Positively Negative

Just like all those Iowa voters, David Broder seems to have fallen for the boyish charm of Sen. John Edwards. In a Washington Post piece which sometimes seems to be laying out the Edwards campaign’s talking points, Broder reports that if the field narrows after today’s primaries, Edwards “looks forward to drawing an increasingly sharp contrast with Kerry on issues and backgrounds.”

“Drawing a contrast” is the euphemism that campaigns use when they’re attacking an opponent and don’t want to admit it. A less favorable — and perhaps more accurate — way for Broder to say it would have been: “Edwards looks forward to going on the attack against Kerry on issues and backgrounds.” But let’s continue.

Broder frames Edwards’s strategic problem thus: “How to bring the high-flying Kerry down to earth without abandoning his own pledge not to ‘attack’ a fellow Democrat. That pledge is an essential part of Edwards’s stump speech, and he says it is a commitment he intends to keep.”

The only hint Broder gives us that Edwards has in fact already abandoned that pledge comes when he tells us, “In interviews, however, Edwards has started to highlight Kerry’s pro-NAFTA vote.”

But a quick look at The New York Times tells us that highlighting an honest difference of opinion over NAFTA isn’t the only way that Edwards has abandoned his pledge. In story headed, “For Kerry and Edwards, Sharp Exchanges Reflect a Crucial Day of Voting,” Adam Nagourney reports that Edwards “broke his self-imposed vow of civility here on Monday, criticizing Mr. Kerry for supporting trade treaties that are highly unpopular here and for accepting contributions from lobbyists.”

Edwards told reporters: “I don’t take contributions from lobbyists. He obviously does.” (Whether Edwards takes contributions from former lobbyists is a whole different question.)

Edwards’s spokeswoman tried to explain Edwards’s decision to go negative like this: “He’s not going on the attack. How is that an attack? It’s not an attack. It’s an important distinction for him. He does not take money from registered lobbyists.”

That was a defense that no one but Broder took seriously. Or maybe Broder had written and filed his story before Edwards attacked Kerry, and — as seems to have happened before — none of the editors at The Washington Post wanted to mess with his copy. Or maybe he was on his lunch break when Edwards attacked Kerry. Your guess is as good as ours.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.