WSJ Cuts Through the Hoopla

Alan Murray is a former Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal and he still writes the occasional column for The Journal’s “Politics & Policy” page, for which the newspaper’s readers should be grateful.

Murray has the knack of sniffing around an obvious story and finding the angle everyone else forgot, and he did it again this morning. Even before John Edwards was named John Kerry’s running mate, Murray was in print with an article exploring the ramifications of such a marriage (subscription required).

For those of you who can’t get past The Journal’s online pay wall, and who don’t have the dollar to buy a print copy (remember print?), we’ll quote at length.

Murray starts off reminding us of the public vow of Tom Donahue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has sworn to abandon the Chamber’s traditional neutrality to work feverishly to defeat any ticket with John Edwards on it, and he further quotes a Fortune 100 chief exec who confides to him that Edwards “‘is the one we fear most’ — more than John Kerry, more than Dick Gephardt, more than Howard Dean.”

Why, asks Murray. After all, “Edwards’s political and policy views are more moderate — and more in line with business — than those of Gov. Dean, Rep. Gephardt or even Sen. Kerry.”

The answer is a two-word one, and they’re two words that strike terror into the hearts of chief executives everywhere:

“Trial lawyer.”

The nation’s CEO’s, writes Murray, “view the plaintiff’s bar as modern-day mobsters, shaking down corporations by bringing endless lawsuits … too costly and too dangerous to litigate and that result in settlements costing billions to the corporate bottom line,” and they know all too well that Edwards made both his name and his fortune as a courtroom-savvy plaintiff’s advocate.

Should Democrats worry about this? After all, how many CEO votes are there in the United States? Not many, Murray concedes — but he tells us that ever since business leaders turned on Jimmy Carter and, conversely, chose to sit on the sidelines instead of opposing Bill Clinton, prevailing wisdom among Democratic gurus has been, don’t poke at the bull elephants.

Murray predicts that both Kerry and Edwards will take that advice, and tone down the harsh anti-big-business rhetoric — and he even speculates that Edwards might ease executive panic by taking up the cause of class-action reform, a business-friendly position already staked out by some Democrats in Congress. He also anticipates that John and John will get to work pronto, painting Donahue of the Chamber of Commerce as a cohort and tool of the White House. After all, there may not be many CEO’s with a vote on Nov. 2, but there are literally millions of Chamber members.

This is the kind of insightful, away-from-the-crowd reporting we crave — and are too often starved for this campaign season.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.