and unbridled ambition. If Edwards wants to get serious, he can take a look at Hillary's involvement in scandals during a period she claims gives her more experience than any other candidate for the Presidency. He can talk about how the Rose Law Firm records disappeared when investigators needed them, only to magically reappear in the White House later. Edwards could ask about the prosecution of people in the White House Travel Office as an unnecessary cover to clear the staff for political cronies. He could also remind people that the Clintons improperly obtained the raw FBI files for 900 of their political opponents.

The Republicans will no doubt be smarter than Edwards -- which is why they'll be facing Hillary in the general election anyway.


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