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
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
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.