Ballot Box

The Buzzwords of John Edwards

How he spins the issues.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. This series analyzes their pet phrases, candidate by candidate. Today’s subject is John Edwards.

Example: “I said that I was running to be a champion for the regular people of America. They’re still not sure what that means in Washington, D.C. But out here in America, you all know what I mean” (speech in Iowa, May 21, 2003).
What it means: I’m not a politician.
What it hides: I work in Washington.
Subtext: My inexperience is a virtue.


On stage
Example: “And if this party makes me its nominee, and I’m standing there on a stage with the president, I hope he attacks me for my work” (remarks to Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Feb. 22, 2003).
What it means: Focus on my speaking skills, not on my meager experience in public office.
What it hides: My debates against Bush would last a few hours. My presidency, to which experience is far more important than speaking skills, would last four years.
Subtext: Vote for the prettiest face.


Son of a mill worker
Example: “In America, do we still believe that the son of a mill worker can go toe to toe with the son of a president? I do” (speech to California State Democratic Convention, March 15, 2003).
What it means: I started out poor.
What it hides: I ended up rich.
Subtext: Bush has been given everything and has earned nothing.


Fighting for the same people I grew up with
Example: “I come … from a working family where my dad worked in a mill all his life, and I was the first to go to college and spent my whole life fighting for the same people I grew up with” (NPR’s Morning Edition, Jan. 30, 2003).
What it means: Focus on whom I was fighting for, not on the lawyerly nature of the fight.
What it hides: I spent my whole life getting rich off the same people I grew up with.
Subtext: My meager career as a senator is just the latest phase of my substantial career as an advocate.

Previous buzzword reviews: Carol Moseley Braun, Howard Dean.
Next: Dick Gephardt.