In the world John Edwards has created with his campaign, the only time the glass is half empty is when someone just drank three-quarters of whatever was in it. Uphill climb? Slow start? Long odds? Edwards seems to revel in these obstacles (and in politics, much of the battle is in the seeming) as he explains how he dealt with them in the past: “I beat ‘em. Then I beat ‘em again. And I beat ‘em again. And I beat ‘em again.” His campaign has been described as being in its engine-that-could phase. At times this particular little engine can come off more like a country-road encyclopedia salesman than a mere politician. But like a certain Southern, political charmer who preceded him; he just happens to be selling the one set of encyclopedias that seem worth at least an afternoon’s front porch discussion. I am a lifelong pessimist-skeptic covered by a wet blanket’s worth of cynicism. But I cannot turn past C-Span if John Edwards is delivering his now legendary (and largely static) stump speech – in fact the only C-span occurrence I still find more compelling is when Hitchens is a guest and agrees to take calls. I find myself telling grocery clerks that there are two Americas, I talk about race everywhere (including when I’m alone in the shower), and I mention to strangers in the ATM line that no child should be going to bed without a blanket tonight, not in our America (I often repeat that last phrase until I get an amen; one startled woman actually tossed me the cash she had just taken out). I find myself wishing there were three, four or even five Americas just so the speech could on a little longer. I highly doubt that John Edwards will actually turn out to be the little politician who could, but I also don’t want to be the one who says he couldn’t; and that’s not just out of a fairly grounded fear that he’d beat me, beat me, beat me and beat me again. In the meantime, I remain glued to C-span, lighter in hand, chanting “two Americas,” and waiting for someone in my house to try to change the channel. It’s not gonna happen. Not in my America.
. . . Saturday February 21, 2004