Of course, Cillizza doesn’t want the president to emulate the self-destructive personal behavior that torpedoed what was left of an already faltering political career when the former Democratic vice presidential nominee’s lies and infidelities were revealed. Rather, he’d like the president to excavate Edwards’s “Two Americas” stump speech in which he depicted the country as a savage place divided between haves and have-nots. Cillizza thinks that Edwards’s signature piece of economic populism strikes just the right tone for a president desperate to change the topic of conversation from a failed economy to evil plutocrats who are protected by Republicans. But what Cillizza seems to forget is that Edwards’s screed about inequality came across as blatantly insincere. For Obama, who unlike Edwards cannot pose as the “son of a millworker,” to adopt this tone would not only be hypocritical it would come across as patently fake.
It bears recalling that Edwards’s fall from grace came after his political career had ended in failure and played no part in the series of humiliating defeats that he suffered. Though his origins may have been humble, by the time he entered the political fray, Edwards was the poster child for tort reform: a blow-dried millionaire ambulance chaser. Though his soak the rich rhetoric pleased some on the left, his attempt to position himself as the spokesman for the disadvantage flopped because most Democrats, let alone the rest of the electorate, regarded him as a phony.
If Obama were to try to copy from Edwards’s playbook, he’d likely get the same result. Obama’s appeal in 2008 came from his pose as a post-partisan problem solver who would change the nature of our political discourse from the sort of fevered partisanship that the “Two Americas” speech represents. Were he to adopt this rhetorical style, it would be just as fake as Edwards’s shtick.
The Occupy Wall Street protests seem to have brought on a wave of nostalgia for the leftist rhetoric of the past in much of the mainstream media. Yet even in 2003 when Edwards first rolled out this talk, “Two Americas” was already a museum piece that spoke to the political culture of an America that no longer really existed. Yet another revival won’t change that fact or allow Obama to escape responsibility for the failures of his time in the White House.