No one can accuse John Edwards of brushing off foreign affairs or national security. As BusinessWeek's richard_dunham notes, there was a big emphasis on strength. Acknowledging that "we're at war," Edwards spent considerable time during his convention speech sketching out running-mate John Kerry's experience as a Swift boat commander in Vietnam, and how it's prepared him to be a commander in chief. He pledged that the U.S. would achieve victory in Iraq and warned that he and Kerry "will have one clear unmistakable message for Al Qaida and these terrorists: You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you."
Despite the attention to national security, I think the Edwards speech tells us that the Democrats still think the election will ultimately be won or lost on economic issues. 9/11 was three years ago. Sovereignty in Iraq has been handed back to the Iraqis and as of this moment, there haven't been any additional devastating attacks on U.S. soil. Perhaps the Democrats believe the nation is ready to focus a bit more on domestic issues.
By any measure, the speech gave the most weight to economic issues. Drawing on his own past as a millworker's son, (and pointing to his parents in the audience), Edwards sought to establish an emotional connection with ordinary Americans who have a hard time making ends meet. He conjured up an image of a mother who "sits at the kitchen table. She can't sleep because she's worried she can't pay her bills. She's working hard trying to pay her rent, trying to feed her kids, but she just can't catch up." And he asserted that "the truth is, we still live in a country where there are two different Americas... "
He laid out an agenda to help those folks sitting around the kitchen table, worrying. First, Kerry and Edwards would repeal tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, and eliminate tax cuts for companies that send jobs offshore. They would use the money to fund a number of programs, such as a $4,000 college tuition tax credit and a $1,000 tax credit for childcare. "Hard work should be valued in this country, so we're going to reward work, not just wealth," he pledged.
Will the appeal to "two Americas" work? There are certainly plenty of people sitting around the proverbial kitchen table, wondering how they're going to make ends meet. But no one knows exactly how many people feel like they're part of that group, or how they'll vote. That's why, for the next three months, all eyes should be on hot-button economic issues--jobs and housing data, interest rates and stocks--that are so closely linked to the national mood.