I'm just back from the YearlyKos Convention in Chicago, and wanted to point folks to two YouTube clips of what were the best and most telling moments - by far - of the conference's presidential campaign interchanges. As you will see, after John Edwards pushed Hillary Clinton into a corner about her ties to Washington corporate lobbyists at the debate, he continued on the theme in his town-hall-style breakout session - a sign that, coupled with his history from 2004, shows that he is aiming to use the issue as a way to frame the race as him vs. Clinton. If I were Clinton's campaign trying to, for instance, paint American politics' top recipient of health care industry money and lobbyist cash as the candidate of "change," Edwards' line of attack is exactly what I would be most afraid of.
Watch the first clip from the debate - and watch how Hillary Clinton gets laughed at, not only by the audience, but by Barack Obama who is sitting next to her. This is about as revealing a moment as you will find on which candidates do - and do not - represent change:
But my favorite line was when Clinton claimed, "I don’t, I don’t think based on my 35 years in fighting for what I believe in anybody seriously believes I am going to be influenced by a lobbyist or a particular interest group." Oh really? How about, as just one example, Clinton's vote for the 2001 Bankruptcy Bill? You remember that bill - it was the one written by the credit card industry that allows them to jack up interest rates on low and moderate income Americans who are struggling to pay their bills. Are we really to believe that vote wasn't "influenced by a lobbyist or a particular interest group?" Please.
Sure, Edwards voted for that bill, too - as did most of the senators, Republican and Democrat. He's also since said that, "Like a lot of Democrats, I voted for a bankruptcy reform bill before [and] I can't say it more simply than this: I was wrong." But that's not even the point - the point is that whereas he acknowledges that the campaign finance and lobbying system itself is rigged to regularly create votes like that, she's actually trying to deny that anything is even wrong, which beyond any one bad vote, is the real problem and the real contrast.
Following the debate I attended Edwards town-hall-style breakout session. As you can see from the video I got below, Edwards continued hammering the lobbyist theme and used it to draw a sharp distinction between him and Clinton, using more clear-cut terms than I've seen any of the candidates use in trying to frame the race. Watch the clip at:
Edwards frames the race as a choice. "If you believe we’re gonna get the change that we need in a system that’s rigged, and that that change is going to come working with people who rigged the system, and that’s what these Washington lobbyists are – then you have one choice," he says, in a clear reference to Clinton. "If on the other hand you believe we should reform not just the government we should [also] reform the Democratic Party, we should make it clear that we are not with those people, that we are not the party of Washington insiders" then, he says, he's your choice.
You may recall, this theme is nothing new for Edwards. In 2004, he aggressively campaigned against the influence of lobbyists and insiders in Washington to the point that K Street threw public temper tantrums about him being named to the Democratic ticket. My guess is that now that Clinton has provided a TV-commercial-ready soundbites bragging about taking cash from lobbyists and claiming "lobbyists represent real Americans" Edwards will continue pounding on the issue as he did immediately following the debate, and that K Street will react by ratcheting up a defense of Clinton and attack on the former North Carolina senator. Stay tuned - it's starting to get good.