Words and Things

George Will writes:

Barack Obama, who might be mercifully closing the Clinton parenthesis in presidential history, is refreshingly cerebral amid this recrudescence of the paranoid style in American politics. He is the un-Edwards and un-Huckabee — an adult aiming to reform the real world rather than an adolescent fantasizing mock-heroic “fights” against fictitious villains in a left-wing cartoon version of this country.

What’s fascinating about this is the literally superficial level of the analysis. It’s true that Edwards and Huckabee have a somewhat similar political style — they both fit firmly in the southern populist tradition. Barack Obama has a very different style, coming out of the progressive reformer tradition. That said, in any deeper sense, Edwards is clearly much much much more similar to Obama than he is to Huckabee. Huckabee says “We don’t need universal health care mandated by federal edict or funded through ever-higher taxes.”

John Edwards and Barack Obama both have health care plans that involve lots of new spending and federal edicts. John Edwards would reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 through an auction of tradable emissions permits. Barack Obama would do the same. Mike Huckabee’s energy plan doesn’t mention global warming. John Edwards supports reproductive freedom and gay rights. So does Barack Obama. But Mike Huckabee doesn’t. Barack Obama wants to repeal Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. So does John Edwards. Mike Huckabee wants to implement a regressive and unworkable national retail sales tax.

I won’t further belabor the point, because it’s obvious. But this stuff matters! The difference between a world of uncontrollable global warming, a rag-tag health care system, a regressive tax code, forced pregnancy, and a Federal Marriage Amendment is very different from a world with a clean energy economy, a strong safety net for the sick, a progressive tax code, and a government that respects privacy. The stylistic differences between Edwards and Obama aren’t unimportant, but the substantive similarities between the two (and, indeed, between both of them and Hillary Clinton) are much more important than the superficial similarities between Edwards and Huckabee.

Photo courtesy of John Edwards 2008 used under a Creative Commons license