Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2003 / 4 Shevat, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Senator from Mayberry shouldn't alarm prez | Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina announced on Thursday that he has established a committee to explore a run for the presidency. My guess is this committee will decide that what this country needs is John Edwards in the White House.

This may seem counterintuitive, since Edwards lacks even the most elementary qualifications. A trial lawyer who first ran for office in 1998, he has no political chops to speak of, no executive record beyond the law-firm level and no important legislative accomplishments. In short, he is pretty close to a cipher.

This impression is confirmed by Edwards' Web site. There you will find the senator's achievements, none of which could be described as presidential. He sits on a few Senate committees. He's for better schools and modernization of the banking system. He co-sponsored a Patient Protection Act that passed the Senate. The site advertises oddly lukewarm newspaper reviews. The Raleigh News and Observer calls the senator "smart, disciplined and hardworking." The Wall Street Journal says he "impresses colleagues in behind-doors deliberations." The Washington Post observes that he has "the ability to think on his feet ... master complex issues and ... communicate in plain language to ordinary people." These are qualities you would look for in the manager of a Ford dealership.

One of the longest paragraphs on the Web site is devoted to the apparently noteworthy fact that Edwards has visited every one of North Carolina's 100 counties, "from Murphy (where he went to a college) to Manteo (where he honored Andy Griffith)."

Edwards calls himself "The People's Senator," but this is a stretch. As a personal-injury lawyer, he has taken from the rich and given to the poor. But unlike Robin Hood, Edwards kept a good share of the loot, making him a multimillionaire. He also doesn't look like a folk hero. In fact, he bears a more than passing resemblance to Troy Donahue's Merle, the smarmy gigolo in "The Godfather, Part II."

The senator's title to a log cabin is, in any case, derivative - he had a mill-hand father and post office mom. Unfortunately, proletarian parents have lately been devalued by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's invocation of his shipyard-workin' daddy.

Still, Edwards has pluses. First, it appears that he'll be up against a field of dull, if more conventionally qualified, competitors. Secondly, he is the favorite son of his fellow trial lawyers, a major source of Democratic funding. And, he is a faux-populist wild-card candidate in the style of Bill Clinton.

This worries President Bush. His inner circle has been keeping an eye on Edwards for months. They fear he could mount a Tribune-of-the-People Southern strategy in a bad economic climate. This concern has given rise to a not-so-subtle preemptive strike. One of Bush's stock lines is that Osama Bin Laden must have thought America was so weak that it would retaliate with a lawsuit or two.

On the other hand, Clinton, it is rumored, favors Edwards' candidacy. Romantics attribute this to a natural fondness on the part of the Man from Hope for the young Senator from Mayberry. Cynics discern a somewhat less sentimental motive.

Bush may fear Edwards as a wild card, but Clinton knows it's unlikely that he, or any Democrat, can beat an incumbent wartime President. But a candidate who does well in 2004 would become a strong contender for the nomination in 2008.

Hillary Clinton's year is 2008. From the point of view of the Clinton Restoration, it is preferable for the Democrats to lose big in 2004 and clear the boards. A wartime candidate like Edwards, whose defense expertise consists of owning a home security system and whose foreign policy experience was a trip to Manteo County, would fit that bill nicely.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
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08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
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