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Edwards: Slogans For Me But Not For Thee

By Tom Bevan

It takes a great deal of chutzpah for a man who's built his entire presidential campaign around the concept of "two Americas" to go out and attack the phrase "war on terror" as being "a slogan designed only for politics." Yet that's exactly what Democratic Presidential hopeful John Edwards did last week while at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he derided the Bush administration's term "war on terror," calling it "a bumper sticker, not a plan."

Let's start from the beginning and go slow. Of course the "war on terror" is a slogan and of course it's not a plan. It's a metaphor. Just like the War on Cancer, the War Against Global Warming, or - perhaps closer to Mr. Edwards's heart - Lyndon Johnson's famous War on Poverty.

Those aren't plans, either. They are slogans and they are made to fit on bumper stickers. But they were all designed specifically to communicate to the public that whatever it was we were declaring "war" on was something to be taken seriously - a problem we needed to devote extra attention and resources to with the ultimate goal of eradicating.

Edwards has never found cause to question any of America's other metaphorical wars, but he clearly seems upset that we've chosen to declare "war" on terrorism. The implication is that the issue of terrorism is somehow undeserving of such a declaration.

So if we can't declare "war" on terror, can we at least "struggle against" it? Or is even "the struggle against terror" too much of a bumper-sticker slogan for Edwards' taste?

Let's hope we can at least say we're "fighting" terror, otherwise we'll be reduced to telling our allies and enemies we are simply "working" on it.

I'm being facetious, but only to point out how quickly this parsing of language devolves into absurdity. Really, how is the "fight against terror" that much different from the "war on terror"?

Clearly Edwards isn't averse to using such language, because at every campaign stop across the nation he implores supporters to join the "fight" against poverty. The centerpiece of his campaign, a promise to eliminate poverty in America in 30 years, evokes constant comparisons in the media to LBJ's War on Poverty - a comparison to which Edwards has never objected.

The reason Edwards employs such rhetoric, and the reason he crafted his own metaphorical "two Americas" to effectively communicate his message to crowds, is because he believes eliminating poverty is one of the "great moral issues" facing America.

On this point we can't question Edwards' sincerity, but it certainly does bring up questions about his judgment. Last month during the first Democratic debate, MSNBC's Brian Williams asked the group of presidential hopefuls for a show of hands from those who would answer yes to this question: "Do you believe there is such a thing as a global war on terror?" Four candidates raised their hands; John Edwards was not among them.

Is the plight of the poor (in the richest country in the world, no less) really a greater moral issue than dealing with a worldwide movement of religious fanatics who slaughter innocents around the globe - including more than three thousand of our own citizens on September 11 - and whose stated mission is the destruction of the United States?

It is if you don't believe terrorism represents much of a threat to begin with.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email:

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