Introducing a new feature of this web column: Campaign Contortions ’04.
Politicians often find themselves in tight spots. They have to take stands on issues they’d rather duck. They find themselves caught trying to satisfy (or pander to) different constituencies. They want to escape from political and policy indiscretions of their youths (read: previous positions that might not help them now). Remember George W. Bush signing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill that he had essentially called unconstitutional and pledged to veto while running for president? In the midst of the Enron scandal, he obviously felt he couldn’t shoot down a measure billed as a clean-up-politics initiative, despite the pleading from conservative activists to smother it and despite his own beliefs. It will “improve the system,” he said at the signing ceremony–as if he were drinking castor oil.
In the months ahead, I hope to honor the more impressive feats of political acrobatics. Had the idea of doing so occurred to me earlier, Senator John Kerry’s stance on the war in Iraq might have been worth a nomination. First, he was critical of Bush. He then voted for the legislation authorizing Bush to launch a war. After that, Kerry was critical of Bush again, urging more diplomacy. Once the invasion was launched, he said he supported Bush’s decision. Kerry is an intelligent man, and, no doubt, he can offer an explanation that would turn apparent zigs and zags into a straight line of principle. But effective contortions do require deftness.
Alas, the rules committee says, no ancient history qualifies. Consequently, the first CC goes to presidential contender Senator John Edwards, the North Carolinian who is trying to be a populist, to appeal to traditional Democratic liberals, and to exploit his standing as the sole Southerner-with-an-accent in the 2004 pack.
On May 12, he delivered a keynote address at a black tie dinner in Atlanta for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights organization. Edwards declared he supports the rights of gays and lesbians to adopt children. “I was raised,” he said, “to believe…in an America that embraces everybody.” He added, “families are at the core of who we are as human beings. And committed families based on love and responsibility deserve to be respected. For me, those families include the families that are in this room tonight.” All Democratic presidential contenders have to take this line. But for Edwards, adopting this position does have a risk, since he may still decide to run for reelection in his home state.