Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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John Edward’s Favorite Book

I happened to see The Boy Wonder on ABC this morning interviewing presidential hopeful John Edwards, and Stephanopoulos asked him who his favorite philosopher was (a very original question). Edwards starting talking about his favorite politician (a former governor of North Carolina) and when asked again, he said he didn’t know. Then Stephanopoulos asked him what his favorite book was and Edwards said: "I.F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates." It seems to me that there should have been a follow-up question.

Discussions - 2 Comments

I saw the interview and I must say that Edwards’s answer to the philosopher question was spectacularly terrible. How is it that he was not able to come up with a single philosopher? Even if Edwards doesn’t actually have a favorite philosopher, shouldn’t he be able to cough up a relatively innocuous sounding answer like, "uh, golly George you’re taking me all the way back to my college days, how about Aristotle". I’m sure that the candidate for the "regular" person would not want to be heard to claim that his favorite philosopher was Kant or Hegel or Spinoza or Pufendorf. Also, I doubt Edwards was thinking of this, but one of the dangers of actually naming any philosopher to Steph. is the danger of a very philosopher specific follow-up question that could have made Edwards out to be a fool and a liar. (Steph. is after all a former divinity student, I believe, so he should be able to toss out a specific-sounding question about any philospher that Edwards would be likely to name).

Still, one has to say something. Couldn’t Edwards have tried to tap dance out of the question by talking about Jefferson or Madison or the Federalist Papers? I have no idea how well read Edwards is (or is supposed to be), but that sort of off the cuff answer is better than what he gave. Edwards could have said something vaguely Clintonian like: "Frankly, George, I’ve read a bunch philosphers over the years, but I wouldn’t say I have a favorite -- I’ve never been influenced by people who like to build castles in the air. I’ve always been most influenced by thinkers and leaders who worked to change the real world -- to make their communities a better place for all the people. That’s what I tried to do as lawyer and as a senator and that’s what I will do when I’m elected president."

I realize that Edwards is young and inexperienced, but how hard is that sort of populist cliche answer? Not very. It’s his stock answer whenever he is asked about his career as a trial lawyer, and it is reasonably effective at disarming the questioner and deflecting attention.

I was more interested in the colloquy with Edwards about tort reform. Edwards started off by suggesting that malpractice fee increases were not the result of malpractice litigation but rather of bad stock market speculation by the inusrance companies -- a weasely obfuscating answer that will resonate with no one. His second point was better and should have been his first:, namely, that he would support reforms to require greater particularity in pleadings and hold attorneys more accountable for filing suit without adequate or substantial legal or evidentiary basis. Steph finally pressed him to address caps on jury awards, and Edwards pleaded uncertainty - saying that he remained unconvinced that caps would have any meaningful effect.

As a former trial lawyer, Edwards should take the bull by the horns and try to advocate for some sort of tort reform, early. The issue would have a "Nixon goes to China" flavor for Edwards, and it would disarm his opponent of a valuable club. Best of all, Edwards could do it without ever having to follow through on the promise. Tort reform is, after all, a quintessential state law issue and not properly any of the federal government’s business. Edwards could put forward the proposal with a wink and a nod at the trial lawyer lobby, which surely must know that he’s their best horse in the race.

Paul Rahe dedicates his massive book to IF Stone; maybe Edwards should be quizzed on it.

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