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Sunday, May 21, 2006

John Edwards and the Democrats' plague of lawyers 


John Edwards did his star turn on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," reminding us that he lost an election to "the worst president in our lifetime." I suppose it is necessary for him to declare this -- announcing that Bush is the "worst president ever" or over some shorter period seems to be a litmus test among Democratic contributors. Other than that benefit, though, it is hard to see how it is in Edwards' interest to proclaim this, since it is tantamount to calling the voters who elevated Bush and Cheney over Kerry and Edwards stupid.

The truth is, Bush has rarely looked like a strong president in the abstract. You have to put a Democratic nominee next to him for people to realize that there can be worse things.

Regular readers know that I think that the Democrats suffer from the too-heavy influence of lawyers. Lawyers have many strengths, and they make excellent legislators. However, they make much worse executives because they tend to suffer from at least three professional deficiencies that they have to overcome in order to be successful. First, they are trained in analysis and argument, not leadership. Lawyers are naturally lone wolves, and often do not understand in their gut how to motivate organizations to do what they want.

Second, they are experts in procedure and therefore tend to think in procedural terms, rather than by objective. The lawyer's fetish for procedure crops up in all sorts of situations, but it positively haunted the Clinton administration's efforts to deal with the rising threat of al Qaeda. Clinton quite famously missed at least one opportunity -- some say three -- to get his hands on Osama bin Laden, but passed because he was worried that we could not get a conviction on a U.S. offense in front of a federal jury. The controversy surrounding the Bush administration's relative disregard for procedural niceties may cause some people to think that Clinton's approach was not all bad, but most Americans would rather hear that hundreds of random Saudis and Afghanis are in secret prisons than think we would let a terror master go because we can't prove up the case.

Third, lawyers tend to argue in the alternative. This is permissible in litigation and law school -- "I wasn't in Kansas City when he was murdered, and if I was it was self-defense" -- but it is alien to, er, normal people. See, for example, John Edwards strange argument in defense of his sleezy "Mary Cheney" comment during the 2004 vice presidential debate:

The former senator, pitching his "college for everyone" program in rural North Carolina, also responded to recent criticism by Mary Cheney, Vice President Cheney's lesbian daughter. In "Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life", Cheney, the 37-year-old second daughter of the vice president and second lady, labeled Edwards as "complete and total slime" for congratulating Cheney and his wife during their 2004 vice presidential debate for "embrac[ing]" their daughter's sexual orientation.

Edwards did not back down, telling Stephanopoulous, ABC News' chief Washington correspondent, "I think what I said then was appropriate. And I do believe that it was in a very partisan political environment. We were in the middle of a very hot campaign, very close campaign."

So, was it "appropriate" in the abstract for Edwards to leverage Mary Cheney's sexual orientation against Cheney's social conservative base, or was it merely excusable because it was expedient? It seems to me that these are two entirely different arguments that reflect quite differently on the person making them (although neither reflection is particularly appealing).

John Edwards, like many lawyers, thinks that Americans are easily fooled. He thinks that they were duped when they elected Bush and Cheney, and he thinks that they do not know the difference between his two excuses for his reprehensible behavior during the vice presidential debate. George Bush may well be the worst president in a long time -- although I refuse to concede that he is worse than Jimmy Carter -- but he is a great and fearless leader when standing next to John Edwards.

12 Comments:

By Blogger crosspatch, at Sun May 21, 09:31:00 PM:

I would say that without a doubt and by a wide margin Jimmy Carter was the worst President in my lifetime. We are *still* dealing with the crap he caused (Iran, Afghanistan among other things).  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Mon May 22, 12:09:00 AM:

"George Bush may well be the worst president in a long time-"

Is this another example of a lawyer arguing in the abstract, or is the idea actually under consideration?

PS: It is simply inappropriate to use opponents' children against them. Wives on the other hand, are...wait for it...FAIR GAME!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 22, 02:25:00 AM:

I think calling Edward's comment about Mary Cheney "sleazy" is an exageration. VP Cheney brought up his daughter first. That made it fair game, in my view, for Edwards to use her also. I'd wouldn't even call the usage inapproriate. Just because the daughter doesn't appreciate the way her genetics pose a potential political handicap to her father doesn't make Edwards sleazy. And even if it was, reciprocity is key here. I recall something about McCain's black love-child coming out of a Bush-Cheney call center. What goes around comes around.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon May 22, 09:20:00 AM:

Edwards is short and simple, a scumbag slip-and-fall 1-800 lawyer. The fact that he combines it with politics just makes him that much less credible and untrustworthy.

His kid attends school with mine, and everytime I see him, I get the sense of a plastic barbie doll. His project teaching poverty at UNC while building a mansion on 100 acres is laughable, and his idea that every goes to college misses the point that if we just taught kids what they needed to know in High School, many who aren't college material or desire it wouldn't need it to get a good job.

What amazes me more and more is that you can rise to national level in politics by force of money and marketing. Up close and personal, you wouldn't trust these clowns to deliver a package for fear they'd clip a trinket on the way out. This guys no exception to that rule.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Mon May 22, 10:55:00 AM:

I saw the interview, and my reaction was to hope this guy just keeps on talking and talking.

Some people just don't know when to shut up.  

By Blogger cakreiz, at Mon May 22, 05:00:00 PM:

Agree 100% with your analysis, TH. Also, attorney non-decision is part of the nature of what we do. Most decisions are made by clients, not lawyers. Lawyers supply the benefit-risk analysis. We're great at conjuring up every risk imaginable (real, surreal, extra terrestrial). After full disclosure, it's up to the client to make a decision. It's very easy to become comfortable with this handwashing process because ultimate decision-making lies with someone else.

I agree that the Clinton Administration exhibited the tendency of indecision. Conversely, businessmen seem much more accustomed to making decisions.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Mon May 22, 10:57:00 PM:

TH says, "Clinton quite famously missed at least one opportunity -- some say three -- to get his hands on Osama bin Laden,"

It is strange times when things that are "famously" know are also totally unsubstantiated. Contrary to popular belief, nobody in the Clinton administration ever admitted that they had turned down an offer of bin Laden from Sudan. The legal argument as stated was based on a hypothetical situation. Secondly, the idea that Sudan "offered" bin Laden to the likes of us in addition to being without reputable corroboration, is rather farfetched. During the time the combined OBL/Zawahiri crew was in Sudan, they were under the protection of famed Islamist and America-hater Hassan al Turabi, who was allied with aging portly military dictator Omar al Bashir. When Hosni got a little teed off a the constant attempts on his life, he leaned hard on his backward neighbor up the Nile to lose the Allahu Akhbars. The Sudanese did try to unload OBL on the Saudis provided they would pardon him. They refused. OBL went to Afghanistan. So if you want to use this story to illustrate a lack of decisive action against terrorism against a world leader, it should be Abdullah. For what it's worth, I'd never vote for him.

One of the Anons above makes a good point with regard to the 2000 South Carolina primary. Spreading patently false rumors that one's political opponent (in the same party, no less) had fathered an illegitimate black child makes any politically motivated compliments paid to Dick Cheney's family look pretty mild.

"John Edwards, like many lawyers, thinks that Americans are easily fooled. He thinks that they were duped when they elected Bush and Cheney." Well, to be fair, look at the polls. It would seem like most Americans are coming to believe they were duped when they elected Bush and Cheney.

"George Bush may well be the worst president in a long time -- although I refuse to concede that he is worse than Jimmy Carter -- but he is a great and fearless leader when standing next to John Edwards." I agree with a lot of this. I am less hard on Jimmy Carter than most. People tend to want to credit or blame Presidents for everything that happens "under their watch" regardless of whether they had anything to do with it. Carter is no more to blame for the Iranian revolution and stagflation than Bush is to blame for 9.11 and the dot com collapse recession. When you add up all that Carter had to deal with, he did really get dealt the deuce, seven, off-suited of history. While he did a lot of things wrong that failed to improve the situation, he did some things right, too. His appointee for Fed chairman did finally beat stagflation. I also agree that a character like Edwards would be more in his element riding shotgun in Barbie's pink Ferrari than making decisions about the country's future. I don't deny that Bush leads fearlessly. The problem is that, unbeknownst to him, he doesn't have a clue where he's going or how to get there. For this reason, I proudly voted for less leadership in 2004.

To mangle metaphors, between two blind men in a china shop, I'll vote for the one that that stands still.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon May 22, 11:22:00 PM:

On the Sudan matter, it is true that the Clinton administration has denied receiving an offer "from Sudan," and the 911 Commission found no evidence to overturn that denial. The allegation has come from a number of sources, however, not simply the Sudanese officials who claim to have made the overture (as lefty Media Matters asserts). See, for instance, this fairly persuasive op-ed piece from the Los Angeles Times. It seems rather fact-laden to me, from somebody with no obvious reason to discredit Clinton. Of course, that does not make it true, but the story certainly has the ring of truth to it.

Obviously, any number of other people have made the same assertion, with varying credibility. I am in a hotel room in Mexico City, so I don't remember what Steve Coll wrote in Ghost Wars. If anybody has that handy, it might go a long way to settling this one.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue May 23, 12:59:00 AM:

I think that Sudan actually offered him to us via Saudi, in an indirect way. That is, they offered him up to the Saudis (whom he was actively trying to overthrow) with the foreknowledge that Saudi would probably hand him off to us if asked. And of course the Clinton admin would deny this; it makes them look terrible. This overlooks the Afghani hit squad that was denied authorization to attack OBL because of Clinton's spinelessness. (Ref: Inside Al Qaeda, I think...)

"Well, to be fair, look at the polls. It would seem like most Americans are coming to believe they were duped when they elected Bush and Cheney."

Just because you don't agree with leadership doesn't mean that you have to think that they somehow lied to you. The biggest hit against the President in the polls lately has been the immigration thing; that's when his base started to desert him. Even Texas is turning against him because of that.

Meh. Carter gave away the Panama canal, fumbled the Iranian situation, and played easy with the Soviets. I think he was just too nice to be President.

President Bush knows exactly where he wants to go (with Iraq) and had an idea of how to get there. Unfortunately, his idea was incorrect and 'play by ear' became the rule of the day. Really, things could be a whole lot worse.

And something in the OP that irks me... "the worst president in our lifetime." What is he, 12? Lyndon Johnson, who escalated Vietnam based on a deception and then refused to win, essentially sacrificing thousands of American lives for nothing, not to mention voter fraud to get him elected in the Senate. Richard Nixon who, despite his foreign policy contributions, left a permanent scar on the political landscape and introduced the era of wolfpack journalism thanks to his antics. Carter has already been mentioned.

Stupid BS political posturing... and to think I used to like him.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Tue May 23, 08:15:00 PM:

dawnfire, "Just because you don't agree with leadership doesn't mean that you have to think that they somehow lied to you."

They've taken a huge hit recently on the "trustworthy" poll questions as well as the overall approval rating.

As for the Panama Canal, it was time to schedule a turnover. You just can't keep your old colonial posessions forver. The Europeans were abonding theirs, we had to do the same.

As for Sudan, there's a lot of speculation and innuendo about what actually occurred. Perhaps there would have been some way to get the Saudis to take OBL, promise to "pardon" hm as per the deal, and then go back on the deal and turn him over to us. It sounds like a good way to create a lot of fundie anger, which the Saudis try pretty hard to avoid. However, TH, even if you think all this speculation somehow adds up to "ring true," it is hardly fair to call it, "famously known."  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue May 23, 08:55:00 PM:

"As for the Panama Canal, it was time to schedule a turnover. You just can't keep your old colonial posessions forver. The Europeans were abonding theirs, we had to do the same."

False! We still own Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guantanamo, et cetera. The British, French, and Dutch still maintain overseas holdings in this place or that. And the Panama Canal was much more strategically important than, say, the Virgin Islands. I wasn't around at the time to remember the process, but in retrospect it was a strategic mistake of the first order. There's a reason that the British fought over the Suez Canal so often.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Tue May 23, 10:27:00 PM:

And who controls the Suez Canal now, Dawnfire? Thank you for making my point for me. As for the other things you mention, there is a difference between an old colonial possession that has come to consider itself part of your nation and chooses to remain as such (e.g. Puerto Rico, Gibraltar) and a carved out piece of another nation, (e.g The Panama Canal, Guantanamo). Simply because an old feud between the US and Cuba causes the U.S. to occupy that land without Cuban consent does not mean the winds of history are not ever blowing against such posessions.  

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