Chris Bowers reads Bob Shrum’s account of John Edwards’ decision to vote for the war (as Shrum tells it, Edwards was dubious, his wife was very opposed, but Shrum and other advisers convinced him it was politically necessary) and concludes:
I don’t actually find this passage to be a particularly damning characterization of his political instincts or lack of leadership. Rather, I think is shows how his decision to originally support the war in Iraq probably served as a useful object lesson for a politician still trying to find his comfort zone. In 2002–2003, against his own instincts, against the advice of his wife, and against what he had seen as a member of the Intelligence Committee, Edwards listened instead to the contorted rationalizations of the Democratic establishment. Unsurprisingly, that establishment was also entirely wrong about the Iraq war, which has indeed become one of the biggest mistakes this country has made in decades. It is difficult to imagine a better way to learn to trust yourself then the catastrophic results of not trusting yourself on Iraq. Considering the many ways that Edwards has since bucked that same establishment — not firing McEwan and Marcotte, being the first to refuse a Fox New debate, publicly apologizing for his vote on Iraq, developing a populist, anti-corporate message — my belief is that Edwards learned from his past misplacement of trust in the Democratic establishment and the DLC, and has decided instead to trust his own, far more progressive instincts. For a politician who has been in the game for less than a decade, such a transformation seems entirely believable.
That’s why when I read the book, I didn’t think Shrum was trying to make Edwards look bad. Chris’ story (similar to the one Ezra Klein told) is of a man with longstanding progressive instincts, who ran for Senate in North Carolina and fell in with some conventional wisdom about the need to position himself as a centrist to win the White House. This young Senator then failed in his quest to become Vice President, recognized that the war was a giant fiasco, and determined to spend his next years saying what he believed and hoping for the best.
This seems like a reasonably plausible, reasonably appealing story. Interestingly, though, it’s not the story the Edwards campaign tells. They say Shrum has this wrong, that Edwards acted out of conviction, and Edwards keeps hinting (most recently in the Q&A; session after his national security speech in New York) that there was something shown to members of the Intelligence Committee that persuaded him. Not being an Intel Committee member myself I can’t say for sure, but my strong suspicion is that this is false — Sens. Graham, Durbin, and Levin, at a minimum, have always suggested that the Intel Committee was privy to information that undermined the case for war.
I’m not totally sure what to make of all that, but I guess it’s worth noting. Shrum’s story seems plausible to me, and arguably more favorable to Edwards than does Edwards’ own account.