Monday, May 07, 2007

81 degrees by 9AM

It's getting hot out here... must be the residual heat left over from that blazing Republican debate in Simi Valley.

Or maybe it's just climate change.

This mini-heat wave is nothing compared to the hot seat John Edwards was placed in yesterday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Senator Edwards was asked about everything from Iraq to No Child Left Behind to off-shore tax havens. I briefly noticed some of the folks over at Daily Kos thought one of two things: 1) George Stephanopolous is a hack who attacked Edwards' relentlessly, and 2) the questions were fair and Edwards did a good job. I'd vote for camp 2.

The show got me thinking about presidential candidates who have personal histories filled with genuine professional risk, and the perils of having a president who never encountered a sustained period of life where complicated professional judgments needed to be made, judgments that implicated his or her bottom line and thus personal or familial security. Pundits from and other Right-based outlets like to harp about Edwards' wealth, especially the fact that it was made from his being a trial lawyer. They lament how his wealth either makes him unable to relate to lower or middle class voters, or even worse how his wealth in and of itself somehow taints his character. I am always frustrated that neither Edwards nor his supporters make a forceful counter-argument using the facts available to them.

From my experience as an assistant in a small plaintiff's firm in Washington, D.C., I have seen that being a trial lawyer is a risky and extremely stressful career. Such an attorney makes daily decisions to dedicate hours and hours of work to a cause or case knowing the financial reward is not guaranteed and, if any, is always delayed. To be successful at this, listening to clients and determining who is a valuable risk, demands a sustained patience and assuredness. To be successful at this and to be on the side of a low-income, aggrieved plaintiff battling a large, cash-rich corporation involves insane optimism and self-confidence. That Senator Edwards has never, to my mind, made the case for what his career taught him, and what his success required of him, is a sad oversight.

In a similar vein, I would love to hear more from Barack Obama about his community organizing days and how it fuels his current ambition (not just in the pages of his books), or from Hillary Clinton about her years as an attorney. Presidential candidates point to their public offices as proof of their worthiness and experience, and I am never sure that the existence of these electoral victories reveal much about their leadership or motivation to enact certain policies. In "real" life, when a candidate is interviewed for a job, he or she is asked repeatedly to illuminate past positions and decisions even more than why they want the current job. It would be remarkable if the United States could move past questions like "Raise your hand if you've ever owned a gun" when choosing a president, and worry a little more about whether the candidates have ever owned their own circumstance.

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