How Far Apart are Edwards and Obama?

Paul Krugman today lauds

the populism of John Edwards, saying that the best strategy for a Democratic

candidate is to "run with the populist tide". I wonder what he thinks

of Matt

Cooper’s latest piece in Portfolio, which says that Edwards is, not, in

fact, half as populist as Krugman might like to think:

Edwards may wax like William Jennings Bryan when he’s onstage, but behind

the scenes he sounds like an anodyne Democrat in the mold of Harry Reid….

If you look at the positions he’s taken, they’re really not that different

from those of the other Democratic candidates, even though his rhetoric is

decidedly more combative.

Krugman bases his column on differences between Edwards and Obama on the healthcare

front: Obama wants to "sit at a big table" including the insurance

and pharmaceutical companies, while Edwards says that it’s "a complete

fantasy" to think that those industries would willingly negotiate away

their power.

But I’m with Cooper on this one: Krugman’s concentrating, here, on rhetoric,

rather than substance. In reality, the differences between the Obama and the

Edwards healthcare proposals are slim, which is one reason why the debate is

moving to the how rather than the what.

Tactically, it may or may not be a good idea for Edwards to wax populist. Krugman

certainly thinks it is. I, on the other hand, think that the Obama approach

is more likely to attract Republicans who are disgusted with the Bush administration

but who fear the idea of electing a leftist. Of course, neither of us has much

in the way of political-strategy credentials – although I’d note that

Clive Crook comes

down on my side of the debate in the FT today. The substance of the candidates’

policies should be what really matters, and I do believe, with Cooper, that

there’s less of a gap between Edwards and Obama than Krugman implies.

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